Joe Hill Unlocks "Locke & Key"

Tue, February 12th, 2008 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Jeffrey Renaud, Staff Writer

"Locke & Key" #1 on sale February 20

This Wednesday, February 13 marks the one-year anniversary of the original release date of Joe Hill's debut novel, "Heart-Shaped Box." And what a difference a year makes. The horror book peaked on the New York Times bestseller list at #8 and has since been optioned for film by Warner Bros. Pictures.

So how does the award-winning son of Stephen King follow up with his first major critical and commercial success? By writing a comic book, of course.

On Wednesday, February 20, IDW Publishing is set to release Hill's "Locke & Key" #1, the first issue of a six-part miniseries teased as an "all-new story of dark fantasy and wonder" illustrated by Gabriel Rodríguez.

Joe Hill told CBR News, "When you're a kid you keep trying on different identities, looking for the one that fits. 'Locke & Key' just takes that notion and makes it explicit."

"Locke & Key" is about three children who find themselves custodians of Keyhouse, a New England mansion filled with "impossible doors." Explained Hill, "There's a door that will turn you into a ghost when you walk through it. There's a closet filled with different robes – an African robe, a Chinese robe, Indian furs – and by throwing on these cloaks you can change your race. Most of all, somewhere in the house, there's a door that must never be opened, the black door. Naturally, there's someone who wants to open it, a creature named Dodge, a kind of Peter Pan gone horribly wrong. Someone who takes the Lost Boys of the world and turns them Columbine."

Pages from "Locke & Key" #1
These lost boys, however, aren't all of the male persuasion, said Hill. "The runaway star of the story is six-year-old Bode Locke, who as a rule manages to endanger his own life at least once an hour. Older brother Tyler is the lead character, a lost 18-year old. He's a kid who did one stupid thing that he can never take back. He's a bit of a Ben Grimm type, lonely and sullen but also a charismatic guy's guy. He's quiet. He's probably the least talkative hero I've ever written about, which is fun, because when he says something, it has weight.

"And in between them is Kinsey, the political conscience of the family. Like a lot of teenage girls, Kinsey is torn between wanting to fit in, and despising the sort of things girls are expected to do to be liked."

The story of the Lockes has been coursing its way through Hill's veins for years and he always new it made more sense as a comic book than a novel. "I've been nibbling at the edges of the comic business for about five years now. I did a Spider-Man story for Marvel way back, and also some 11-page scripts for an indie horror comic, which are only now just coming out," explained Hill in speaking of his work on the story "Fanboyz" for "Spider-Man Unlimited" #8 and "Freddy Wertham Goes to Hell" in "Grave Tales" #6.

Page from "Locke & Key" #1

"'Locke & Key' began as a pitch that I passed around to a few comic book companies, and has been in my head for a couple years," continued Hill. "I didn't think it would work as a novel. It's really five or six connected short stories that tell a single larger story that takes place over the course of Tyler Locke's last year of high school."

Teased with the phrase, "five or six connected short stories," CBR News asked if there was more to "Locke & Key" beyond the solicited six-issue miniseries. "My idea about literature is that every story is a thought experiment, in which you explore the effects of different situations on different psychologies," Hill explained. "And with an outline there's no exploration. What you've got instead is a literary game of connect-the-dots. That said, I could bring down the curtain on 'Locke & Key' with another six-issue mini if I had to. Because while I'm not working from a plan here, there is someone with a plan for how this thing is going to end: Dodge. And I don't think it's giving anything away to say that by the end of these first six issues, Dodge has already moved things perilously close to the endgame.

"But if the whole story was only 12 issues long, I think that might compact the narrative in an unhappy way. On the other hand, 68 issues might wind up spreading the material a little thin. If I have a number in mind, right now it's 32. That would be four six-issue runs, and one eight-issue finale."

Pages from "Locke & Key" #1
Hill said he likens the way "Locke & Key" will unfold closer to a television show than an ongoing series, thus the multiple mini-series, which give the writer time to spend writing the second draft of the follow-up to his bestselling novel. "I've never done an ongoing, and was afraid of not being able to keep up with the relentless pace of a monthly, especially while trying to juggle my other professional obligations," admitted Hill. "Also, it feels natural to catch my breath every six or so issues, and regroup for the next story. That's how they do it in TV. You get one season, then a break, then another season. Even the best monthly comics go through irritating patches, when it feels like the narrative is just spinning its wheels. That's always a result of a writer running out of ideas, and needing to tread water for a while."

Helping to keep "Locke & Key" fresh is artist Gabriel Rodríguez ("Beowulf," "The Great and Secret Show"). "Gabe is an absolute engine of story," said Hill. "His artwork is kinetic, percussive. He's the master of creating sequences that become steadily more jolting with each passing panel. Those explosive visual rhythms are the first thing you notice about his work, but they're not the only thing, or maybe even the most important thing. It's been a genuine collaboration. His ideas about the characters are informed by the scripts, but then my ideas are reshaped by his artwork. Several characters have become much clearer to me, much more finely delineated, now that I can see them. He's great at revealing emotional nuances. He doesn't beat you over the head with how a character is feeling, it's just there. Working with him has been the best part of the experience for me. It's no exaggeration to say that the high point of my day is when a new page turns up from Gabe in my Inbox."

"Locke & Key" #2 and #3
Hill revealed he is currently in talks with Vertigo about writing a book for the DC Comics mature readers imprint. "I have been talking with them about borrowing one of their characters for a little while," said Hill. "But I'm not going to say which one."

Not a Marvel Zombie nor a DC guy, Hill said he fuels his pull list by creator and not title. "My passion is specific writers and artists," said Hill. "If Brian K. Vaughan or Neil Gaiman or Alan Moore is writing it, I want to read it. I don't really care if it's for DC, Marvel, or an independent. The first comic I ever collected was 'The Uncanny X-Men,' but when John Byrne stopped drawing, I stopped buying. I would never just throw money down on the latest 'Green Lantern' to see what he's up to. I don't really care. But I love 'Willworld,' because Seth Fisher's visuals were so blissfully deranged. Frank Quitely, Grant Morrison, John Cassady, Joss Whedon, Eric Powell -- I follow talent, not characters."

"Locke & Key" #4
Asked if there was any heroes or villains from either superhero publisher he'd love to sink his teeth into, Hill responded, "Well, like I said, I'm in talks about this one character controlled by DC/Vertigo. Aside from that character, though, I think I could do something fresh with Superman, although he probably seems like an unlikely fit for me. But Superman has been the four-color conscience of the nation, going back to before World War II, and he's always been the perfect vehicle for examining questions of American power. He's the Garrison Keillor of superheroes, so basically decent and kind, good-humored and patient, Midwestern and mainstream, that he's sort of irresistibly square."

Regarding Marvel, Hill joked there may be a certain dark character he'd like to have a go at, but it would maybe feel a little weird. "Marvel also has a good cowboy comic going, but for personal reasons I'd feel awkward writing it, and anyway, Peter David is making out pretty good with it."

"Locke & Key" #1 is on sale February 20 from IDW Publishing. The trailer can be seen in the embeded video below:

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