A recent story in USA Today shared the news that Clive Barker is working on an original comic book series for Boom! Studios entitled New Genesis. The premise is vintage Barker, who has never been one to shy away from twisting spiritual themes in ways that are bound to make some people uncomfortable. Barker, along with co-writer Mark L. Miller (fresh off a run on Boom!’s Hellraiser series) will be telling a version of the Bible’s Old Testament set in the present day.
Reading about that series (which I will have more to say about in the coming weeks) set me to thinking about Barker’s rich and varied history in comics. His work has always been uniquely suited for adaptation to comics, giving writers and artists a wealth of visually rich material to draw from.
Barker’s comics presence seems to come in fits and starts, with Boom! being his current home. IDW was in the Barker business a few years ago, turning out fantastic adaptations of The Thief of Always and The Great and Secret Show (which I’ll also have more to say about at a later date). This time around I want to concentrate on Barker’s first big foray into comics, a five issue series from Eclipse called Tapping the Vein.
Eclipse was a small indie publisher taking advantage of the growing specialty comics market in the late 1980s/early 1990s by publishing quality alternatives to the standard capes 'n' tights comics of mainstream companies like Marvel and DC. They pulled out all the stops with Tapping the Vein, producing each issue as a squarebound book on glossy paper that served as a fantastic showcase for the consistently excellent artwork. Each volume featured adaptations of two stories from Barker’s landmark short story collection Books of Blood: Human Remains and Pig Blood Blues in issue one; Skins of the Fathers and In the Hills, the Cities in issue two; The Midnight Meat Train and Scape-Goats in issue three; Hell’s Event and The Madonna in issue four; and How Spoilers Bleed and Down, Satan in issue five.
Adapting Barker’s work was a daunting task for the writers, who had to find ways to distill Barker’s lush, distinctive prose for a largely visual medium. Eclipse called on a mix of established veterans and talented newcomers to handle the writing chores, and they all succeeded in producing scripts that effectively used a minimum of words while preserving Barker’s voice. Among the scribes was a young Steve Niles, who went on to create the popular and inventive vampire series 30 Days of Night.
There were no weak points in the lineup of artists, but veteran John Bolton may have had the best run of them all, contributing a couple of series highlights in the first two issues. It was Bolton who provided everyone with their first impression of what Tapping the Vein was all about with his iconic issue one cover, which a depicts a smiling man with a hand protruding from his left eye socket, clutching an eyeball between thumb and forefinger. It’s an unmistakable and unforgettable image in a series full of them.
Bolton followed that up in issue two by illustrating Chuck Wagner and Fred Burke’s adaptation of In the Hills, the Cities, one of the most visually challenging stories this series would tackle. Bolton does an amazing job of capturing the story’s central image: thousands of people intricately lashed together to form mobile, battling giants. In one full-page splash and several close-ups, Bolton manages to bring this image to vivid life.
Eclipse brought the series to an end with the fifth issue, but they continued to mine Books of Blood with several standalone editions, many of which followed Tapping the Vein’s format of two stories per release. We’ll take a look at those stories when we return to this series in a few weeks.
Blu Gilliand is a freelance writer of fiction and nonfiction. He covers horror fiction at his blog, October Country, and contributes interviews to the Horror World website (www.horrorworld.org). Follow him on Twitter at @BluGilliand.