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Mouse catches Barker

Scribe gets $4 mil against $8 mil for 4 books

Clive Barker is being fitted for platinum mouse ears.

Disney has paid roughly $4 million against nearly $8 million for all movie and ancillary rights to four as-yet-to-be published fantasy novels by Barker. Collectively, the books carry the tentative title “The Abarat Quartet.”

Though Barker is best known for his work in the horror genre, these novels are purely in the epic fantasy realm. “I see them as being a combination of Harry Potter and a contemporary ‘Wizard of Oz’ but even richer in character and setting,” said Walt Disney Studios prexy of marketing and synergy Michael Mendenhall. “Clive has created a mystical archipelago.”

The first of the ‘Abarat’ books will be published by Harper Collins (which is owned by News Corp.) in fall 2001, with the next three coming every nine months.

Sold sight unseen

What “makes this deal extraordinary,” said Barker’s lawyer David Colden, “is Disney made it without reading any written words of the novels. Clive’s oral telling of the story and his paintings were enough to close the deal.”

What drew Disney to the project, Mendenhall said, was “that the theatrical property could be developed with so many different creative executions: interactive games, TV animation, live-action TV, theme park rides, music, and reproduction of the art from the film. For us, this is a way to develop creative content that will be fresh for years to come. On this project, Clive clearly has a creative direction that’s very in line with our studio.”

The deal was made via the unique process of studio execs visiting Barker at his home and viewing 250 of the 400 oil paintings he’s completed. Barker’s ICM agent Ben Smith said “It was like seeing the drawings George Lucas did for ‘Star Wars.’ ”

Almost every studio in town showed interest in the project, but Barker wanted to go with Disney because “they have boundless technical expertise for making imagined things seem real.”

Barker’s as-yet-unwritten quartet will tell the epic story of a 16-year-old Minnesotan, Candy Quackenbush, who crosses a boundary between this world and another dimension, where she enters the 25 islands that comprise the Abarat (pronounced ab-r-rat). There, she meets the rebel leader Finnegan, who has mixed bloodlines of this invented world’s opposing populations. The saga’s villain is Christopher Carrion, aka the Lord of Midnight, who desires to conquer all 25 islands and then proceed to make the human world part of his empire.

Barker began his career as a playwright and director with the Dog Company theater group he formed in London. His career took off with the 1984 publication of the three-volume “The Books of Blood.”

Barker’s horror/fantasy genre bestsellers went on to include “Weaveworld,” “The Great and Secret Show” and “Imajica.”

He made his directorial debut in 1987 with “Hellraiser,” based on his novella “The Hellbound Heart.” Made for $1.5 million, it grossed over $30 million and spawned three sequels.

He was writer-director on “Nightbreed” (1990), which was adapted from his novel “Cabal.”

‘Always’ in development

In 1992 he published his first children’s book, “The Thief of Always,” which features 27 of his own illustrations. A major bestseller with over 1 million copies sold in the U.S. alone, “The Thief of Always” is in development at Universal as a fully CGI film.

His exec producing credits include “Candyman” and “Gods and Monsters.”

The Liverpudlian was offered the chance to make his big-budget directorial debut with the Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle “End of Days,” but turned it down.He’s also penning and directing an untitled project, described as “an American gothic horror,” for New Line.

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