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Comics Interview

Joe Hill on 'Locke & Key', 'NOS4R2' and the art of horror writing

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Horror writer Joe Hill is best known as the writer of IDW Publishing series Locke & Key and novels including Horns, which is being adapted into a Daniel Radcliffe-starring film. His latest novel NOS4R2 centres around the immortal kidnapper Charlie Manx, who whisks children away to live forever in his sinister Christmasland where the holidays never end.

Hill - who happens to be the son of Stephen King - spoke to Digital Spy about horror writing and the end of Locke & Key, and gave us the worst teaser ever about his upcoming superhero project.

Joe Hill's 'NOS4R2' cover artwork

© Gollancz

'NOS4R2' cover artwork



Do you think there is something sinister about Christmas?
"Lon Chaney once said, 'There's nothing funny about a clown at midnight'. I think that in horror fiction or thrillers you're trying to create juxtapositions between what's harmless and innocent and what's terrifying. Christmas music is great during the holidays, but if it's the middle of July and you're walking through the woods, and you pass by an old house with the windows smashed in, and nothing but darkness in there, and you can here 'Jingle Bells' coming from somewhere in the basement, you're going to walk a lot faster, because there's something not right about that."

You are very good at creating likeable characters. What is the appeal of torturing them?
"As Joss Whedon says: 'One job as a storyteller is to figure out what your audience wants and then never give it to them.' I don't think I could write a book where happy things happen to well-adjusted people over and over again. I don't think that's likely to make for a very entertaining read. What will happen is that your reader will get 20 pages in, go, 'Oh, I'm glad everything's working out great for them', chuck your book across the room and go and watch funny cat videos."

Charlie Manx and his sidekick Bing Partridge come across as horrifying but surprisingly sympathetic characters. How much do you find yourself identifying with your villains?
"No-one who's really bad thinks they're Captain Evil. That's not how cruel and vicious people work. Most people who are really terrible think they are the hero of their own story, and if you ask someone who did something really monstrous they'll say, 'You don't understand - I had to'.

"I wrote the first part of the book just after I got divorced. I have kids, and I went through a stage when I really wanted everything to be fun. I didn't want them to be sad - it was one entertainment after another - sort of like how Charlie Manx wants everything to be fun. Then at a certain point I thought to myself, 'Slow down for a minute, here. You're not the only one who went through a divorce - so did they. And if they feel some sad stuff, that's OK'.

"Charlie wants children to be innocent forever and never have anything but fun. But if you're hurting someone, you shouldn't be having fun. Once you've experienced some pain yourself and hurt some people you love, hopefully that teaches you to be a better person and to care about others. That was one of the things I was exploring in the story. A lot of stories - especially American stories - uncritically praise the state of childlike innocence. It's treated as this peak state of being and I just don't think childlike innocence is all it's cracked up to be."

Author Joe Hill
signs copies of his new book 'Horns' at Books & Books. Hill, born Joseph Hillstrom King, is the son of horror master Stephen King.
Coral Gables, Florid

© WENN

Joe Hill

Locke & Key 'Alpha' issue artwork

© IDW Publishing

Locke & Key 'Alpha' issue artwork



Would you consider tackling a novel outside the horror genre?
"Absolutely. But I would never consider writing a story that wasn't built around suspense. Suspense is what keeps you turning the pages. Hitchcock talks about the bomb ticking under the desk. Bombs going off aren't exciting in the way that wondering whether the bomb is going to go off is exciting.

"Suspense, for me, is what keeps the pedal to the floor. So, would I quit writing horror, or write a book that wasn't horror? Absolutely, if I had a story I wanted to tell."

How does it feel to be drawing towards the end of Locke & Key?
"For me, I'm already done, because I've written the last scripts and sent them on to [artist Gabriel Rodriguez]. Of course, the last issues won't be out until August and October because it takes Gabe a while to draw all the ridiculous stuff I've asked him to draw. I don't know how I'll feel when the last issue comes out. I feel pretty good about what we've got so far. I feel like we didn't screw it up."

You've said that you have some more one-shots in mind. Would you consider another ongoing storyline set in the Locke & Key universe?
"Absolutely. Gabe and I have already done a couple of one-shots - 'Open the Moon' and 'Grindhouse' - and we're going to do a few other one-shots, which will eventually all be collected in a book called Locke & Key: The Golden Age, which will tell stories from the beginning of the 20th century to the 1940s.

"We have these projects to keep us occupied. Eventually we're hoping to come back to the series and do a story called Locke & Key: Battleground that will be a World War II story and explore some other aspects of the house. We figure we'd like to take a few years and work on some other projects, so Locke & Key will wait and hopefully people will still be interested."

'Locke & key' artwork

© IDW Publishing

'Locke & key' artwork



Did you have much involvement in the Locke & Key TV pilot?
"Mostly I was just a cheerleader for it. The pilot came out really well. It was missing a couple of key action scenes that they weren't able to film because there was a big blizzard in Pittsburgh where they were shooting. Fox passed on it, which was disappointing. I note that they didn't fare any better with the stuff that they went with - they went with Alcatraz and Terra Nova and both of those shows ran down pretty quickly.

"But maybe it's alright. The creative team was Alex Kurtzman and Rob Orci - who wrote Star Trek into Darkness - and Josh Friedman, and all three of those guys have been cleared to work on Locke & Key as a series of movies for Universal, so we didn't get an ongoing TV series - maybe we'll get an ongoing movie series. We'll see."

You've teased a major superhero project on the horizon. Can you give us any hints as to what it might be?
"It is absolutely for either DC or Marvel. It is a superhero who either has superpowers or astonishing training and a great utility belt. It's definitely either one of those things.

"It'll just be a one-issue story, anyway. It's not like Gabe and I are going to come in and take over Swamp Thing for 60 issues or anything."

What other projects do you have on the horizon?
"I'm two-thirds of the way through a new book called The Fireman for 2014, probably 2015. That's gone very well. And I'm going to script a pilot for TV. I can't say too much about it, but that's happening this summer.

"I'm also doing this comic book spinoff off NOS4R2 called Wraith with Charles Wilson III - it's this sort of sleazy horror film set in this terrible amusement park, Christmasland, which we first see in the book. You don't need to have read the novel to enjoy the comic and vice versa, but the two things do exist in the same world. Charlie Manx is in both. That will be at IDW."

NOS4R2 is available now from Gollancz.

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