With the comics industry slowly returning from the pandemic, Brendan Allen and I are taking the opportunity to introduce each other to comics that the other might not have read. I’m more of a capes, laser guns and swords guy, while Brendan loves dark magic, criminals and things that go bump in the night. This time around we take a look at a horror series that spawned a Netflix hit!
In 2008, Joe Hill was an emerging name in horror literature, having gained notoriety for his short story collection 20th Century Ghosts and novel Heart-Shaped Box (a book that spooked me so badly within its first 100 pages I still have chills). In January 2008 though, his star rose even more when he teamed with Gabriel Rodriguez, Jay Fotos, and Robbie Robbins on Locke & Key at IDW Publishing. The story of the Locke family and their horrifying adventures in Keyhouse was an instant hit, even leading to a Netflix series.
When the Locke family survives an unbelievable tragedy, they head across the country to their late patriarch’s childhood home- Keyhouse in Lovecraft, MA. As they grapple with their inner demons, literal demons begin to surface. Can the Locke children discover the secrets of Keyhouse before they destroy their family?
Tony Thornley: Hey Brendan! So for part two of our all horror October, I picked one of my favorites. I really enjoy this book for being equal parts an examination of trauma and a supernatural horror mystery. Hill really inherited his dad’s skill at character-driven horror. What were your first impressions?
Brendan Allen: You know, you did mention Joe Hill’s pedigree at one point when I was in the middle of this thing, but I didn’t even need that information. Hill’s work here stands on its own legs. I love Stephen King to pieces. I have just about everything he put out through the early double aughts. That being said, I didn’t require the association at all to thoroughly enjoy Locke & Key.
TT: Oh definitely. This isn’t Hill writing a pastiche of his dad’s work, by any means. There are similarities (young protagonists, character driven, Northeastern US setting, etc), but outside of that stuff, it’s a strong horror story all of its own. And it really is scary, not even just because of the supernatural.
The world building here is really good too. You get just enough to see there’s an expansive world behind this story here. The keys, the background characters, little moments and details through the pages… It’s a self-contained introduction, but also makes it clear that this will be an ongoing story. This volume is a satisfying read for that reason, but it also gets its hooks in to entice you to read more.
BA: Oh, I fully expect this story to continue through a dozen arcs or so. It has already, hasn’t it? It’s set up so well, with so many mysteries already in place. Little nuggets hanging to either be addressed or not. Like you said, it can be taken alone, and reads as a very complete story, but there are also so many dark corners to explore in the later installments.
TT: Yeah, I think it’s eight total volumes. It builds quite a bit too. It’s absolutely your sort of story. [Editor’s Note: A new three-part mini-series, …In Pale Battalions Go… and a crossover with Sandman are in the works at the time of this writing.]
Looking at the art, Rodriguez is just amazing at this stuff. Hill’s script is scary, but Rodriguez’s art just pushes it into some real terror. He knows how to pace his pages so you get creeping dread, unsettling terror, and actual jump scares, sometimes all on the same page. Basically everything involving Dodge (who I don’t actually think is named in this volume) in these six issues? She’s TERRIFYING!
BA: Dodge. That’s the Ringu girl from the well? Absolutely. By this point, Bode’s been through so much, though, I think his radar’s a little off. He watched the violence unfold on his family. He’s already found and used the Black Key… Evil lady trapped in the well? Bring it.
TT: Definitely and that comes through so well, how broken he is. But then when she comes out of the well for the first time, while he has his back to her? Holy crap, it spooked me so bad the first time I read this.
Another thing that I think Rodriguez does so well is the character work. His style is very expressive and cartoony, but I think that works to his advantage. He’s able to make us feel what Tyler, Kinsey and Bode are feeling, which grounds both the fantasy and the horror of the whole story.
BA: Character designs are fantastic. I’m not sure where I’ve seen that style before. Reminds me a little of, like, Mort Drucker, but not quite so exaggerated. A little bit caricatured, with the oversized heads and features, but creepy as hell at the same time. It’s a very relatable style.
TT: Yeah, I think the cartoony style helps with the interpersonal side of things. I don’t think we’d feel for these characters nearly as much if it was a touch more real or a touch more exaggerated. It’s the perfect balance for what the story needs.
Really my biggest complaint about this story is that it’s only scratching the surface of Keyhouse. There’s so much more to the story, and I’m thrilled you get to experience it. What did you think?
BA: I’m into it. I’m actually surprised it hasn’t made its way into my queue before now. I think one of my friends actually told me I should read this series when I first started reviewing, and I never got around to it. Deric, if you’re reading this, your reco was brilliant.
TT: Awesome! So what spooky find is up next?
BA: We’re sticking with the October horror theme with a fresh take on a classic franchise with Dark Horse Comics’ Aliens: Dust to Dust by Gabriel Hardman and Rain Beredo.
TT: Fantastic! Aliens books are always a great ride!
Locke & Key Volume 1: Welcome to Lovecraft is available now in single issues and collected editions from IDW Publishing, both in print and digital editions.
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