Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Tapping the Vein

Clive Barker Tapping the Vein (1990)

I've never been entirely sure about horror fiction, and whilst I enjoyed Barker's The Hellbound Heart, I seem to recall Weaveworld as fairly unsatisfying. I bought a couple of issues of Tapping the Vein when it first appeared - this being comic strip adaptations of stories appearing in various volumes of Barker's Books of Blood - but either sold or gave them to someone, forgetting the things had ever existed until I came across this anthology - which probably isn't much of a recommendation.

The problems here seem to be twofold. Firstly, unless I'm somehow missing something, a great many Clive Barker horror stories tend to entail an innocent discovering something horrible and already well-established happening just to one side of the stage, then himself becoming an agent of said horrible thing, a status which might be deemed no better than that of victim. It all runs very close to being the same story told over and over with different flavours, a metaphor for how stuff is like really sick and gross and stuff but like we don't really see it even though it's all totally going on, yeah?

This by itself need not be a problem given that ultimately there are only seven different stories in the world, probably, so the details which matter are in the telling; and Clive Barker is very good at doing writing and that, which brings us to the second problem.

Tapping the Vein isn't exactly an adaptation in the normal sense, at least not in the same terms as Rob Liefeld's Finnegans Wake, possibly because those concerned were a bit nervous about plastering over Barker's wonderfully evocative prose which, after all, was what made these stories work in the first place. So we have comic book pages, beautifully painted for the most part, with fussy blocks of dense text crammed around each panel, and the end result can't quite decide whether it's a comic strip or an illustrated novel. Those passages which might have otherwise remained effectively silent, which, lacking text, would have allowed the imagery to convey some non-verbal meaning, are nevertheless clogged up with needlessy verbose paragraphs describing that which doesn't actually require a description because we can see it; which all rather dulls the impact of some otherwise quite powerful artwork by John Bolton, Klaus Janson, and others; and yet we can't read these tales quite as we would a book because the images get in the way, collapsing possibilities that might otherwise have been provided by imagination, and breaking up the rhythm of the prose.

Then, to gripe just a little further, we have How Spoilers Bleed in which amoral Amazonian land developers receive just deserts for their dreadful treatment of indigenous peoples; which is smashing, except it would have been nice to see said indigenous peoples for once granted a status above the mysterious and passive victims serving to justify the innards splashed all over the page towards the end of the tale. This is also the story in which our understanding of evil is aided by having one of the bad guys enjoy a live sex show starring a woman and a dog, which may well be an examination of evil which obliges the reader to question his or her but probably his own voyeuristic tendencies blah blah blah, or it could be an author drooling over repulsive imagery because it saves having to write an actual story, or maybe horror fiction just isn't my thing.

I'm tempted to suggest that readers of horror fiction might just as well leaf through photographs taken at Auschwitz as bother with a book for the same reason that sexual intercourse films don't really need those flimsy narratives about vacuum cleaner repairmen, but I suppose that would be terribly judgey of me, wouldn't it?

That said, In the Hills, the Cities, The Madonna, and Down, Satan have enough pleasantly weird ideas to suggest I might get something from the original prose only versions in Books of Blood; and Down, Satan in particular almost gets the balance of words and pictures just right with a more selective approach to captioning which perfectly compliments the beautiful painted artwork of Tim Conrad, whoever he may be. So it isn't all terrible, but it nevertheless seems a poor batting average for a name so famed as that of Clive Barker.

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