Scream Horror Magazine

For whom The Toll?

Posted on: March 1st, 2018

“For Mark, without whom this book would not exist.” So reads the dedication in Clive Barker’s The Scarlet Gospels, perhaps subtly hinting that Mark Alan Miller’s work on the novel may have gone beyond that of a conventional editor. Now the prequel novella Hellraiser: The Toll has arrived, courtesy of boutique US press Subterranean (SST Publications also have their own edition in the UK). Its focus is the reunion of Kirsty Cotton and Pinhead, years after their first encounter. And this time it’s Miller’s name on the cover. He kindly agreed to talk Scream through its genesis.

Scream: The Scarlet Gospels and The Toll are sequels to the film Hellraiser, rather then the novella The Hellbound Heart. What’s the reason for that? Is Hellraiser just the definitive, canonical version of the story in Clive’s mind?

Mark Alan Miller: Pinhead isn’t even in The Hellbound Heart, so The Scarlet Gospels can only really be a sequel to the film rather than the book. It was [Clive Barker podcast hosts] Ryan Danhauser and Jose Leitao who read an early draft that still had elements unique to The Hellbound Heart and pointed them out to me. When I realised they were right I did a rewrite of The Toll that specifically folded in the film mythology rather than the book’s version.

Scream: Why a small press release rather than a bigger splash?

Mark Alan Miller: None of the New York publishers is really interested in something that short for adults, but Subterranean Press sits quite nicely in that wheelhouse. They do a few of these kinds of things with Joe Lansdale every year, for example. They’ve got some Christopher Golden and Tim Powers stuff. They sort of specialise in these “novelettes”, and they make gorgeous books. We’ve had a few other deals with them. They’ve always been very good to us. We’re hoping to publish another smaller edition of some of Clive’s harder to find short stories. It’ll be called Crossing Borders.

Scream: The Hellraiser comics you worked on for Boom! Studios began in the same way as The Toll, with Kirsty getting a mysterious letter in her mailbox. Do the two separate works stem from the same source?

Mark Alan Miller: I hadn’t even thought of that; that’s a good catch! Christopher Monfette wrote those early issues. Now I think of it, they do have similar beginnings.

Scream: I wondered because the Devil’s Island setting of The Toll is something Clive also apparently played around with in his screenplay for the (unmade) Hellraiser remake. It seems like he has particular ideas that he wants to utilise, and sometimes they end up in more then one place?

Mark Alan Miller: Yes, that’s absolutely right. There’s a lot of that kind of crossover with Clive. He’ll get an idea in his head and fixate on it and it’ll sometimes manifest itself in two or three things. The idea of the enchanted origami is one of those. That went into The Scarlet Gospels, but I think he forgot that and he then pitched it as the end of Monfette’s arc on the Hellraiser comic. When we got to that part I was doing the editing on both books. I was like, “Ah, we’ve already got killer origami birds in this book. We can’t have them in both!” So yes, I can absolutely see Clive going to Chris and saying, “It has to start with Kirsty getting a letter!” Because that’s exactly what he said to me on The Toll. “It has to start with Kirsty getting a letter.” Well spotted!

Scream: Famously The Scarlet Gospels was whittled down from Barker’s huge, out-of-control first draft. Does The Toll represent some more material from that original draft?

Mark Alan Miller: Actually no. The first-draft Scarlet Gospels was a beast, but there was pretty much zero crossover between that and The Toll, oddly. It still sat completely separately to the 500,000-word version of Gospels, if you can believe that. The Toll was always this other thing, and from my earliest conversations with Clive, he was actually far more interested in The Toll than the Gospels. I remember Clive and I talking about it before my work on the comics began. I was an intern at the time, and part of my job was editing and continuity consultation. We talked about The Toll for quite a while before I did any work on the Hellraiser comics. I remember, specifically, Abarat III had just come out and we’d brought that over the finish line together, and I told him that the process and collaboration with him had been one of the profoundest experiences of my life. That was the first time he’d told me about the Gospels. He said he’d been working on it for a long time, but that he was having difficulty wrestling it into submission.

Scream: So what was the process of getting The Scarlet Gospels to publication? A lot of fans seem fixated on the idea that there’s some sort of massive, immaculate “director’s cut” that they’ve been denied for some nonsensical reason.

Mark Alan Miller: I’ve likened the process of taming the beast that was the Gospels to Clive setting down a maze, and me walking down each path and finding which ones were dead ends, and stripping those away to find the true path to the end. There were a lot of blind alleys that the original took us down. None of them really gave us a peek at a larger world or anything. That’s just the way Clive’s first drafts work, when he’s just exploring things to see where they lead him. It was half a million words essentially of stream-of-consciousness. The core was the Harrowers in Hell, and sometimes they would branch off into some other aspect of Hell, and then something might start to happen, but Clive would either grow tired of that particular notion by dropping the idea altogether, or just pivot the action entirely by having one character verbally change the subject, so the story would then continue back along the same path that ultimately led to Lucifer’s cathedral. It was a process of stripping away the dead ends.

Meanwhile, The Toll just sort of disappeared for about a decade during that process. The overall structure of it had been kicking around in Clive’s mind forever, but he couldn’t quite figure where it fit in the mythology. Then the Gospels came out and I was going through the archives and I found the notes on The Toll, and I asked Clive if I could have a crack at it after all these years. I talked about it with my friend and collaborator Christian Francis and he’s the one who actually pointed out that it could work perfectly as a bridge between – in its first incarnation – The Hellbound Heart and the Gospels. That was the true catalyst for the whole thing. Once I had that, I dove right in and didn’t come up for air until it was finished.

Scream: I liked the panicking demon we meet on Ludovico Street, but he just comes and goes and we learn nothing about him. What’s going on there?

Mark Alan Miller: That’s kind of a Jacob’s Ladder moment. Things are going awry and that’s just one of those things that’s kind of supposed to freak you out. Hopefully it evokes the idea that sometimes when you’re making your way through the world, you’ll catch things in your periphery of vision that might not be quite right. He might be one of those things. You’re walking down the street and you quickly turn your head because you thought you saw something, but there’s nothing there. He’s a glimpse into this larger idea. In those places on the periphery are demons that have their specific domain. That street is his domain, and he just stays there. If you walk away he’s not going to bother you anymore. But if you go back you might run into him…

Scream: There’s the business of the Hellraiser house having disappeared too. Are these things that might get picked up on again in the future?

Mark Alan Miller: Oh absolutely. The Toll is very much a book of threads. There’s the disappearing house; there’s reference to the child that we met at the beginning of Gospels… I know a lot of people asked about that. People found the idea of Pinhead’s progeny intriguing enough to enquire, so we teased that idea out a little bit more.

Scream: Did Clive do the line drawings specifically for The Toll?

Mark Alan Miller: No, they’re all things from the archives that fit. It was about finding things that were tonally correct. Clive isn’t really “allowed” to create illustration on demand. There’s a guiding hand – one he’s literally described as something that’s grabbed him by the back of the neck – and whatever that hand is, it’s the only voice he can heed. The funny part is that there have even been requests from him, asking what might be popular images he could potentially create. One time he asked us point blank what would be a piece of artwork that people would want to see that he’s never done. Unanimously all of us at [Barker’s company] Seraphim suggested he do an illustration of the Candyman, which nobody has ever seen, and has been requested by many. The original of something like that would sell for a bajillion dollars, and we could sell prints of it in perpetuity. He thought about it for a moment, and he was like, “…Nah.” It was the funniest thing! We were like, “You’re right, we fell into the trap; you have to listen to the hand; we apologise!”

Scream: It’s a shame about Candyman, isn’t it? It’s a ridiculous rights tangle that means there can never be any more, right?

Mark Alan Miller: Rights are a nightmare. People are mad at us that the director’s cut of Nightbreed never made it to the UK, but [studio] Morgan Creek sold the international rights, so they don’t have them. I’ve had a few conversations with Revolution Studios, the company that bought the worldwide rights, and they don’t seem to be interested in piecemeal licensing to people like Arrow. They operate more as a library. Like, the way Netflix has licensed all those New World titles, or that bulk load of Dimension titles. I think that’s the business they’re interested in.

So yes, it’s the craziest thing. It’s probably the number one request we get at Seraphim: a Candyman remake or a sequel. If it were that easy we’d have done it ages ago, but the rights are all over the place. No one can figure it out. I think the most sense we can make of it is that MGM has the rights to a remake but Universal has refusal right and also the sequel rights. So they can’t make a move without each other. And no one knows where the rights for the third film are. We’ve tried so many different incarnations and they’ve all been cool. Paul WS Anderson had a whole trilogy mapped out. I saw him pitch that to the head of MGM and it was one of the best pitches I’ve ever seen in my life. He’s ridiculously good in a room. The executives were like, “Absolutely, we’re doing this!” and then a week later the property was ice cold again. I guess they started to get into the legal and couldn’t do it. Then there was a version where Clive and Jordan Peele had a few conversations. Peele was going to do a remake, right before Get Out came out. He was poised to sneak in there before he became uber-sought after, but that went away as well. I don’t know if that was a rights issue too or if his plate just got too full. It seems as though every time someone tries to move forward on it, they do their due diligence on obtaining the title and it falls apart every time.

Scream: Is there scope for literary continuations based off The Forbidden rather than the film? Would that work if it wasn’t called Candyman?

Mark Alan Miller: I think so. Clive maintains almost all the literary rights to his characters. He owns almost nothing of Hellraiser except book and comic rights, so that’s why we’ve tried merchandising those as much as we could: getting the Gospels out and finishing The Toll and doing the comics. I think there’s absolutely a space for Candyman. We even had a take on a Candyman comic with Ben Meares and Brandon Seifert, who took over from me on the Hellraiser comic. It was very cool but we couldn’t get any bites on it. Boom! didn’t want to do any more licensing; they only wanted original stuff. I think they licensed too much and spread themselves too thin. And I think IDW didn’t want to do creator-owned. So there was an attempt to travel more Candyman roads, but we never achieved it. Maybe the title is cursed! I guess that would be appropriate.

Scream: Well thanks for this. I enjoyed The Toll and I hope you get to do more.

Mark Alan Miller: I hope so too! I’m pretty proud of The Toll. I think it’s creepy and I think it ends on a nice sombre note. There is this larger world afoot, and more adventures for Kirsty. Hopefully we get to tell them.

Scream: Thanks for talking to us, Mark.

Mark Alan Miller: My pleasure.

Words: Owen Williams

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