By Catherine Wagley
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By L.A. Weekly critics
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By Bill Raden
My understanding is that writing and painting are the two media over which you exert total control, whereas the “Clive Barker” films you don’t direct — like theHellraiser sequels and theCandyman movies, the video games, the action figures and so on that bear your brand name — are more a matter of delegating creativity under your general guidance. Is that true?
Well, that depends.
Okay, for example, I’m a great devotee of the “spooky houses” and “spooky mazes” that pop up around town every Halloween. The Clive Barker Maze at last year’s Universal Studio’s Halloween event was one of the two or three best I’ve ever seen. It managed to be innovative in a form whose strengths are generally about tradition. I wondered at the time how much you had to do with it?
I had lots to do with it. My husband, David, has really introduced me to this. In England, we don’t have a lot of this. When Universal asked me if I’d be interested in doing one, I said, “Sure, I’ll give it a crack.” I saw it as a four-minute piece of theater that loops. David and I went through it and talked to the actors, and gave them their motivations. So I took it very seriously. You know, the Halloween maze is a very American form. It’s interesting to me that you’re free enough to take them seriously. [Laughter.] That takes a certain amount of courage.
To me, they’re like sculptures in a way. In fact, the people I know who are most interested in them are visual artists and writers. We go around in gangs every year seeing as many as we can, and we study them.
When I started doing mine, people would say, “Why are you doing that?” They thought it was silly. But there are a lot of things you can do with them. To me, they’re like what you thought horror movies would be like before you saw a horror movie. You know, “They’re coming after you — they’re coming after you, and you won’t be able to stop them.” Their interactivity is interesting, too, and their density.
I wonder, then, if one of the more attractive things about Disney buying the rights to your forthcoming “Abarat Quartet” books â is the fact that they’re going to develop a theme-park attraction based on them?
That’s absolutely one of the most attractive aspects. When they offered me that, I just said, “Yes.” The fact that they’re planning to create a film franchise based on them didn’t hurt, of course.
They bought it before you’d written it, right?
Right. They bought it based on the word Abarat, on about 350 paintings I’d done as illustrations for the books, and on a rough idea I had for the narrative. They’ll get the first book in about four weeks.
Has the Disney aesthetic been on your mind while writing the books? Did you feel that you had to conform to their code?
[Laughs.] I don’t think that would even be possible. Even if it was, that would be a disaster. To be honest, it would have seemed preposterous to me. If someone had said to me, “You should do something for Disney,” I would have said, “Forget it.” It’s quite strange, really. No, I’m going to write a cycle of what I think will be four novels that will include about 500 to 700 paintings as illustrations, and then they will go do their thing. Their thing is brilliance. When Disney is on, nobody else can come anywhere near. The chance to play in their territory, using the imagineers, is awe-inspiring. I’m a very simple creator. I handwrite everything. I paint on canvases that I buy from the art store.
People are referring to the “Abarat Quartet” as yourHarry Potter. Is that a lazy comparison?
It’s my Harry Potter in this sense: Harry Potter has been incredibly successful because adults read that stuff. The magnitude of its success is predicated on that fact. So I don’t think it’s a lazy comparison. The difference is me. [Laughter.] The fact that they could come in and look at the paintings, which are Boschian and dark and intense, and say they want it was an exciting surprise.
It’s not a stretch to guess that there will be a segment of the Disney audience who will freak out at the fact that they’re working with you.
I know. I’m the Hellraiser man. I’m the Candyman man. But I have to believe that at the upper echelon of Disney they know they need a guy with some edge. And while I’m not planning to make any more Hellraisers anytime soon, I am planning to make horror movies, and one of them is with Disney/Touchstone, and those will be tough movies.