Exclusive: Writer Chris Monfette on Clive Barker's 'Seduth'


Phobia Friday: Kenophobia -- FEAR of Nothingness

Get ready, Clive Barker fans. Next Wednesday, October 14, sees the release of Seduth -- the first new comic book story in twenty years to have Barker's name attached -- in comic book stores everywhere. Published by IDW, Seduth is a one-issue tale of an architect who glimpses a "cloud of darkness" in the heart of a diamond. It's a smart, chilling meditation on nihilism with art by two of the best horror artists working today -- Locke & Key's Gabriel Rodriguez and Jay Fotos -- presented in 3-D by 3-D comics expert Ray Zone. We sat down with Barker's collaborator on the project, writer Chris Monfette (who's adapting Barker's short fiction for the big screen), to find out what prompted the horror maestro's return, and what we can expect next from the two collaborators.

Seduth marks, as they say, the first time in two decades that Clive's name has been attached to a new comic book. What sparked his return?

While Seduth may mark Clive's return to the medium with a new, wholly original story, he's certainly never been far from the artform in the intervening years. He absolutely adores comics. Without speaking directly for Clive, I would say that the roots of this project can be found largely in IDW's adaptation of Clive's novel The Great and Secret Show. Our amazingly brave and supportive editor at IDW, Chris Ryall, scripted that sprawling adaptation flawlessly, and Gabriel Rodriguez, whose breathtaking artistry makes the real world seem somehow all too tragically boring, did the illustrations. Those were two incredible visions that Clive and I were tremendously blessed to have reunite for this project.  I would certainly credit the artistic and collaborative success of that book – as well as Clive's ever expanding, dare I say gluttonous­, imagination – with the eventual creation of Seduth.

When did you first discover Clive's work? What do you find compelling about it?

I was eight or nine years old when I reached into my Christmas stocking and pulled out two books. The first was Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King – an incredible adventure that I still re-read today—and the second was an audio recording of The Thief of Always, Clive's first attempt at young-adult fantasy prior to his Abarat series. Of course, the story had everything a geeky, over-imaginative kid could possibly want – monsters, magic, heroes, villains – but there was this incredible note of whimsy, this subtle sophistication – two words which I had yet to learn, but certainly knew how to feel – that really permeated the book. Flash forward to a few months later – eight or nine-year-old me running up to my mother at the grocery store with two more books in my hand: the uncut version of Stephen King's The Stand and Clive's Imajica, this deeply sexual, insanely horrific, incredibly elevated piece of fantasy literature that I absolutely devoured. I'm certain that I didn't understand half of it at the time, but there's a tremendous sense of world-creation in Clive's work, of pushing past and erasing boundaries, physical and metaphysical. It worked on an aesthetic level, an emotional level, a physical level. It was subversive and romantic and humorous and terrifying. It was written in a kind of poetic prose that made a young kid fall in love with language. And it was the first time, really before or since, that I ever felt transported to a place in fiction that wasn't simply some rearranged version of our own factual history. It wasn't all swords and sandals; it wasn't brick-and-mortar, medieval fantasy; this was something bigger, more significant.

Imagination is easy if it's only ever an act of reconstruction, but try and describe the sound of the color red, or the smell of the number seven – something for which there is no real-world corollary – that's what Clive was pushing me toward as a reader. Looking back, all sentiment aside, it really was a life-changing experience. I was constantly scribbling short fiction as a child – I had this notebook full of stories – but Imajica and Weaveworld and Cabal made me realize early on that being a writer and being a storyteller are two vastly different things. And if I can claim to be either, or both, that's in large part to Clive's credit.

How did you and Clive become collaborators on this project?

Clive and I met under fairly ordinary circumstances, and through a series of long conversations spent watching him toil over a number of paintings for the upcoming Abarat novel, we became rather fast friends and, eventually, collaborators. I've since adapted two of his short stories from the Books of Blood collection into features -- one which has been announced, Down, Satan, and a second title which we're keeping under wraps. We've dabbled together in some short fiction which may or may not see the light of day, and when Clive had the notion to funnel his excess of imagination into comics – truly, the mill of his mind is ever turning – he invited me to take the journey with him. And having had few greater blessings in my life than Clive's friendship and trust, I took the plunge!

Could you describe your process of collaborating on the book?

Clive had a notion which was, in some sense, appropriately shapeless. He wanted to address the concept of nihilism using the geometry of a diamond, and he wanted to offer a vision of the fourth dimension and the nebulous creature that lived there. He had a smattering of disconnected images, each individually powerful, and the absolute certainty that if our three-dimensional world were represented, in comics, by a two-dimensional image, then 3-D should be used to represent our fourth dimension. Keep in mind, of course, that this was my first-ever comic. I walked into that meeting assuming that we'd tell a bizarre, but fairly straightforward, horror story, and what I got was, "A surreal tale about nothingness in the tradition of Bunuel or Dali using 3-D as a means of presentation." And so my job, in a sense, became building a framework around these disparate images and ideas, finding a structure and a story which, while still surreal, would allow the reader to feel an overall sense of cohesiveness. This is a massive, metaphysical story told in 24 pages. The compression of ideas and events is staggering. I wanted it to feel almost like a record, skipping, making these leaps that one could ultimately follow, but also maintain a disarming sense of fragmentation. So hopefully, the dialogue, the narration, and the panel structure all serve the spirit of what Clive had originally intended.

Clive's work, like much of the best horror, has often focused on extremism. Does he view nihilism as an extreme edge of horror?

I think it's easy to envision nihilism as a dark, expansive void – a place where all the bodies are hidden, where ravenous, unknowable creatures wait impatiently for you to join them. It's easy to conjure that word into an image of absolute horror.  But nihilism is, in a more general sense, the absence of something – the absence of love, of friendship, of certainty, of substance. Seduth is essentially about the endless tug-of-war between Everything and Nothing. One draws, the other erases. Worlds made; worlds unmade. Over and over again, forever. In a strange way, that's a very romantic notion. And I think that Clive and I both believe that nihilism is more than just shadows and clattering teeth. It can be as grand as Seduth or as intimate as the loss of a loved one.  And it's something that we intend to explore in the future.

The story was designed for the medium of comics, but was 3-D always to be the format? Or was it considered after the story came together?

The 3-D, as a concept, was there from the very beginning. As we began to develop the script, we more and more wanted to utilize the 3-D in a way that celebrated depth. The second and third pages of the book, for example, are designed to feel like a long, cinematic tracking shot, floating through a window ever closer toward the diamond…There are a few moments in the book where an image will reach out toward the reader, but for the most part we wanted to do the exact opposite. We wanted to pull the reader in. And our 3-D artist, Ray Zone, has done that brilliantly. Ray has managed to create a middle-distance to these panels that's simply astounding. It's not just about something in the foreground and something beyond. It's about layers of imagery which get deeper and more complex as we tunnel through Harold's madness into another dimension altogether. It's easy for me as a writer to suggest images of scope and scale – hallways, landscapes – but what Gabe drew and how Ray gave it form is, in my mind, unparalleled comic artistry.

The idea of glimpsing a cloud of darkness in a diamond is somewhat Lovecraftian. Since the Books of Blood appeared inspired by Lovecraft, does Seduth, in part, represent a return to Clive's roots?

Without being cagey, I think it's both an evolution and a return. On the surface of Seduth, there's a very bloody, very terrifying short-form tale similar to what you might find in Books of Blood, but if you go even an inch below the surface, there's a tremendous depth to the material.  Clive's only gotten more sophisticated as time goes by. He's at a point, I think, where the art is really what drives him, now more than ever. It doesn't matter how strange or erotic or horrific an idea. If there's a medium that suits it, and if the idea communicates something of value, something that affects you, then Clive will find a way to tell it… 

Seduth was conceived as a single story, but might we see another tale set in its universe? Or could it represent the first in a new series of one-shot comics from you and Clive?

I can't say much – at least for the moment – but I will say this…I think Seduth, as a narrative, is fully told in these 24 pages. But I think that the ideas behind it – the various emotional and physical dimensions of nihilism – are something that Clive and I will continue to explore if the readers and the brave souls at IDW will allow.

In real life, what's your greatest fear?

To lead an uninspired life.