@’s by LOCKE & KEY writer Joe Hill!
And if you happen to detect me gushing a little, it’s only because LOCKE & KEY is one of the best-written, best-drawn comics out there.
BOTTLEIMP (IMP): Let’s go back to the beginning: what was the initial spark that bloomed into the LOCKE & KEY story? Was the idea originally conceived as a novel, or was LOCKE & KEY always intended to be told through the comic book medium? And how did you come to work with IDW to publish the series?
JOE HILL (JH): Comic fans love a good origin story. Unfortunately, I don't have one for LOCKE & KEY. I had written a SPIDER-MAN one-shot for Marvel, called "Fanboyz." Not a very good piece of work, I'm afraid, although it was rescued by astonishing art from the late Seth Fisher. But I had a blast writing it, and as soon as I was done, I wanted to do more.
So I brainstormed three pitches for original comic book series. I was trying to think of a variation on the classic haunted house story, and thought: haunted keys. I worked up my pitches, and sent them around to several comic book publishers, and was turned down everywhere.
In time, I forgot the other pitches, but my story about haunted keys stuck with me. Every couple months I would come up with an idea for a new key. I began to feel I could use keys as a launching pad for almost any kind of story, in the same way Neil Gaiman was able to use dreams as a launching pad for almost any kind of story.
In 2006, IDW approached me to see if I'd let them adapt a few of my short stories into comic book form, something they were doing with some other young writers. I said, "Hang on, I might have something else you'll like better," and sent them the pitch for LOCKE & KEY. I also lied to them and told 'em I could finish the whole story in 6 issues. They went for it. Suckers.
IMP: Initially, the series format of six-issue “seasons” with slightly longer breaks in between left me slightly frustrated (as it did many other fans, I’m sure) as I impatiently waited for the next volume to begin. However, it seems like this schedule made it possible for LOCKE & KEY to maintain its high level of quality in terms of the artwork—having Gabriel Rodriguez be the sole artist for the entire series really unifies the story in a way that would be impossible if LOCKE & KEY had used fill-in or guest artists every once in a while. Was this the intention behind the series’ publication format?
JH: Uh, it's probably a huge mistake to imagine I had any idea what I was doing when I started out.
As for sticking with Gabe throughout the series... over time, Gabe has become one of my best friends, and I've come to feel like we are, artistically speaking, brothers. We share the same creative brain. We even think about creating in the same way. Gabe doesn't talk about "drawing" a page. He talks about "solving" a page. What's odd is that's how I've always talked about stories and chapters. I don't write a chapter. I try to solve it.
I have another gig, as a novelist and writer of short stories. I love comics, and have a lot of comics I want to write, beyond LOCKE & KEY. But I only have so much time. I'll never be a guy who can carry two or three titles at once. With that in mind, I mostly just want to work with Gabe on all my future comic titles: LOCKE & KEY and otherwise. I think readers want that, too, in the same way they like seeing Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely work together.
IMP: Here’s what I love about Gabriel Rodriguez: I’ll admit that my first thought when I saw the artwork was that his faces looked a little too Anime for my tastes, but as I read the comics I realized that the slight cartooniness of his characters lent them an amazing expressiveness and energy that can be lacking in more “realistic” drawing styles. That dynamic energy combined with the architectural precision of his settings and page layouts gives LOCKE & KEY an incredible visual impact that really sets the series apart from other comics on the stands. How did Rodriguez come to be involved with the project?
JH: Yeah, a lot of the early reviews focused on how Gabe was too sunny and cartoonish for the subject matter. Now this year he's up for an Eisner.
I think there's a widespread misunderstanding about how horror works best. People think dark, gritty art, filled with sharp edges and detailed human anatomy is ideal for horror fiction. But horror is about sympathy... it's about relating to a character you care about, and then seeing them suffer the worst. Gabe's characters live on the page. There is so much humor and life in Bode Locke's face, that it's almost unbearable to see him in danger. Gabe is a master of nuanced emotion, quiet feeling, and subtle detail.
Also, he's an original. No one draws like Gabe. Gabe isn't imitating anyone. He's his own guy.
When we were talking about LOCKE & KEY, Chris Ryall sent me a few art samples. When I saw Gabe's stuff, it was just obvious he was the guy.
IMP: I was (and still am) amazed by the level of detail that Rodriguez puts into his pages, especially when it comes to the rendering of Keyhouse. The house is so much an integral part of the story that it becomes more of a character rather than simply the setting. Did you have Keyhouse mapped out right from the beginning of the series, in terms of where the keys would be found and where their respective doors were?
JH: That's all Gabe - he's an architect by training, and has detailed plans showing the layout of the house. Hence his very precise renderings of the mansion.
I make him crazy sometimes. I'll stick a bathroom where it doesn't belong; or I'll have a character look out his bedroom and see something happening in the front yard, when his bedroom is actually in the back of the house. But Gabe always figures out a way to make it work.
IMP: I re-read the entire series up ‘til now before this interview, and one of the things that struck me that I hadn’t realized as I read on a month-to-month, issue-by-issue basis was how meticulously crafted the series is as a whole, single story; there is a satisfaction in reading big chunks of the series and seeing miniscule details from earlier issues pop up again in greater prominence later on. Specifically, there’s Professor Ridgeway’s flashback to the production of “The Tempest” in HEAD GAMES #1, where the reader sees the living shadows from the later CROWN OF SHADOWS arc, as well as at least two of the magical items found in Bode’s toy closet in KEYS TO THE KINGDOM #3. And there’s Detective Mutuku’s throwaway line about fencing in CROWN OF SHADOWS #3 that has its big payoff in the series’ most recent issue. So my question is this: was the entirety of LOCKE & KEY fully-formed right from the beginning?
JH: Aw, no. I'm not that smart.
IMP: But did you always know exactly where the story would go, or were there any times when a new idea would form and take you down a road that you hadn’t expected or planned for?
JH: For the first four issues or so I was entirely flying by the seat of my pants, with only a vague notion of where it was all headed.
Then Alan Moore did this interview, where various writers were allowed to ask him one question. I was one of the writers, and I asked him if he thought it was important to know where a series was going. His answer was long and thoughtful, but basically came to: yes. He made an argument that it's important not to raise questions you don't know the answers to, and to have a destination in mind.
So at that point, I spent about a month, working out answers to all the questions I had raised, and figuring out how I wanted the thing to end. I was aiming to avoid getting into an X-FILES situation, where I created a lot of mysteries that could never be satisfactorily resolved. So since the final published issue of WELCOME TO LOVECRAFT, there's been a plan, if not an outline.
At the moment I've only got nine issues left to write before I'm done with the story Gabe and I set out to tell. It's a hell of a lot of fun filling in all the blanks. It feels good.
IMP: One of the aspects of LOCKE & KEY that makes the series so engrossing is that you really focus on the characters and their reactions to the craziness happening around them, rather than just paying attention to the supernatural elements. My favorite example of this is probably in CROWN OF SHADOWS #6, where the magical “mending cabinet” of Keyhouse serves as a backdrop to allow the reader to focus on Nina Locke’s devastating emotional breakdown, rather than the other way around. Do you ever find it difficult to strike that balance between the humanity and the supernatural?
JH: Hm. No, not really - there are other aspects of writing comics that give me trouble, but not that. The characters in LOCKE & KEY are very well formed in my mind. I hear their voices very clearly. So when I drop them into a supernatural situation, it isn't hard to see how they'll respond.
I struggle to stop trying to solve problems with words. The best sequences in the comic are often virtually silent, and that's how it should be. Comics are literally a case of showing instead of telling.
IMP: There are two issues in the KEYS TO THE KINGDOM arc that I’d like to talk about. The first is the tribute to “Calvin & Hobbes” creator Bill Watterson in #1, and the second is #3’s compression of an entire month in a single issue. Both of these are pretty radical departures from the pacing and style of the rest of the series; is there anything that you can tell us about writing these particular issues?
JH: "Sparrow" is kind of an extreme example of horror fiction as Gabe and I understand it. We think welding the humor of Calvin & Hobbes to the blood-splashed aesthetic of Texas Chainsaw Massacre makes for something more emotionally involving than just rubbing people's face in entrails.
We've tried, in every arc, to play with form. That's one of the real pleasures of working in comics, the chance to marry form to content in an imaginative way. We wanted to show the enormity of all the things people carry around in their heads, so we played with 2-page spreads in HEAD GAMES. We wanted to stage a Godzilla-size battle, and did an issue of full-page illustrations in CROWN OF SHADOWS.
KEYS TO THE KINGDOM was always supposed to be analogous to SANDMAN: DREAM COUNTRY... a collection of standalones. With that in mind, it made sense to give each issue it's own unique stylistic feel.
IMP: As a comic book and horror fiction and film fan, I love the little references you sprinkle throughout the series, from the obvious moniker of the little New England town of Lovecraft to the William Gaines Academy in San Francisco to the Voorhees High School hockey team. Would you say that these represent some of the influences on your work, both in LOCKE & KEY and in your other fiction?
JH: Yeah. LOCKE & KEY is full of darkness and sadness and loss. But, you know... Gabe and I are having the time of our lives creating it. So there's also a certain amount of glee bubbling right under the surface of the story.
IMP: Let’s talk covers for a moment. I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by one, but you could do a lot worse than judging LOCKE & KEY by its own cover gallery. I love the fact that there is no one fixed style for the covers; there are some that are more-or-less narrative, there are the semi-humorous homage covers to classic comics, and there are those that are more symbolic of the story contained within the pages. What process do you go through to decide what cover image will grace each issue?
JH: Two days before deadline we begin frantically throwing ideas around, and Gabe goes for whatever sounds least horrible, then makes it look awesome.
IMP: So now LOCKE & KEY is headed to the small screen, and a pilot has already been filmed for the Fox network. What can you tell us about the adaptation of the source material? Is the television series going to follow the same storyline that you mapped out for the comic, or will they be taking the Locke family in a different direction?
JH: You know the big warehouse at the end of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK? At the moment the pilot is packed into a crate and hidden there. Hopefully a network will break in and rescue it, either as a series, or as a standalone made-for-TV movie, because [director] Mark Romanek and [screenwriter] Josh Friedman got something really special on film here. I know I'm biased, but I still think I'm right when I say the pilot very much has the same feel as SUPER 8. The first time I saw it, I felt like I was watching early 80s scary-Spielberg... POLTERGEIST in particular came to mind.
Everyone who's seen it has been crazy for it. Apparently, though, that's not quite enough to get a network to bite. It's TV musical chairs, and somehow we got left without a seat. For now, anyway. I still think we got a chance. I know Dreamworks, Kurtzman/Orci, IDW, and myself are all still fighting for it.
Looks like we'll be screening it at San Diego Comic Con, so that'll be a nice opportunity for folks to see it.
IMP: I know that there are some writers who are very protective of their work when it is adapted for other media and like to stay involved in the process so that their original intentions are translated to the screen. But there are those who are more relaxed about the process, whose philosophy is more, “the book is the book, and the movie is the movie, and the existence of one does not alter the existence of the other.” Where do you see yourself in relation to these two viewpoints?
JH: Josh Friedman's pilot is a very faithful adaptation of WELCOME TO LOVECRAFT. It's so faithful that several sequences are recreated straight from the comic book, down to even minor visual details.
I was around to answer questions on the filming of the pilot, and I was going to write an episode if we made it to series. The plan was for the show to have about 12 episodes of original material, and another 8 "mythology" episodes that would've stuck close to what happens in the comics. That was a notion that I think still makes sense.
IMP: The comic book series will be wrapping up soon—just 13 issues left!—so obviously you have in mind a specific ending to the story. Without giving anything away, has the television series also been conceived with a definite endpoint, or will it be restructured to be more of an open-ended, ongoing series?
JH: Ah, well. You know - right now the show is in Area 51. AICN needs to start a FREE LOCKE & KEY campaign.
IMP: Though the series is coming to a close, Keyhouse obviously has a long and no-doubt intriguing history. Do you ever see yourself coming back to the LOCKE & KEY universe to tell more stories about Keyhouse and its secrets? Or perhaps (again, without giving anything away) revisiting the Locke family?
JH: After Gabe and I wrap up the last book, LOCKE & KEY: OMEGA, I'm going to take a sabbatical from comics to do focus on some prose work. But Gabe and I have plans to tackle a mainstream superhero character, and we also have a different, non-LOCKE & KEY horror story we want to do together. Later, though... yeah, I think we'll be coming back to do more LOCKE & KEY. The house has 250 years of history, and we have ideas for a lot of other stories, many of which wouldn't be about the modern day Locke family. I'd like to do some of those stories.
IMP: One final question, from one New Englander to another: now that the Sox have bounced back from their god-awful start this year and are rocking it into the All-Star break, how do you like their chances?
JH: Do I think the Sox are going to the playoffs?
It's a locke.
IMP: And with a pun worthy of the Crypt-Keeper himself, that wraps up the interview! A big thank-you to Joe and the folks at IDW for this opportunity, and remember to stop by the IDW booth at SDCC to check out some sweet LOCKE & KEY exclusives. Below is the Official Press Release from IDW.
San Diego, CA (July 11, 2011)—LOCKE & KEY is taking San Diego Comic-Con by storm in July. Centered at the IDW booth #2643, the LOCKE & KEY action will be non-stop, with exclusive keys, books and temporary tattoos; plus signings with the multiple Eisner-nominated creative team of Joe Hill (Horns) and Gabriel Rodriguez. On Friday, attendees will have a chance to see the pilot everyone is talking about, as Hill and Rodriguez headline the panel and are joined by Locke & Key television writer Josh Friedman for an only at Comic-Con screening of the Locke & Key pilot. With thanks to Fox Broadcasting Corporation, details for the screening and panel are listed below.
Throughout Comic-Con, readers will head to the IDW booth for their Locke & Key fix, headlined by an exclusive edition of the latest collected edition, LOCKE & KEY, VOL. 4: KEYS TO THE KINGDOM, and several exclusive keys, thanks to Skelton Key Studios. From Skelton Key Studios, IDW will be selling a limited number of Legacy Edition Ghost Keys, Shadow Keys, Head Keys and Hercules Keys, as well as the Comic-Con exclusive IDW Key. Locke & Key fans will also be able to pick up the latest issue of the series, too, LOCKE & KEY: CLOCKWORKS #1, which makes its debut that week. IDW will also be offering temporary tattoos of seven different LOCKE & KEY keys, including the Omega Key, the Head Key and the brand new IDW key. Attendees are encouraged to stop by the IDW booth to get tattooed throughout the convention.
“I’m glad to see LOCKE & KEY getting the recognition it deserves,” said IDW chief executive officer and co-founder, Ted Adams. “It’s especially great that Joe and Gabe’s hard work and amazing creativity is being honored by their peers with four Eisner nominations and two Harvey Award nominations this year alone.”
LOCKE & KEY, VOL. 4: KEYS TO THE KINGDOM features more keys making themselves known and the depths of the Locke's family's mysteries ever-expanding, while Dodge's desperation to end his shadowy quest drives the habitants of Keyhouse ever closer to a revealing conclusion. The variant edition of the KEYS TO THE KINGDOM hardcover features a cover image by Gabriel Rodriguez with the three new keys featured in the book spot-varnished in front of the Well House.
Adapting LOCKE & KEY, VOL. 1: WELCOME TO LOVECRAFT, the Fox Television pilot will be screened only once during Comic-Con, on Friday, July 22nd at 10.30 a.m. in room 8. In addition to the screening, IDW’s editor in chief/chief creative officer Chris Ryall will moderate a panel featuring Hill, Rodriguez, and Friedman all participating in a discussion of the show, the comic and what’s coming up in CLOCKWORKS, the second-to-last story arc in the acclaimed series. The panel will begin immediately following the screening, also in room 8.
Locke & Key Pilot Screening:
Friday, July 22nd
Locke & Key Panel:
Friday, July 22nd
Immediately following screening
IMP: And don’t forget, the final chapters of Keyhouse begin to unfold in a matter of days with the first issue of LOCKE & KEY: CLOCKWORKS from IDW Publishing.
When released from his bottle, the Imp transforms into Stephen Andrade, an artist/illustrator/pirate monkey painter from New England. He's currently hard at work interpreting fellow @$$Hole Optimous Douche's brainwaves and transforming them into pretty pictures on AVERAGE JOE, an original graphic novel to be published by Com.x. You can see some of his artwork here.
Proofs, co-edits & common sense provided by Sleazy G