Sunday, August 25, 2019
Meeting Clive Barker
I was 12, I think. Maybe 13. Somehow, I convinced my grandmother to buy it for me. I would track down Volume 3 soon after, and get my mom to purchase it. I think she was hesitant at first, but I leveraged the fact that “Grandma bought me Volume 2”. Or maybe she just thought reading would be better for me than watching any of the blood-drenched movies I had become a fan of. The first in the series took me longer to locate, but eventually I found it during a trip to the mall (it was the late '80s in New Jersey). I read them all, mainly in the car on family road trips.
I picked up The Inhuman Condition and In The Flesh next, then The Damnation Game, and later, Cabal and all the rest. I stared endlessly at the art on the covers, and devoured the words inside.
I wrote Barker a fan letter (the only person I ever did that for), asking for writing advice, never really thinking I would ever truly be much of a writer myself (I had dabbled in a few short stories at the time)—but what else do you ask writers about when you’re a kid? Months later, to my delight, he answered with a typewritten letter, signed by hand at the bottom. (Joke’s on me now - I guess I followed his advice and kept at the writing thing.)
In reading interviews, and in the book Pandemonium, I discovered Barker’s history in theater. I quickly became obsessed with tracking down scripts for the plays he had written. I wondered if anyone had filmed any of the productions, and if so, how I could get copies.
Occasionally I would hear about readings and signings that he had done in bookstores—but always, sadly, after the fact. I would occasionally see pictures in magazines (like Fango, I assume) of the crowds, of him signing books for attendees.
That Christmas, my parents gave me a copy of The Thief of Always, and to our surprise, it turned out to be a signed copy. I was thrilled, but also wondered: Had Barker done a signing in my hometown that I had somehow missed?
A few years later I got to see a bunch of his drawings on display. But it was another reminder that I always seemed to miss the chance to meet him or catch a reading. I had all these artifacts, at least—stories, images, a couple autographs.
I was excited. I would finally get to meet the man who inspired so much in my own work. And on top of that, there would be a screening of the “Cabal cut” of Nightbreed, which added another layer of anticipation. I bought my ticket and anxiously awaited the weekend of the show. But then, unfortunately, Barker had to cancel at the last minute, due to health issues. I was of course saddened by this for multiple reasons, and was also forced to realize that meeting him was simply never going to happen. I accepted it and moved on.
Flash forward 7 more years. Suddenly Barker was scheduled for another Monster Mania. I couldn't believe it. A sense of giddiness bubbled within me. Would I actually get to meet him this time?
My buddy Adam and I made plans to go. We got our tickets. We got in line. A very long line. I wondered what might possibly go wrong this time around.
Thankfully, nothing did. After standing in line for two and half hours, most of it outside in the sun, we entered the room and spotted Clive Barker seated behind a table, smiling, shaking hands and signing autographs for fans. His artwork hung about the room, old and new copies of his books were piled high.
Looking back on what I’ve written here, I suppose it amounts to little more than a fan appreciation post. But that’s okay. Sometimes other creators put the wind in your sails, and inspire your own artistic pursuits. A handful of them, perhaps, can fuel you for a lifetime. Clive Barker has been one of those latter individuals for me, and finally getting the chance to meet him felt like something to commemorate and place on this (digital) shelf.