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'Locke & Key' returns with one-shot 'Small World'

Get ready to unlock your mind for new “Locke & Key” comics, because series creators Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez are sending us all back to Keyhouse in their new one-shot from IDW Entertainment, “Small World.” Check out the exclusive cover reveal, find out what’s new in the tiny new world Rodriguez and Hill are crafting and learn what’s next for the “Locke & Key” television series. 

“Locke & Key,” which ended its monthly run in 2013, is one part supernatural thriller, two parts puzzle box, and topped off with a heaping amount of good old-fashioned horror. The first six books were centered around the Locke kids and their ancestral home, a winding New England manor in which a number of magical keys are hidden, keys that can unlock doors that lead to wherever your heart desires, can turn you into a ghost and even drill into another person’s mind. Naturally, as with all things magic, there are evil forces at work trying to harness the power from the keys. It’s up to the children of the Locke family to solve each little mystery as it’s revealed by Keyhouse. 

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Back in 2011, Fox conjured a pilot for a TV series with Mark Romanek directing and a script by Josh Friedman. Despite being praised by critics after the pilot was leaked on the Internet, “Locke & Key” wasn’t ordered to series and any hopes of exploring the mysteries of Keyhouse on screen was lost to the ether. Until now:  Recently, IDW Entertainment announced that it wants to give a “Locke & Key” TV show another go, but this time with Hill himself writing the pilot. 

But TV takes forever and  in order to quench the fans’ hunger for more “Locke & Key” now, IDW will be releasing “Small World” in December. The one-off comic goes back in time to tell a new story from one of the many keepers-of-the-keys in the Locke family, Mary Locke ( one of Rodriguez’s all-time favorite characters to draw). 

We spoke with Hill (both over the phone and via email) and Rodriguez about returning to their spooky series with “Small World,” and Hill elaborated on his big plans for the new pilot. 

Tell us about “Small World.” What story did you want to unlock in this comic? 

Joe Hill: So I had written a couple stand-alone “Locke & Key” stories that had never been collected until the book. They were only released as individual comics. Both of those stories, “Open the Moon” and “Grindhouse,” took place in the past. “Locke & Key” is the story of a haunted New England mansion full of enchanted keys that open different doors and activate different supernatural powers. The stories that I told, over the six books of “Locke & Key,” take place in the present day. But there’s 250 years of history there. The Locke family has looked after Keyhouse and its many enchanted keys, almost since the beginning of the nation. I always wanted to go back and tell some of those stories. And that’s what I’m doing in “Small World.” “Small World” is a return to the beginning of the 20th century and some of the stories that I’ve already told, set in that era. 

Who is the character on the front? 

Joe Hill: She did not appear in any of the modern-day tales. She does appear in “Open the Moon” and in “Grindhouse.” There are two boys and two girls living in the Locke house who are the children of Chamberlain Locke. And if I remember correctly and the one on the cover is Mary ... both the cover and the title were sort of a shout-out to a novel by Tabitha King called “Small World.” [King is Hill’s mother.]

And there’s a new key on the cover. Can you tell us what that key unlocks? 

Joe Hill: I don’t know if we’re going to call it the Small World Key or the Doll House Key. But it is a key which brings to life an incredible doll house. 

What story did you want to tell in "Small World" that you didn’t get to tell in "Locke & Key?"

Joe Hill: The penultimate book in the original “Locke & Key” series, “Clockworks,” hints at all the other dramas that have taken place in Keyhouse. There's a lot of blood soaked in those old floorboards. I'm a frustrated historical writer. I love to think about what it was like to be alive in other eras, but historicals are threatening: There are so many ways to screw them up. Exploring the American past in the context of “Locke & Key” feels much more doable.

You’re trying to make “Locke & Key” into a TV series again. How’s that going? 

Joe Hill: We took a swing and a miss with Fox about five years ago. Fox spent 10 million bucks and made an absolutely stunning pilot. It was directed by Mark Romanek, with a script by Josh Friedman and it really did everything you could have hoped for a pilot to do. But we didn’t make it on air, and I think it was a slightly different media landscape at the time…. Netflix had not yet started to offer original content. There was no Amazon video streaming. There had not been a lot these long-form cable models like “Breaking Bad” and “The Americans.” And there certainly hadn’t been a lot of comic-book adaptations that had succeeded. There was “Walking Dead,” which had a single hit season, but I think some people thought it was just a fluke. So even though it was a great pilot, I don’t think the Fox felt entirely confident that it would maintain an audience. So they let it slip. 

IDW has gotten into the TV game in a big way. They’ve got a successful series with “Wynonna Earp” on the Syfy channel, they’re developing “Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency” with BBC America. And they’re very eager to make a show out of “Locke & Key.” So this time I’m taking a swing at it, I’m working on the pilot. I’ll tell you this though, and I think this is an important note: If we get to series, it really will be as good as what Mark Romanek and Josh did. It couldn’t be better. It’s really all a question of timing and persuading someone to take a risk on it, than it is about artistic quality. Because I think that, that earlier pilot was a terrific piece of work, it’s too bad it didn’t work out.

And it’s also lovely to have a second chance. 

How is your work on the pilot coming along, and how will it be different from the previous one? 

Joe Hill: Josh did some wonderful things, made some really remarkable leaps and did terrific character work. I’m trying to stay faithful to the comics while swerving in a couple different directions from what Josh did in his pilot for a few reasons. I’m doing something differently in terms of pacing. I’ve also made a couple subtle, but important, changes to the story, which I think will keep fans of the comic off balance, while staying true to the spirit of what’s on the page. We don’t want people to think it’s a perfectly 100% straight adaptation. But we also don’t want people to feel cheated like we totally cast out what’s in the comic either. Mostly I’m having a lot of fun, I’m about halfway through working on the pilot and I’m shocked at how much fun it has been.

Are you looking into streaming services like Hulu? How does that change the show you would make? 

Joe Hill: Hulu and Netflix and Amazon are all places where you can make a scary R-rated show with a unique, personal aesthetic; that's also true of outlets like FX and AMC. In the 1970s, there was an explosion of daring, risky personal filmmaking, represented by the work of Coppola, Scorsese, Kubrick and others. We're seeing it again, but on the small screen, with work from show runners like Vince Gilligan, Lena Dunham and Melissa Rosenberg. That's a direct result of all these platforms willing to take a chance on risky material.

"Small World" will be available in December.
"Small World" will be available in December. (Gabriel Rodriguez / IDW)

The comic is bloody. Will there be blood in this TV adaptation? If yes, how much?  

Joe Hill:  Well. It's a horror show. The color red goes with the territory. More importantly, it'll have characters you can root for and love and identify with, which is something other horror shows — koffkoff, “American Horror Story” -- sometimes lack.

The audio book for “Locke & Key” had great voice talent involved — Tatiana Maslany, Kate Mulgrew and Haley Joel Osment. Have any of them expressed interest in working on the new TV series?

Joe Hill: We haven't reached the point of casting yet, but when we get there, I've got a part for Kate Mulgrew, if she wants to deal herself in.


What was it like returning to "Locke & Key?"

Gabriel Rodriguez: Did we ever leave “Locke & Key?” Since we've finished the series, we've been still, from time to time, discussing ideas, planning a couple stories we want to do whenever possible, etc. Plus, the fact that I've been working in the design of the Master Edition volumes of “Locke & Key,” I feel it has always been around me, if you consider that it was something I devoted almost the entirety of my life to during a six-year productive marathon. Certainly there is an interesting challenge in returning to draw new story pages for the comic, and I'm really happy that I had the chance to polish my drawing and storytelling skills in other projects before returning to hang out with the Lockes, so it could be great to finally find out how that plays out. But I can't imagine how it's going to be for our devoted readers to return to new stories in the “Locke & Key” universe, and their reactions are something I'm both nervous and excited about.

The new key unlocks a smaller world. How do you illustrate a character in a smaller world when they’re already in it?

Gabriel Rodriguez: The magic in “Locke & Key” has always had a weird twist about the way it works, and this is NO exception... I can’t explain too much about the “Small World” key without spoilers, but I think it's safe to say it will bring both wonder and horror in a new scale we have never witnessed before, being also probably the magic key most tightly related to Keyhouse itself. So, visually, I think it's one of the most challenging issues I'll ever have to draw. Hope to be up to the task; wait and see for yourselves.

The visuals are so important to these books. What would you like to see translated from page to screen in the new TV series? And how? 

Gabriel Rodriguez: I'm very open-minded about adaptations in other mediums and by other artists. And I'm very aware that adaptation DOES NOT mean transcription. I think the main thing I would ask for in any “Locke & Key” adaptation would be about staying faithful to the characters and their evolution, which is what I think we all love the most about the series, and keeping the magic and adventure both dark and FUN. Now, visually, I'm very aware of my effort of keeping the world and environment surrounding the story as vivid and realistic as possible, giving the chance for magic to pop out in both flashy or subtle fashions in a universe we can relate to. Not sure exactly how, but I think I would prefer to see an adaptation that mostly plays with subtle elements and hold the bombastic stuff for carefully planned specific moments. But above all, the casting will be the key task: to get the right Lockes, and maybe with a bit more difficulty, the right Keyhouse.

There’s a lot of blood in "Locke & Key." What’s the key to making something horrific visually but not grotesque? 

Gabriel Rodriguez: When facing violence and horror/gore in the story, what we have tried are basically two things: One, be respectful about the treatment of the characters. Even with freaky situations, not making the characters feel like plot points or triggers, but trying to give them depth and identity even if they appear in a few panels. And second, trying ALWAYS to develop the idea that violence has consequences you can't take for granted. In both the characters and development of events, blood and violence have a deep, noticeable impact.

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Twitter: @MdellW 

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