Friday, August 21, 2015

Reader's Diary #1185: Joe Hill (Writer) and Gabriel Rodriguez (Artist): Locke and Key, Welcome to Lovecraft

When I was a young boy we used to play a game called "Witch in the Well." If I may sidetrack with some irrelevant but hopefully amusing details, this is how the game was played: One person would have to take the role of mother, another would have to be the witch, and the rest would simply be "the kids." The kids were to first ask their mother for a piece of "Lassy bread." Lassy bread meant molasses bread, and molasses being a Newfoundland staple at the time, meant that molasses bread was popular and yes, something that kids would conceivably beg their mothers for. The mother, being of the strict and hygienic sort, would first demand to see the kids' hands to ensure they were clean enough to receive said bread. Invariably, they were not. So she would order them to go and wash their hands at the well, warning them, however, to mind the witch in the well. (Apparently this game originated before running water.) The kids would march off, pretend to draw water from an imaginary well, and start to wash their hands. That's when the person playing the witch made a weird noise to emanate from wherever the well was supposed to be. "It's the witch in the well!" someone would shout, but the witch would deny it, usually with some funny remark. The most popular and giggle-inducing was "No, I'm just a pair of your mother's stipeens." (For the uninitiated, this was our thickly accented way of saying, "step-ins" which in turn was a very old word for ladies' underwear.) The exchange would go back and forth with the witch claiming to be a number of ridiculous things or people (I guess similar to the old Saturday Night Live land-shark gag) until finally admitting to being the witch. That was the cue to run home because the witch was about to take chase. If she caught someone, he'd become the new witch and the fun would continue. (If she didn't, the mother bawled the kids out for still having dirty hands and send them back.)

I bring it up as a reminder that the trope of scary things in wells is an old one. But it's still a trope and so I had mixed feelings about it being used heavily in Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez's Locke and Key. Last year I read two graphic novels with ghosts in wells— Friends with Boys and Anya's Ghost. To be fair to Hill and Rodriguez, those two books were published after Locke and Key, but I read them first and had my fill of spooks in wells.

Also to be fair to Hill and Rodriguez, much of Locke and Key is intentionally unoriginal. There's a lot of homage to classic and modern horror stories, authors, and movies, including the town of Lovecraft itself, as mentioned in the subtitle of this collection. In that regard the book is fun.

It didn't, however, make for a greatly scary read (despite such a recommendation from a personal friend). Rodriguez's art didn't help matters. Overly large eyes, I suppose, could have given the young characters an innocence and therefore escalated the peril. But for me it left them too cartoonish and distracting from any believable threat. I liked his art; it was stylish, the colouring was great, and he did cool things with certain themes (reflections, for instance, play a big role), but I didn't find it particularly appropriate for a horror book.

1 comment:

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Locke and Key may not have been particularly original, but your story of the witch in the well game certainly was! You should really pen your memoirs sometime. You know, in your spare time...