Every Friday, we’ll be bringing you reviews of meaningful comics found in the collections of our writers. “Long Box” refers to the lengthy, white cardboard boxes most comics find themselves stored within – bagged, alphabetized and numerically ordered.
These reviews, then, are the tales of those collections: illuminating characters, artists, writers – even eras – in addition to the personalities of the very owners of those fine collections.
Clive Barker’s Hellraiser # 1
I have to admit. Horror isn’t necessarily my thing. I enjoy it, but I enjoy it sparingly – like a dash of freshly cracked pepper over my medium-rare steak. I’m not into blood and guts and vampires and zombies aren’t my thing. Andy B can have those for himself.
What I am into, however, is when the horror genre attempts to make sense of the evil in our world. Be it “real” or an “imagined” evil, horror, for me, needs to have some grounding in our daily lives. We need to have an affiliation with it, a relationship of some kind. More than that, horror, true horror, needs to be personal.
That’s why The Exorcist, the tale of evil beset upon an innocent family will always be horrifying to me. Being raised catholic, I suppose, will do that to you. Fredrick Brown’s short story, Don’t Look Behind You is the most frightening thing I’ve ever read. Here, the author makes the reader the subject of an impending doom that is entirely plausible. I was neurotically looking over my shoulder for weeks after reading that tale and it continues to affect me today. (If you haven’t already, find it and read it!) This all brings me to Clive Barker and the comic book series based on, arguably, his most famous creation – Hellraiser.
Published by Epic Comics in 1989 and lasting twenty bookshelf issues, the series was an anthology of stories, written and illustrated by some of the most creative people in the industry. The first issue contained works by legendary horror artists, John Bolton and Bernie Wrightson among many others. Here, the creators were given cart blanche. They could use established characters and mythos or build upon those themes and that history.
Thankfully, readers got a taste of both.
The first story, “The Cannons of Pain,” is set during the time of the crusades where a God-fearing knight endures death and destruction in the pursuit of a small, seemingly ornate box. Indeed, this is Barker’s famous creation, the so-called Lament Configuration, a rubiks-cube type of device that, when solved, summons forth the Cenobites, demons from hell, to this earthly plane. Written by Eric Saltzgaber and magnificently painted by the previously mentioned John Bolton, this tale is a warning for those that tread close to evil in their pursuit to abolish it – that wickedness tends to infect good, that it corrupts holy deeds and makes a mockery of the righteous. Bolton’s art is the strength of the piece. He creates a new, disfigured Cenobite here – leather-clad with one lip hooked like a fish, stretched and tied to its own nipple. It is a visceral and organic visual. The colour scheme of chilly pinks and gangrenous greens is stomach churning but it’s the look of disgust on the creature’s face, tinged with a factual, hollow stare when it speaks of God’s earthly interventions that the story is at its most frightening. “Do you think, Monseigneur,” the demon coldly states, “that if He exists, and if He is as powerful as you claim, that He would trifle himself with you?” Good horror bends and breaks the status quo and makes us question our long-held beliefs. That’s where this story succeeds.
Another story, “The Warm Red,” written by Jan Strnad and illustrated by the great Bernie Wrightson also delves into the seduction of good – of morality under the coercion of evil. Here, a Cenobite by the name of “Face” easily commits the most heinous of crimes – betrayal. We are reminded that there is no honour or trust in hell.
There is, however, bargaining.
The Cenobite is given the name “Face,” because he wears the dead, rotting flesh of his tortured subjects over his own visage and body. In this story, he takes his own acolyte, a monster of man who has been providing the demon with human subjects to torment, as his latest victim. He does this because a woman, once good, discards her long-held morals in order to save herself. Woman, it seems, can offer hell more souls to torture than a man ever could.
Like the previous story mentioned, “The Warm Red” also has a moment of sheer horror that resonates in our reality. The Cenobite, cold, calculating and ruthless, calmly warns, “I can see you, you know. From the other side.” It’s this line that conjures our deepest fears: that there are things unknown but speculated upon, beings of deep wickedness and malevolence that exist and watch us and wait for our lapses in judgment and moral strength.
There are painted front and end pages by Kent Williams in this first issue as well – haunting images of the common woman being apprehended by a demon Cenobite in one illustration and the common man reaching out to a the creature for an embrace in the other. A fitting statement to the world of Hellraiser.
Of course, there is also the John Bolton cover, the quintessential image of the greatest and most well known of Cenobites: Pinhead.
Barker’s work has changed an entire genre. His influence can be seen in any of today’s horror films and it’s a testament that his Hellraiser characters and themes have lived on and been expanded upon beyond his initial The Hellbound Heart short story. They are a lasting legacy now, a part of the pantheon of horror, something that all things truly horrifying are: timeless in their ability to illicit a quickening heartbeat and beads of sweat upon a brow.
Adding to that sense of legacy, I leave you with a nightmarish image from our resident artist, Denny B. He has created a new cenobite, leather-clad with skin pulled across bone and destined to haunt the halls of your nightmares.
Does anyone want to add to the dread and name him? Names, I have heard, hold power, so I cautiously submit “Stitch.”