Thanks to being sandwiched between two popular Marvel Comics panels, writer Joe Hill’s WonderCon spotlight panel was a little truncated, but also quite well attended. Hill himself hung around outside to chat with people in line while the previous panel ran long, and he defiantly encouraged people to continue asking questions as the following panel threatened to encroach on his time.
In between, Hill talked with IDW Publishing Chief Creative Officer and Editor-in-Chief Chris Ryall about his series “Locke & Key” and “The Cape,” and shared a few details about his two upcoming novels, “NOS4A2” and “The Fireman.” Ryall opened the panel by dimming the lights and blasting a bit of Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” in a friendly dig at Hill, whom Ryall described as “a very vocal hater of Rush.” Ryall then flashed back to IDW’s earliest days of working with Hill, sharing part of an email containing Hill’s original pitch for “Locke & Key.” “It’ll all be over in six issues” was part of that pitch, and now the series is closing in on its finale after running for more than four years.
Hill talked about his early struggles as a writer and his futile attempts to get a novel published when he was younger. “I spent three years on this one big fantasy novel that went on to be an international bestseller in my mind,” he said. “After that I was a broken man.” Thanks to his short story “20th Century Ghosts,” a Marvel talent scout contacted Hill about doing some comics work. “She asked me if I had any interest in writing about grown men punching each other in the face,” he said, and the result was an 11-page “Spider-Man” story that Hill called “terrible.”
The “20th Century Ghosts” short-story collection led to Hill’s first contact with Ryall and then to the first “Locke & Key” miniseries in 2008. “When the comic started, I didn’t really know where it was going,” Hill said. Four issues in, he had the chance to interview Alan Moore and asked Moore about the importance of knowing where a story was headed, which Moore said was the most important thing. After that, Hill sat down with artist Gabriel Rodriguez and worked out an 18-page series bible that answered every question, down to small details like where one character got the comb that she uses on her hair.
Hill said he was a big fan of “The X-Files” but “the show just kind of melted away,” and he didn’t want to do the same thing with his story. “That’s been one of the most satisfying experiences of my professional life,” he said about revealing the details of the series’ back story. “There’s so much that we know that never made it into the comics,” he said. He also said that while answering all the plot questions was essential, “that’s not as important as feeling like the characters made an interesting journey,” and the upcoming final “Locke & Key” miniseries “Omega” will be “bringing the curtain down” on that journey.
After a few jokes about the “Locke & Key” TV series, which faltered at the pilot stage (“I’m really excited to talk about the second season of the TV show”) and writing “Before Before Watchmen” (featuring Rorschach as a sperm), Hill pointed out his “The Cape” co-writer Jason Ciaramella in the front row and explained the origins of that series, which began as a short story in “20th Century Ghosts.” It was then adapted into a one-shot comic and expanded into a miniseries, and will be followed up with the origin story “The Cape: 1969,” written by Ciaramella with art by Nelson Daniel and Zach Howard. “It’s like ‘Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer’ if the dude could fly,” was how Hill described the series as a whole.
“My dad’s a writer” was the understatement Hill used to segue into talking about “Throttle,” the short story he co-wrote with his father Stephen King, a story that was then adapted for comics by Ryall himself in the series “Road Rage.” Ryall adapted both “Throttle” and the story that inspired it, Richard Matheson’s “Duel,” and the prose versions will soon be available together as an ebook.
Hill finished by teasing some upcoming prose projects, starting with a short story that will appear in the Ray Bradbury tribute collection “Shadow Show” this summer. Hill’s next novel will be titled “NOS4A2,” a play on “Nosferatu” that refers to a vanity license plate owned by the story’s villain (as long as the publisher approves the title). Hill described the book as “my senior thesis statement on horror fiction,” about “a bad man with a big car” who kidnaps kids and takes them to a place called Christmas Land. Due in April 2013, the novel is “as long as my first two novels put together,” Hill said, and it will feature a five-issue companion comic book series, telling more stories from Christmas Land. The first issue of that series will be drawn by Hill’s “Locke & Key” collaborator Gabriel Rodriguez.
Hill said he was already halfway through with his next novel, “The Fireman,” a “smaller book” that he described as a “really cheerful end-of-the-world novel” about “being happy in the face of darkness.” He said he hoped to have it out within a year after the release of “NOS4A2.” Before ceding the space back to Marvel, Hill took a handful of fan questions, revealing that he and Rodriguez would be doing another “Locke & Key” story in the style of “Calvin & Hobbes” for the upcoming one-shot “Cast of Characters,” and expressing his appreciation for what he’s learned from writing comics. “I’ve really learned a lot about writing novels from writing comics,” he said. “Every writer should have an apprenticeship either in comics or in journalism.”