When Eclipse Comics ended the Tapping the Vein series after the fifth volume, it wasn’t because they’d run out of material to adapt – Vein only scratched the surface of the short stories Clive Barker had published under the Books of Blood title. Eclipse continued to adapt those stories in a series of standalone releases beginning in 1991 and going right up until the company’s closure in 1993.
Eclipse may have jettisoned the title, but their subsequent adaptations shared many similarities with those that had fallen under the Tapping the Vein masthead. Creators from Vein popped up in these releases, most notably writer Steve Niles (who scripted stories in all but one of these releases) and artist John Bolton. The Vein volumes each featured two stories, and two of these new releases did as well (Rawhead Rex was paired with Twilight at the Towers, while The Life of Death and New Murders in the Rue Morgue shared space in their own volume).
More important than these technical similarities, though, was the fact that Eclipse carried over their trend of finding the perfect marriage between artist and material. In each instance, the artist was able to bring vivid life to Barker’s wildly imaginative prose.
Take, for instance, Rawhead Rex. If you’ve seen the film, you’ve seen a visual interpretation of Barker’s creation that bears only a passing resemblance to the one he described in his short story. In the Eclipse adaptation, Les Edwards paints something straight out of a nightmare – a tall, gaunt creature with a head like a moon and a mouth like a tooth-filled wound, wide and red and raw. Edwards also hands in amazing work in Son of Celluloid, capturing classic visages like John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe, and then mutating them into the tumor-like creature that haunts the story. And John Bolton, of course, kills it with his realization of the Yattering, the demon terrorizing the Polo family in Barker’s twisted Christmastime tale The Yattering and Jack.
Niles handles scripting chores for six of the eight stories represented in this series, with Fred Burke handling the other two (Dread and The Life of Death). Both do a good job of choosing which passages and dialogue to bring to life in whole from Barker’s prose versus where to change and condense; the result is a group of scripts that read as though Barker handled the adaptations himself.
I would have been happy to see Eclipse carry this formula forward with everything Barker has written and will write. Fortunately, the loss of Eclipse didn’t mean the comics well was dry for Barker, as Marvel Comics had already picked up the ball and was busy bringing another of the author’s creations to life – a certain group of demons who feed on suffering and despair, with well-spoken words and pin-laden leader. We’ll talk about the surprising union of Marvel and the Cenobites when we return to the series in a few weeks.
Visit the Comics Warehouse for a list of Eclipse’s Clive Barker adaptations.
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. Follow him on Twitter at @BluGilliand.