The three men sat patiently as a huge line formed out the door and around the corner of New Dimension Comics in Century iii mall, West Mifflin, PA. Chris Ryall, editor-in-Chief of IDW publishing sat alongside writer Joe Hill and illustrator Gabriel Rodriguez as the three happily signed books and chatted with fans. The three gentlemen were in town for the day visiting Pittsburgh in order to check out the set where a pilot is currently being filmed for the upcoming Fox television show Locke and Key, which is based upon the IDW comic series.
The first story arc of Locke and Key, titled Welcome to Lovecraft, was a six-issue limited series of instant popularity. The debut issue sold out in a day and required an immediate second printing. Hill has crafted a unique and intriguing – and more than a little creepy – world inside the walls of Keyhouse, a mysterious mansion that is the new home of our main cast of characters. There is no mystery of how Hill inherited such a talent for unique stories – he is the son of Stephen King. But Hill has made a name for himself in his own right as the author of Locke and Key as well as two novels, Heart Shaped Box and Horns, and a collection of short stories titled 20th Century Ghosts.
Locke and Key: Welcome to Lovecraft is the story of three kids whose father was just brutally murdered. They and their mother manage to escape and incapacitate the culprit. Sam Lesser is immediately shipped off to a juvenile prison, but he doesn’t stay there long. With the aid of a rather malicious magical force named Dodge, the murderer escapes and follows the family all the way to Lovecraft, MA., where they are struggling to build a new life for themselves. As if things weren’t complicated enough for the kids, the mansion where they move – the childhood home of their father and uncle – is enchanted with magical keys that unlock mysterious doors leading not just to places, but to various versions of themselves. Bode, the youngest of the siblings, stumbles upon the first magical key. He unlocks a door, walks out, and turns around to see his own lifeless body behind him in the doorway. As a ghost he reenters the house and his body, as if nothing had even happened.
This first storyline introduces the characters and the concept behind Keyhouse, but it is not until following three plot arcs that readers really get to delve into the possibilities of this magic. Hill’s writing of this complex system of the supernatural is well complimented by the visual narrative, which works just as hard to influence the reader’s perception of the story. The art in Locke and Key is filled with personality illustrated in incredible detail.
Therefore, the perfect setting had to be found to house such a story for the proper effect in the TV show. The chosen site is in Hartwood Acres mansion near Pittsburgh, PA. This 16th century house has all the necessary architectural elements to pull off the mystique of Keyhouse.
Bringing the house to life is the cast of Locke and Key, which has only been complete enough to film the pilot as of last week. This cast includes Jesse McCartney (Greek and the voice of Robin in Young Justice), Miranda Otto (Lord of the Rings), Nick Stahl (Sin City), and Sarah Bolger (Tudors, In America).
Both writer Joe hill and illustrator Gabriel Rodriguez were kind enough to sit down and talk to us both about the comic as the upcoming television show:
Lytherus: So, I know the TV show is in the early stages and you are here in Pittsburgh filming the pilot.
Joe Hill: Right, they are shooting the pilot. So in some ways that’s actually a fairly advanced stage. A lot of stuff never even makes it off the pre-production. You got a script and that’s where it ends. So now that they actually have got actors in front of cameras things are cooking. It’s come a very long ways already in a very short time.
Lytherus: And how do you think it is going to do staying true to the comic?
Hill: I think it’s going to stay true to a few essential elements of the comic: the keys, the family, and the Keyhouse. And the antagonist Dodge, who is in a lot of the show. And I think as long as it stays true to those core elements it should have the freedom be its own thing. So in some places it will probably hue very closely to what has been done in the comics, and in other places it will probably, you know, shoot off in its own direction. It will be able to explore the characters in a way that you really can’t do in a 22 page comic. In a 44 minute television episode, there is room for the characters to breathe and stretch their legs and that’s a real strength in the medium. So what we’re thinking is that they will draw the best ideas from the comic and run with those but also have the freedom to do their own thing and not be completely anchored down to our storyline.
Lytherus: Wow, that’s great. So, more speaking towards the comic now, the main characters are kids but before even the main events starts, they’ve sort of already lost their innocence.
Hill: Yeah. Well, Locke and Key is really a story about kids working out their own identity. How they figure out who they are. And that process begins in the very first story when they lose their father and you have a little boy learning about death. And then he discovers this fabulous key which allows him to become a ghost and to step out of his own body. So it really becomes an exploration about what it means learning about death. What happens when you lose someone important. What a shocking idea that is when you are just a kid. You know, it is a story about children, but it is not necessarily a story for children. It is about the passage from innocence to experience. From childhood to some sort of maturity. And you see that more with Tyler and Kinsey than you do with Bode, who really is much more a child. And that is satisfying to explore. You know, you’ve got these keys. You’ve got this creepy house. You got a bad guy. You also have something thematically that everyone can relate to. Leaving your childhood face behind and putting on your grownup face.
Lytherus: You often talk about your father and the great amount of respect that you have for him, but your mother also writes. How has she and her work influenced you?
Hill: Yeah, my mom is a great writer. An amazing writer. You know, I think I have always aimed – though not saying I have nailed it – my dad’s approach to story, but my mom’s approach to character. And I show them both my work and they give great feedback. And it’s funny because in a lot of their feedback, my dad will talk about story and my mom will talk about character. My dad writes great characters and my mom writes great stories, and there is a lot of back and forth. But that’s just as a generalization. All of us, though. You know, my brother writes as well. My brother is also a gifted writer. And we each have our own little territory, but we all write about New England. We know how people live there. We know what it’s like to dig the car out of the snow. We know what New England lives are like and the jobs like and the relationships are like. That is sort of where we are all grounded.
Lytherus: You make, on your website, a lot of recommendations of various mediums: books, music, movies. So what are some of your contemporary favorite comics that you find yourself having to pick up with the rest of us fans?
Hill: Yeah I think the great starting point would be Y: The Last Man by Brian Vaughan. It is a complete series with like 60 issues I think. It is with a very gifted artist Pia Guerra. So Y: The Last Man. Amazing read. For people who like things that are a little scary, dark, literary – Black Hole by Charles Burns is really great.
Then, one of the best ongoing comics right now would be Echo by Terry Moore who does the writing and art. (Hill suddenly smiles) It is THE best story ever written about heavily armed boobs. I mean there has just been so little done in the heavily armed boobs genre and Terry Moore has just knocked it out of the park.
Rodriguez: Yes! Of course.
Lytherus: The level of detail in your artwork always amazes me.
Rodriguez: (Laughs) And it’s my nightmare!
Lytherus: Oh no! So for you, then, as you are figuring out the story as it is rolling along and Joe is writing it, are you seeing these images in this amount of detail in your head? I have no artistic talent, so I’m really trying to figure out how you see it before you put the art on the page.
Rodriguez: This particular process for Locke and Key has been magical for me. From when I read the first page from Joe and the first description of the characters, the images just popped into my mind as to how they should be, especially the kids. Then when I started working on the house that was sort of a slow process. Being an architect, I focused on the architecture of it. I started doing real blueprints of the house. Then a 3D model to see how it could be made because I wanted to how it would look at every angle. I wanted do this house that would look very different from others and I tried to make it interesting as a character, also. So it has been a step-by-step process but incredibly natural for me. I think I just did a couple of tries and the look of the house immediately came out in my mind very close to what I ended up with. The same thing for the keys. Joe throws me the concept and the idea of the keys then I jumped immediately to assign them. I think almost every one of them came out almost on the first try. It has been awesome.
So we’ve been developing the story. Every time new elements appear in the story I try to assign it and make it fit with the previous stuff because for me as an illustrator it is very important for me to keep consistency in the work surrounding the characters to make it real and appealing for the reader.
Lytherus: I’m glad that you touched on the house and how much that was an architectural project for you. Have you seen the house that they have used for the pilot?
Rodriguez: Yes. We were there today in the morning. It is funny because they picked a house that has a lot of elements that I picked when I was researching to create Keyhouse. I did a lot of internet researching and most of the architectural elements I chose to place in the house are in the location that they chose. And they also built a couple of stages for the warehouse and the wine cellar for the final sequence. And they have done an amazing job because they have obviously created places that were adapted to meet the needs to shoot it in real life, but they are very close to this period of the original designs from the comic book. To me it was like stepping into your own dream. It was really amazing. Really, a great experience.
Lytherus: You kind of already answered my next question. I was wondering what your first reaction was when you first learned about the plot?
Rodriguez: Everything has been very overwhelming for me so far. From the script, which we had the opportunity to check from the pilot and is incredibly well written and keeps a lot of elements from the graphic novel. And all the adaptations they did are very smart and I think they’ll work really well in this TV format. And also I think it is made in a way that always keeps the spirit of the original story. You can really see that it’s true that Josh Friedman is a huge fan of this story and really knows all the elements because when he needs to play with them to change or adapt something he played with them in a way that serves the story and still keeps the original spirit.
It has an amazing cast of TV characters. They are all really great in their parts. It was great to see actual people in the cast of the main characters. They shot a few scenes today. And seeing the actors wearing the dress and playing the part it was almost like seeing the comic book coming to life literally. And all those people with all the technical stuff are doing their very best to make this a very special TV show. It was both a pleasure and wonderful for us to be able to see them make this.
Lytherus: You are making me very excited for the TV show! Ok, same question as I asked Joe. What are some contemporary comic books that are your favorites?
Rodriguez: It has been really hard for me to step into contemporary comics because I don’t have time to read right now with all I’m doing. There is some stuff that is really important to me. I agree with Y: The Last Man, that Joe had just said. Then there are some classics like Sandman, John Constantine and some new authors. I really want to read Echo. I haven’t started yet but I heard those amazing comments from Joe. (laughs) For the work in Locke and Key, I also do a lot of research into the work of other artists from movies to graphic designers and stuff like this. For Locke and Key for example, someone that has been extremely important to me as reference has been Hayao Miyazaki who did Howl’s Moving Castle. That is a strong influence for Locke and Key. And for the visual narrative of the story, the work of Stanley Kubrick in his movies is a constant reference for me. Especially what he did in the Shining from 2001 and Clockwork Orange. The way he stages things and composes the shots and the way he plays with the broken perspective and the flat shots to create ominous moments of silence, that is absolutely a direct influence for me in visual work.
Lytherus: That’s it! This has been just incredible. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me.
Rodriguez: No, thank you for being interested in our work!
Needless to say, the visit from the creators of Locke and Key was a huge success. Century iii Mall’s New Dimension manager Chris Stoner was amazed at the turnout and the level of excitement of the fans. These fans were not limited to this small city, either. Stoner had emails coming in ranging from across the country to across the globe, including Ireland and Australia, asking for signed copies of Locke and Key to be shipped to eager fans. “So it was a pretty big deal!” he said. “Which I was surprised about because I thought, ‘why us!’ You know they’re in New York, LA, they have all these bigger outlets. But they called us and it was awesome! … And just in general the level of excitement of the fans is a mark of success.”