Showing posts with label Books: Locke and Key. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Books: Locke and Key. Show all posts

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Books: Locke & Key

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Locke & Key
Vol 1: Welcome to Lovecraft
Written by Joe Hill
Art by Gabriel Rodriguez

2009



Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/

Locke & Key
Vol 2: Head Games
Written by Joe Hill
Art by Gabriel Rodriguez

2010



Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/

Locke & Key
Vol 3: Crown of Shadows
Written by Joe Hill
Art by Gabriel Rodriguez

2010



Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/
Locke & Key
Vol 4: Keys to the Kingdom
Written by Joe Hill
Art by Gabriel Rodriguez

2010



Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/
Locke & Key
Vol 5: Clockworks
Written by Joe Hill
Art by Gabriel Rodriguez

2012



Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/


Stephen King.

First time I fell into the clammy-handed world of Locke & Key I kept thinking of Stephen King. I kept thinking that somehow this "Joe Hill" had managed to somehow take all the best Stephen King tropes around [1] and mash them into the uber-Stephen King story. One that - unexpectedly - turned out to be a comic book (I mean who would have guessed?).

I haven't actually read that much Stephen King stuff [2] - but he's been adapted so much and his dirty blood-stained fingerprints are all over the place - that he feels like something close to an uncle (albeit a crazy one: but the crazy ones always have the best stories). And - well - Locke and Key (which is good in all sorts of ways) feels like it was written by King (or at the very least Executively Produced by) - it's got the same preoccupations (good versus evil battles in the heart of middle America with the evil slowly poking it's way out of the seams - amongst other things) and the same horrific and deranged unholy imagination (wait until you see what whose keys can do) and the same expert watchmaker-like know-how on how to construct and grow a narrative (something like a venus fly-trap: sticky sweet and delicious on the outside but spring-loaded to snap and crunch all the juicy parts of your brain). I was shocked but also unsurprised when someone told me that Joe Hill is actually the pen name for Joseph Hillstrom King who - turns out - is the son of the writers Tabitha and (yep) Stephen King (perhaps there's something in the water up in Maine?): not that parentage matters one way or the other - especially when the writing is as fine as it is here [3] (but my best guess is that while Stephen's been asleep Joe has been coming into his bedroom with a knife and fork: slicing open his daddy's scalp and then nibbling on bits of his brain).

You want to know what it's about? Fine. It begins with a door (because of course) with a Death's-head Hawkmoth fluttering by [4]. Bad things happen and three children - Tyler, Kinsey and Bode Locke [5] - end up moving to their old creepy-looking family estate of Keyhouse [6] in the town of Lovecraft (the name of which should give you a good idea of what to expect). And then more bad things happen. There is: Suspense. Horror. Thrills. Chills. Spooks. Scares. Danger. Death. (and at one point a reference to The Wolves in the Walls: excellent [7]!) I mean - I know that I'm just a big baby: but there are certain panels in these books that make my heart stop dead in my chest ("Mom says ten more minutes outside and then bed!"). In fact: the tension's cranks itself up to such extreme levels that you're probably going to need a brown-paper bag to breathe into once you're done (reading them in order I could feel my chest getting tighter and tighter and tighter with each successive book). Plus it has some of the best inventive strangeness since... well: in the introduction to volume Warren Ellis complains about how he wishes he had managed to think up the ideas that push forward the madness that goes on inside ("these comics are really remarkably good, among the best-written comics I've seen in the last two years, which I guess is because Joe Hill's cleverer than I am and that's why he had to die.") and he's Warren freaking Ellis - who (let's face it) knows a thing or three about comics that get inside your head. (Hell - even if you hate everything Warren Ellis has ever written I'm hoping that mentioning him is senough to get you curious to try these books out...)

Also (just in case it all sounds like a major horrible drag - which it very much is not) it also knows when to leaven things with a little sprinkling of humour: "- one teebs? You mean tablespoon?" "I don't know." And - towards the end of the third book increasingly adventurous in terms of the places it goes (hell I'll go ahead and say it: Alan Moore would be proud).

I've always been a big stickler for structure and have whinged and whined many a time on here about comics that read like they've just been cobbled together on the hoof: one of the many things that had me falling in love with these books is how meticulously planned they seem: I get off in a big way on books that tease out the small details, drop tiny nuggets of information on you that leave you begging for more, get it right with the foreshadowing ("I wish I could forget how to cry") and gift you seemingly inconsequential little moments that then end up paying off in a big way later on. One of my favourite lines from the first book is: "You can't understand. Because you're reading the last chapter of something, without having read the first chapters. You're a little guy, Bode. Kids always think they're coming into a story at the beginning, when usually, they're coming in at the end." Because - hey - it's true and also: it's a such so nice reading something where half the time you're trying to put the pieces together and the other half the time you're reading aghast as more crazy stuff happens [8]. Plus: kudos for the way that every volume feels like a mini television series that ends with a "OMG" cliffhanger that leaves you with no choice but to keep reading.

Oh: And I shouldn't neglect to mention the artist Gabriel Rodriguez (whose drawings always look so nice and chunky) he's versatile enough to handle all the crazy strangeness the plot throws up (and I like it how the story is written so that it's always ready with a big bold image to further the plot: "Don't do that with your head, Bode. I don't like it.") partial to throwing in a few dutch angles now and again (which I count as a big bonus) while at the same time is always clear enough so you can tell exactly what's going on (oh: and make sure you're watching out for people lurking in doors and all those other little sorta background details [9]). Damn him: he only gets better and better as things move on (wish that more books kept the same artist all the way through - it's just makes things so fantastically consistent) by the time you get to the fifth book he's practically unstoppable. I wouldn't say it's about anything more than providing a fantastic reading experience: but when it's this spot on you don't need anything else [10]. A lot of the important stuff - especially in the first volume when the kids are still just moping around - takes place inside the character's heads so there's a lot of first-person narration: but the artwork keeps things so interesting with all the character's expressions captured just right (plus all the jumping around that the story does) that things never feel like they're dragging (in fact if anyone ever described Locke and Key as being boring I would just assume that they were lying: this is one series that is never ever dull).

Even the clothes and cups are just - perfect (check out who has a Pac-Man obsession: and then enjoy the unstated reasons why). And while most people out there give bad guys backstories in order to make some point about how they were just misunderstood as a child or mummy didn't love them or whatever (yawn): these guys understand that - sometimes - the more you get to know about a character: the more creepy they can get [12]. And even if it doesn't attempt to scale the freaky heights of your Alan Moore and Grant Morrison type things: they know exactly how what makes a comic book work and the best things and the best ways to convey all sorts of important character and plot informational things (check the panel which draws you to the back of Bode's neck: I just love the way it's right at the bottom of the right hand corner so it's the last thing your eye hits before you hop onto the next page).

Highly recommended. Even if you somehow think that this isn't the sort of thing you'd enjoy: you really need to give these books a try, even tho they're full of evil and horror and traumatising happening: they're an absolute delight to read.

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[1] You want a list? Ok - I'll give you a list: Creepy Locations With Dark Evil Lurking Within, Disappeared Dad Syndrome, Long Buried Secrets That Start To Start To Come To Light In Terrible Ways, Haunted Paintings, Vengeful Spirits, Evil In a Friendly Guise, Small Kids With Access to Magic Powers, Groups of Kids Doing Things They Shouldn't, People With Crutches, Redneck Psychopaths, Kids With Learning Difficulties, Adults With Drinking Problems, Teens As Monsters, Children Knowing Things That Adults Can't Understand etc. etc. etc.

[2] Altho since I first wrote that I have taken on his epic Dark Tower series - so I guess I'm making up for lost time...

[3] So you know: he's also written two proper (no pictures) novels: Heart-Shaped Box and Horns plus a collection of Short Stories published under the title 20th Century Ghosts. I guessing he must get the work ethic from his Dad who is famously no slouch when it comes to getting things done. (Oh - and also it turns out that the two have them have also worked on a novella together called: Throttle ("Inspired by Richard Matheson's classic "Duel," "Throttle," by Joe Hill and Stephen King, is a duel of a different kind, pitting a faceless trucker against a tribe of motorcycle outlaws in the simmering Nevada desert. Their battle is fought out on twenty miles of the most lonely road in the country, a place where the only thing worse than not knowing what you're up against, is slowing down...")

[4] Who you'd probably recognise from the poster for The Silence of the Lambs altho there it was actually a reproduction of Salvador Dali photograph of 7 naked women in the shape of a skull.

[5] Unfortunately - as far as I can tell - the family name isn't a reference to my favourite character from Lost: but more a thematically linked choice that helps to provides the snappy title (oh: I guess you can't have everything).

[6] That looks like a splice between Norman Bate's home and the Maitland's house from Beetlejuice only with a few added floors and an extra dollop of gothic horror stylings (and hey if you wanna get some idea of what Locke & Key is like you could do a lot worse than "Psycho mixed with Beetlejuice.")

[7] It's a children's book written by Neil Gaiman and drawn by Dave McKean. I read it to some of the more grown-up classes of children that come to visit the library and it is excellent for scaring the holy bejebus out them. Plus: it's very much fun to make wolf noises with a whole class-full of kids.

[8] And just in case [5] didn't make it clear: yeah I used to be a major Lost fan. And - hand on heart: even tho they have lots of differences - these books pressed my buttons in much the same way. So if you're looking for the same sorta rush that you used to get from the Mystery Island Show: well - maybe try reading the first volume and let us know what you think...

[9] I mean - there's hundreds of things that I could use as an example here but one of the best bits early on is where Tyler is sitting on a bench and it shifts the time with just a few understated little touches (the umberalls in the umbrella bin, the flowers on the table). In 2011 they were going to make a TV show and it's easy to see why: the story is excellent and it's bult in such a way that unfolds cinematically in your mind as you read it: but if you attempted to make the same sorta switch in time on film it would be really showy and even a little mawkish (the older version of a character looking back at his childhood self) but on the comics' page it comes across as genuine in a beautiful sort of understated way. And yeah I'll say this here: it's just so nice to read a comic that's confident enough and smart enough make the whole "fixed-camera" panel construction thing work. It's something a little bit steady that keeps things visually grounded while (later on) it's doing all sorts of strange weirdness...

[10] I also very much dug the old school Alan Moore style panel transitions: "I'd kill to get back to San Francisco" - cut to: funeral. "It's funny when every time you look into a mirror, there's a face there you don't expect to see" - cut to: someone else holding a mirror. Someone aiming a gun at someone else  - - cut to someone else saying "bang." Like the Alan Moore says in his Writing for Comics book (advice which Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez must have obviously taken to heart): "Transitions, the movement between one scene and another, are one of the most tricky and intriguing elements of the whole writing process. The problem is to move from one place or one time to another without doing anything violent or clumsy that would disturb the reader’s delicate thread of involvement in the story. If a transition is handled incorrectly, what it does is to bring the reader up short against the fact that he or she is reading a story. If you've spend the first scene building up the reader's involvement in the storyline and the characters you don't want to do anything to remind him of their basic unreality. Since changes in location often require a sort of split-second pause between finishing one scene and beginning another, the transition gap is one of the places where you are most likely to lose your reader's interest if you don't handle it properly. As I see it, a successful story of any kind should be almost like hypnosis: You fascinate with your first sentence, draw them in with your second and have them in mild trance by the third. Then be careful not to wake them, you carry them away up the back alleys of your narrative and when they are hopelessly loss within the story, having surrender themselves to it, you do them terrible violence with a softball bat and then lead them whimpering to the exit on the last page. Believe me, they’ll thank you for it. The important thing is that the reader should not wake up until you want them to, and the transitions between scenes are the weak points in the spell that you are attempting to cast over them. One way or another, as a writer, you'll have to come up with your own repertoire of tricks and devices with which to bridge the credibility gap that a change in scene represents, borrowing some devices from other writers and hopefully coming up with a few of your own. The one which I've used to excess, judging from a few of the comments I pick up in reviews or letter columns now and then, is the use of overlapping or coincidental dialogue. That said, it's a better trick to fall back on than the lame use of "Meanwhile, back at the ranch..." or some such similar utilitarian device...” [11]

[11] Altho that's all stuff that he repudiates in the afterword (written 15 years later): "All that stuff I said a few chapters back about changing scenes with clever panel-to-panel linkages? Forget it. It was becoming a cliche even as I was writing those words, a technique that I pretty much abandoned straight after Watchmen."

[12] Sam Lesser = Brrrrrrr. Not someone you'd ever want to be stuck in a room with: I mean even after he's forced to give a trucker a blow-job (which you'd think would make anyone seem more sympathetic) and all the stuff that comes after that: he still comes across as an evil creep with a disturbingly flat speaking voice: "Must be someone worrying about you somewhere. Your mom... Your dad... Folks at school..." "No... Not really. I was really close to my mum. My dad, too. But they both passed away. A couple months ago. And I'm done with school. Lost my taste for it."

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Links: Comic Book Resources Article, Nerd Bastards Review of Vol 1, Schizopolitan Review of Vol 1 / Vol 4iFanboy Review Vol 2 / Vol 3, Comics Without Frontiers Article: In Appreciation of Locke & Key.

Further reading: Neonomicon, The Unwritten, Swamp ThingDeath Note, Alan Moore's The Courtyard, Aetheric Mechanics, CradlegraveCoralineStephen King's N, Anya's Ghost, B.P.R.D.: Hell on EarthThe Walking Dead, The Stand.

All comments welcome.