Clive Barker’s Seduth
Clive Barker, Chris Monfette, writers
Gabriel Rodriguez, artist
Ray Zone, “3-D conversion”
IDW, October 2009
“Surprise”: I love Clive Barker. Actual surprise: I was not looking forward to reading this Clive Barker comic. Despite its being touted as Barker’s first straight-to-comics work in two decades, the presence of a co-writer dampened my enthusiasm. So too did the 3-D aspect–we’ve all been burned by gimmickry. As for IDW’s involvement, I’d been mightily impressed by Kris Oprisko and Gabriel Hernandez’s lovely, lyrical Thief of Always adaptation, but Seduth artist Gabriel Rodriguez’s cartoony art on the company’s Great and Secret Show–admirable though it may have been for committing a full 12 issues to the effort–struck me as project-deflatingly wrong for the work. In my head, I see Barker as his own adapter, whether as filmmaker or painter or drawer; after that, I cut to the Gothy Hellraiser/Tapping the Vein aesthetic of the Epic Comics days, or to an altcomix style like C.F.’s that has never actually been applied to his stuff. Dude’s transgressive; let’s keep him that way.
Rarely have I been as happy to be wrong as I was about Seduth. Story first: Holy smokes, is this dark. It’s as savagely nihilistic as anything Barker’s done since the Books of Blood, or the story of Hellbound: Hellraiser II, which in its potentially apocalyptic nature and certain specific geometrical and extradimensional imagery is perhaps its closest point of comparsion. Heck, Seduth‘s done-in-one short-story nature makes it feel like an adaptation of a lost BoB outtake. But whereas most adaptations belabor the point, ladling unnecessary prose atop redundant illustrations for an oomph-sapping length of time, then suddenly eliding entire sections, this thing just leaps out of the gate and proceeds at an inexorable pace to its hopeless conclusion. If anything, it’s almost too rapid-fire, rather than the usual tedious legato-staccato juxtaposition you’ll find in comics versions of prose writers’ works. And whatever the division of labor between Barker and Monfette, the transitions are seamless, even to this seasoned observer of Barker’s work. After well over a decade of fantasy from the man, not even of the “dark” variety in many cases, I’d all but forgotten he had this kind of thing in him.
Meanwhile, whatever his deviation from my platonic Barker-adpatation ideal, Rodriguez steps up big-time. Yes, his work is cartoony rather than romantic or abstracted, the directions I’d go in, but its cartooniness is rock solid and reminiscent of some of the form’s most skillful current practitioners–some Tony Moore here, some Philip Bond here. Most of all it relies on a thick, confident line, which turns out to be perfectly suited to 3-D. From what I’ve been told, 3-D effects specialist Zone was involved in the project nearly from its conception, consulting with Barker, Monfette, Rodriguez, and project major domo Robb Humphreys on what kind of effects he’d like to employ in a perfect world. Barker appears to have given him carte blanche, because there’s nary a jump-scare “look out, a hand’s reaching out at you and a knife’s flying at your face!” cliche in sight. Instead, it’s all about layering, playing off the congruences and tangents of Rodriguez’s line to draw the eye in and around the page; the effect is dazzlingly unpleasant in all the right ways. Perhaps it’s just all the Chippendale and Rickheit I’ve been reading talking, but it struck me as an extremely effective and, yes, alternative way of exploring space on the page, to the point where I’m now curious to see what a Fort Thunder alum might do with this particular toolkit. But it can be used for spectacle as well, and it is, particularly in one back-to-back splash-page sequence in which Rodriguez, Zone, and colorist Jay Fotos produce an effect reminiscent of Dr. Manhattan’s line about the light taking him to pieces in Watchmen. Barker, who’s been vocally mainlining the work of Grant Morrison, was surely inspired by Morrison’s Final Crisis tie-in Superman Beyond both in the use of 3-D in the first place and its narrative role as a sign of extradimensionality, but I think the special effect is more nuanced, more effective, here.
So three cheers for Seduth; it made a believer out of this skeptic. Barker has long been thwarted by obstacles in terms of getting his ideas out to the public, from a studio sitting on his movie to a publisher rejecting his photography collection as too explicit to his own overflow of ideas getting the better of him to the point where he advances many projects but completes few. Comics famously has one of the lowest idea-to-finished-product thresholds in the arts; here’s hoping he continues to make such good, focused, no-nonsense use of it as he does in this short, sharp shock.