A simple, everyday, thoughtless act can have dire consequences, as author Richard Matheson dramatically proved in his 1971 short story “Duel,” a story made famous later that year by a young director named Steven Spielberg. Nearly forty years later, Stephen King and Joe Hill would put their own spin on the concept in “Throttle,” published as part of a limited edition Matheson tribute anthology by Gauntlet Press in 2009 and subsequently in a more widely-accessible edition by Tor Books. Now, IDW Publishing has announced a four-issue miniseries adapting both “Duel” and “Throttle” under the banner “Road Rage,” launching in February. IDW Chief Creative Officer/Editor-in-Chief Chris Ryall, who edits Hill’s “Locke and Key,” will write the adaptation and Nelson Daniel, colorist of Hill’s “The Cape,” provides the art.
Comic Book Resources spoke with Hill and Ryall about the project, its origins, and making a prose short work in comics.
“‘Throttle’ was written for an anthology celebrating the fiction of Richard Matheson, and is a riff on his short story ‘Duel,'” Hill said of the original prose version of “Throttle,” which was also published as an audiobook. “That one was my introduction to Matheson’s work; like most people, I discovered it by way of the Spielberg movie. My dad had that film on laserdisc — I don’t know how well you remember laserdisc, but they were these enormous silver platters with about twenty minutes of film recorded on each side. You had to keep getting up to flip them over, but those big iridescent discs just looked like the future.
“Anyway, this one summer, my Dad and I watched ‘Duel’ and ‘Jaws’ about six times each. We’d put one or the other on every night and watch maybe forty minutes before bed,” Hill continued. “When I was asked, thirty years later, to write a story for the Matheson anthology (‘He is Legend’), it just seemed natural to ask Dad if he wanted to work on the thing with me. ‘Duel’ was something special to both of us, something we shared.
The fact that Hill, along with many others, was first introduced to Matheson’s work by way of Spielberg’s film version of “Duel” also led Hill to believe that Matheson’s story and his own would make visually striking comics. “‘Duel’ is, even now, a hell of a movie, a dusty Hitchcockian thing full of crashing metal and smoking tires. The material is naturally visual. That’s the case, as well, with ‘Throttle,’ a story about a scraggy motorcycle gang on the run from a homicidal trucker. Slamming iron and men flying off motorcycles at seventy miles an hour is just the kind of stuff that plays well in the comic book form.”
As to how the father and son pair of Joe Hill and Stephen King work as writing partners, Hill said that their relationship and shared love of Spielberg movies played a significant role in the creative process. “As I said, watching ‘Jaws’ and ‘Duel’ and also ‘Close Encounters’ on videodisc was our thing when I was 8. And when we were out in his car, driving somewhere, we’d play a game, talk about what we’d do if the truck from ‘Duel’ was after us,” Hill told CBR. “In some ways, the short story, ‘Throttle,’ was just an extension of those old conversations.
“My dad is real loose. And he’s a horse. If he was a pitcher, he’d be the kind of guy who could go out and throw a hundred and forty pitches, still touch 90 on the gun by the end of the game, then come out three days later and pitch a few innings in relief,” Hill said. “He keeps things fun and effortless and stripped down, and those things rub off, so the story was a breeze to write. Here I am, almost forty — I’m still constantly learning things about creativity and peace of my mind from my Dad.”
Adapting “Throttle” for comics, as well as Matheson’s “Duel,” are Chris Ryall and Nelson Daniel, neither of whom are strangers to Hill. “I work with Chris in a creative capacity almost daily with ‘Locke and Key,’ and he’s a great idea man, who also literallyÂ wrote the book on the essentials of the comic book form (‘Comic Books 101′). I know he’ll present the material in a way that’s perfectly suited to the medium — in other words, not a short story with pictures, but an inventive comic book that does inventive comic book things with panel arrangement, the pacing of sequences and so on,” Hill said of Ryall, who has also written several comic book series in addition to his editorial roles. “And Nelson is a treasure when it comes to visuals. He’s already the best colorist in the field aside maybe from Dave Stewart, but that obscures the fact that he’s also one of the sharpest illustrators out there,” Hill added. Daniel was the colorist for “The Cape,” another story of Hill’s that was adapted for comics. “His first passes at the truck, the bikers and their rides, have been a real revelation: great, battered, striking stuff. I think the two of ’em together should make for a really special book.”
Ryall said Hill first approached him about doing a comic adaptation of “Throttle” early in their creative relationship. “‘Duel’ was one of my all-time favorite stories, one of the first movies I remember seeing as a kid. I grew up on it the same way Joe and his dad did,” Ryall said. “I loved that their story paid tribute to that. They took the same premise of a guy being chased by a trucker and took it in a totally different direction, brought in a motorcycle gang and made it something totally different. But it was still very reminiscent of Matheson’s story. Joe asked me if it was something I’d be interested in, and because I really like working with Joe and I always loved Stephen King’s work, always loved ‘Duel,’ all of those reasons made me want to do this.”
As with Hill, the film version of “Duel” made a strong impression on Ryall. “‘Duel’ was the first movie Spielberg directed; I think it was a TV movie. His first theatrical movie was ‘Sugarland Express,’ but his first movie was this,” Ryall said, describing the story as being “about a traveling salesman who cuts off a semi and, he never knows why, but the semi just starts chasing him maniacally through the desert.”
“It’s this one-man character piece about a man trying to escape a semi that’s trying to kill him. It doesn’t sound like it could sustain itself for a 90-minute movie, but it really does,” Ryall added. “It’s a really good, tense action movie. I watched it a lot when I was a kid, and I know Joe’s talked a lot about how he and his dad and his brother used to watch it when they were kids.” He noted that Hill and King’s version replaced the semi with a motorcycle gang, but they also “have a nice twist or spin on the original story — it’s not just the same thing with different vehicles.”
Though Ryall has worked with Hill since the beginning of “Locke and Key,” “Road Rage” initiated his first contact with King. “They’re both very encouraging and enthusiastic, which has been great to see. The art for the motorcycle gang patch, Stephen King is over the moon about that. He said he wanted to print one out for inspiration on his bulletin board,” he said.”
The process of adapting “Throttle” and “Duel” has required Ryall to rework the structure of the stories somewhat to make them read well in their new medium. “They did some things in prose that work very well in print, but to make it work for comics, I tweaked it a little bit. It’s something different from the prose story, which is a weird thing,” Ryall said. “I’ve adapted other big writers before. It always feels presumptuous but you have to get over that, ‘How dare I rewrite Joe Hill and Stephen King?’ At the same time, I understand that this thing needs to work in whatever format it’s in. They’ve been very encouraging about that fact — if things need to be tweaked or changed or rewritten to make it work better in the comic, then by all means do that. That was the biggest thing, getting out of your own way, that you’re not rewriting it because it wasn’t right but just because it fits better in this format to restructure it a bit.”
Ryall, too, had high praise for artist Nelson Daniel. “He’s a fantastic colorist but he’s a really good artist, too. I saw some work that he’s published in Chile recently and some other things that he’s drawn. So he’s drawing and coloring the whole thing,” he said. Ryall has also recruited some talented artists to provide covers for the four-issue series. “Phil Noto is doing a cover and Tony Harris is doing a fun painted incentive cover for each issue, of Stephen King and Joe Hill themselves riding motorcycles and such.
“I’m sort of in awe that I get to work with people like Joe, Stephen and Nelson on this book, as well as Phil Noto and Tony Harris,” Ryall said. “It’s top to bottom the exact team I would want to put together, and the fact that I get to work with them on this — it’s a good day.”