Thursday, March 4, 2010

It Came From the Discard Bin! #6: Clive Barker Comics

by Jason Shayer

Like most horror fans who grew up in the 1980s, I was first hooked by Stephen King, devouring all his novels. Then I came across King’s famous blurb on the cover of a book: “I have seen the future of horror and his name is Clive Barker.” It didn’t take long for me to get my grubby little hands on all of Barker’s Books of Blood. It was my first real exposure to horror short stories and they blew me away. While gory and violent and not as subtle as King, Barker’s themes and ideas have stuck with me for a long time.

Needless to say, I was thrilled to see that his short stories were being adapted into comic book form in a series of small trade paperbacks called Clive Barker’s Tapping the Vein.
Barker’s stories were illustrated by some amazing comic book talent of that decade, like P. Craig Russell, John Bolton, Bo and Scott Hampton, and Denys Cowan. Scott Hampton’s painted art is a delight to behold. His cover to Tapping the Vein #2 still chills me, capturing everything that is Clive Barker. The adaptations succeed in matching Barker’s creepiness and dread with its lavish, moody painted art.

Tapping the Vein #5 features some early writing from 30 Days of Night’s Steve Niles who skillfully adapted Barker’s short work. With the success of the Tapping the Vein series, Eclipse continued mining Barker’s work with Niles providing the script adaptations. The collections that followed left the Tapping the Vein brand behind and expanded to stand-alone graphic novels: The Yattering And Jack, Dread, Life of Death,
Pandemonium, Rawhead Rex, Revelations, and Son of Celluloid.

Unfortunately, Eclipse Comics died a premature death in the early 1990s. Most of these books can often be found in the dollar bins despite their once pricey cover prices. In 2002, Checker Book Publishing republished these wonderful stories as a collection and it’s still available online.

And just last year, an unpublished Eclipse adaptation of Barker’s Age of Desire finally saw the light of day. Apparently former employees of Eclipse Comics had discovered the original art and contacted the artists P. Craig Russell and Timothy Bradstreet (famous for his Hellraiser covers) who made the push to get it into the hands of horror and comic book fans alike.

And lastly, another unpublished Barker project by the late Eclipse Comics was an adaptation of The Great and Secret Show. Fortunately, that story was picked up by IDW Comics, adapted by Chris Ryall, and art by Gabriel (Joe Hill’s Locke and Key) Rodriguez. Rodriguez’s art brings the epic story to life capturing not only the day-to-day life, but vividly display Barker’s phantastique. Ryall handles the large cast of characters with skill and does an impressive job fitting this story into twelve issues.

You can pick up the two volumes of the Great and Secret Show. The only downside will be that you’ll devour the story so quickly that you’ll be hungry for more. And you’ll have to wait. While Ryall has announced he has plans to adapt Everville, there’s been no confirmation from IDW if the project is a go. Maybe once Barker finishes the third and last book in the Art trilogy, we’ll see a renewed effort by IDW to adapt those stories.

Here’s an unpublished art sample from that unpublished adaptation from Eclipse Comics and gives us a glimpse of what might have been…

--Jason Shayer