A few months ago, Locke & Key fans mourned the loss of their favourite comic book as the series came to an end in two double sized Omega issues. But like any good wake, our Locke & Key Fan Shelf shared fans’ fond memories, even as they braced for the inevitable impact of the series finale. The last instalment (Locke & Key Vol. 6: Alpha & Omega HC) is available from your local comic book store today, and we had a chance to chat with artist Gabriel Rodríguez about the experience (including a few spoilers) and what he’ll be working on next.
Dork Shelf: What was your favourite issue or arc to work on?
Gabriel Rodríguez: I can’t separate an arc as we’ve always envisioned the whole story of Locke & Key as a giant, single “book”. We wanted each “season” to work as a chapter that had to add something special to the overall mix, and I think each of them feels weaker if you isolate them, and resonate stronger when gathered together. Now there are two single issues that are personal favourites of mine, but for reasons that go beyond the stories themselves. “Sparrow,” the first chapter of Keys To The Kingdom, was a bizarre narrative experiment conceived by Joe [Hill] that turned out to work way better than I thought the first time I read the script, and explored the narrative potential of comics wonderfully with an incredibly compelling story. The other one is the short story “Open The Moon” from the Guide To The Known Keys, which must be the most beautifully written father-son story I have read in my life— an absolute masterpiece in Joe’s writing— and an extremely demanding visual challenge.
DS: Which character did you enjoy drawing the most?
GR: Hard question again! This is tricky, since what I enjoyed the most was the cast dynamic. In a way, all characters explored the best of each other while interacting. The three Locke kids are the first that come to mind. They were born so naturally, just popped out from my imagination as soon as I read Joe’s first description. But if you force me to pick JUST ONE, I’ll go with Dodge. Such a lovely ruthless bastard! Also, with so many faces and disguises! It was a perfect chance to draw several iconic villains in one: a dark fairy, a teenage evil prince, a wolf, a witch, a giant shadow monster, a weird ghost, and so on!
DS: What was it like to collaborate with Joe?
GR: There couldn’t be a more pleasant or fun way to collaborate on a project than the way it was to work with Joe. The process started in a sort of standard way in Welcome to Lovecraft as I worked based on Joe’s scripts, but with an insane amount of freedom: he kept the visual aspects open for me to propose the visual incarnation of the story. It was amazing for me to realize from the scripts how aware and expert Joe was at handling the potential of visual storytelling. He wasn’t just writing amazing characters and a fantastic story, he was also writing it PERFECTLY to explore the narrative potential of comics.
After the first series, the work dynamic evolved to the way it kept going in the following years: with a little pause in between books (or “seasons”), which we used to discuss ideas, concepts, keys and plots developments for the whole story and each arc. Being both insanely obsessive with details, and supported by Joe’s incredibly consistent vision of the main points for the complete story, we were constantly pushing ourselves to squeeze the best we could pour from our talents into the saga.
DS: Did you have any trouble illustrating some of the more difficult moments in the series (e.g. killing off a character)?
GR: Oh, yes it was difficult. There were a lot like that (Ellie’s death, prof. Ridgeway’s murder, etc.), but the best example was the whole last issue of Crown of Shadows, the 6th chapter “Beyond Repair”. To spend a whole month watching poor Nina Locke crumbling apart and falling to pieces in the most miserable way was as emotionally exhausting as it was physically demanding. But I think that’s the best proof you could get that you’re invested in making the story appealing, which is the most important challenge in comics’ storytelling.
DS: How have fans reacted to the series?
GR: Fan reaction has been awesome all the way, and even when some fans had sort of “shocking” reactions to some of the darker twists of the plot, they understand our effort to present it in an honest way, and also understand that it’s all part of the nature of the story. Anyway, what I like the most is that the characters were able to build a persistent bond with the audience.
DS: How does it feel to have the series come to a close?
GR: To have the series finally ending feels natural, and it was a challenge as we really felt the pressure of trying to get the best possible ending for our tale. For both Joe and myself, to give proper closure to a story is an integral part of what enables them to make sense. Closure is, in many ways, decisive in giving sense and resonance to everything that came before in the development of the story.
DS: Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
GR: LOTS of things. Every time I look at my drawings, I see the flaws and the thing that maybe could have been better if I had more experience and expertise back then, but being able to let go is an integral part of this discipline. It’s what teaches you if you want to get better on the next page. But aside from that, I’m very proud and happy of what we all achieved as a team in this book from a storytelling point of view, and even happier with the impact it managed to get from our readers. If that’s the ultimate goal— and I think it is— I can honestly say that Locke & Key became something way bigger and deeper than any dream both Joe or myself could have had before starting.
DS: What’s next for you?
GR: Right now via IDW Publishing, a new exploration of the Slumberland Universe created by Winsor McCay in Little Nemo: Return To Slumberland, with writer Eric Shanower and colorist Nelson Daniel. After that, nothing confirmed yet besides a Locke & Key one shot exploring other corners of its mythology, and a couple of original projects I’m already planning with Joe Hill, which we both hope might see the light in 2015. We’ll see.