Comics On TV

What to Know About Locke & Key Before You Watch

The series producers and stars talk about adapting the beloved comics, the changes made, and the source material's three pilots.

by | February 6, 2020 | Comments

Netflix’s Locke & Key took a long road to become a series. Based on the acclaimed comic book series by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez, it tells the tale of a family shattered by tragedy who move to Lovecraft, Massachusetts, only to discover their ancestral home is a place of magic, demons, and unresolved history. Published from 2008 to 2013, it was a smash for publisher IDW and quickly earned the interest of television producers.

In 2011, a pilot was produced for the Fox broadcast network which failed to go to series, but was warmly received when it screened at Comic-Con International: San Diego. After that, it spent some time as a feature film project before executive producer Carlton Cuse (Lost) got a hold of it in 2017. A pilot episode, produced for Hulu in 2018, would receive the same fate as the Fox pilot. The project soon moved to Netflix, where The Haunting of Hill House’s Meredith Averill came on board as a co-showrunner, and a third pilot was filmed. But as Cuse told Rotten Tomatoes, the program needed that near-decade in development to strike the right tone even as the material inspired him to keep at it.

“The impetus to continue to work on this just came from a love of the comic,” he said. Reading it when first it first debuted in 2008, Locke & Key quickly became one of his favorite comics ever. “[Joe and Gabriel] pulled off the near impossible, which was to do something that was emotional and heartfelt but also really genre. And it felt fresh. It didn’t feel like it was the derivative of like 20 other things, which they very easily could have done.”

The mix of genres and tones made it something special and something worth shepherding through two development cycles and two streaming platforms.

“There’s horror, there’s fantasy, there’s magical keys, there’s a murder mystery, there’s teen drama. And trying to sort those all out and kind of calibrate them and put them all together and make them all work together was something that’s hard to do,” Cuse said.

“It doesn’t fit into a box,” Averill added, “which I think is what’s made it difficult and a challenge to adapt, but also what makes it so special and unique.”

Cuse credited Averill with helping him “finding a shared vision for how we wanted to do the show.” At the same time, he considers the long development something akin to the way many TV shows begin.

“Just in the same way that if you make a pilot, you’ve made calibrations and readjustments [for its eventual series], we tried to learn lessons from the previous iterations,” Cuse said.

Those lessons led Cuse and Averill away from the more grotesque horror elements – though some of that still occurs – into a series which leans more into the family and fantasy aspects of the comic book. Averill said it was a conscious decision to avoid the graphic horror because “once you go there, there’s sort of no going back once you’ve set that tone.” Also, she noted the material does not have to be gory to be scary.

“There are other ways to get there,” she said.

And the other ways the television series gets to some of Locke & Key’s ideas may surprise readers of the comic the most. Elements barely hinted at in the initial two stories become important touch points in the program’s first season. Character relationships are refocused and, perhaps most unsettling for some fans of the comic, the town of Lovecraft is now Matheson – a reference to horror and sci-fi writer Richard Matheson, who also worked in television and saw his stories adapted into films like I Am Legend and The Box.

Locke & Key SEASON 1 EPISODE 7 PHOTO CREDIT Christos Kalohoridis/Netflix PICTURED Laysla De Oliveira

(Photo by Christos Kalohoridis/Netflix)

As both producers pointed out, bringing a comic book to television is an exercise in “adaptation, not translation.”

“I think that we were so fortunate to get the freedom to remix from Joe Hill himself,” Cuse revealed. “I mean Joe was an active participant in our creative process. He co-authored the pilot. We had a lot of conversations with him all along the way. And his comment was, ‘Just doing a literal adaptation of my comic would be boring.’ And so he liberated us to not be afraid to really follow our creative instincts and desires.”

Those instincts often led the team to bring ideas from later in the comic into the forefront of the show for the sake of clearly delineating character ambitions. In the case of Dodge (Laysla De Oliveira, pictured), whose motivations are a mystery for some time in the book, Averill felt it was important to reveal the character’s true nature and objective as soon as possible. She was also pleased by the way it dovetailed into stories of the Locke family in Matheson.

“I think it’s a really nice reveal for our kids when they discover that what’s happening to them now has to do [with Dodge],” she said.

Other changes, like the Locke family initially living in Seattle instead of San Francisco were for “aesthetic” reasons and often suggested by Hill himself, who Cuse said was fascinated with the process and used the opportunity to make changes to his world. This is also the underlying reason Lovecraft became Matheson.

“He just wanted to pay homage to Richard Matheson who had died recently,” Cuse explained.

Locke & Key SEASON 1 EPISODE 10 PHOTO CREDIT Christos Kalohoridis/Netflix PICTURED Emilia Jones, Jackson Robert Scott, Connor Jessup

Connor Jessup, who plays oldest Locke son Tyler – and who came to the series with the Netflix iteration – felt the long development and remixing of ideas aided the show it getting to the core spirit of the comic.

“I think [it’s] about growing up through trauma, essentially,” he said.

As a result, the show feels more of like a fantasy adventure to him than the gothic horror he saw in the comics when he sat down to read them.

But part of Locke & Key’s magic, both as a comic book and as a television show, revolves around the way it transforms into different genres with each scene and combination of characters. This was part of the appeal for Darby Stanchfield, who plays the grieving Locke matriarch Nina.

“It’s almost like three different layers wrapped up in one,” she said.

Of those layers – the fantasy, the mystery, and the family – Stanchfield felt from talking with Cuse and Averill that the family aspect was the most important. The Lockes have been thought a lot when we first meet them and their first few months in Matheson are no easier. Nevertheless, the Lockes’ bond endures and, to Stanchfield, forms the heart of the show.

“Which to me really extended to the heart of the kids and their high school friends,” she added.

In perhaps one of the bigger departures from the initial comic book storylines, a group of high school kids called “The Savini Squad” — in honor of horror effects make-up legend Tom Savini — become prominent in the story very quickly, which was another one of Hill’s ideas for the show. Cuse said their appeal became apparent thanks to the iteration process.

“It just seemed like, OK, this is going to be a big part of the show,” he said. “We should meet them in the pilot, we should get going with this.”

The group, which quickly adopts Kinsey Locke (Emilia Jones) into their number, will no doubt become fan favorites.

Locke & Key SEASON 1 EPISODE 5 PHOTO CREDIT Christos Kalohoridis PICTURED Carlton Cuse, Meredith Averill

No matter how the show will be perceived, though, its curious production history will always be a part of its story. For Stanchfield and Jessup, taking over roles cast twice previously was something akin to taking over a part on stage. Nevertheless, there was some trepidation about watching the earlier versions.

“At one point someone asked me if I would be interested in seeing the Hulu version of it, which was the previous version. And it unlocked like an enormous terror in me,” Jessup said. “I mean I’m sure they did a beautiful job, but the thought of seeing someone else in the same situations still makes my skin — I feel so uncomfortable about it.”

Stanchfield also avoided the other pilots, but part of her decision to do so was on instruction from Averill and Cuse (pictured), who saw through her initial performance as Nina a new way to develop the character.

“We like your approach and we want you to just go with that,” she recalled them saying.

That difference in the character will be immediately apparent to readers of the comic, but Nina’s underling problems will eventually surface.

In fact, the unexpected way Locke & Key utilizes its source material may earn it a special place in viewers hearts — provided fans of the comic see the value in the ways it is not a literal translation.

“I hope the people who like the comics also like our show and that they are open to the changes and that they’re excited by and surprised by some of the things that we do differently,” Jessup said. “For me it’s always more exciting [that way]. I mean, I love the comics too, and I wouldn’t want the show to try and be a cheap shadow imitation of it. I think it’s better for the comics and for the show if it tries and finds its own language.”

Locke & Key launches Friday, February 7 on Netflix.

Like this? Subscribe to our newsletter and get more features, news, and guides in your inbox every week.

Tag Cloud

Indigenous American Society of Cinematographers binge AMC Summer Drama Chilling Adventures of Sabrina romantic comedy die hard Tubi ABC Signature trailers TCM debate art house basketball Adult Swim Sundance TV Native SDCC Paramount Pictures Film Festival Logo japanese new york mcc dogs Cannes comics rt labs crime Teen obi wan name the review child's play unscripted Rocketman Amazon Studios cancelled television Apple Shudder CBS All Access cats Crackle See It Skip It VH1 Epix Wes Anderson 94th Oscars politics HFPA crime thriller Fox Searchlight BET Awards hidden camera E! vampires Trophy Talk Quiz WGN Arrowverse Television Critics Association RT History Mary poppins pirates of the caribbean 24 frames parents Image Comics Horror Grammys miniseries blockbusters Exclusive Video Stephen King action-comedy Interview zombie Crunchyroll south america Sony Pictures stoner X-Men mockumentary Tomatazos Nat Geo worst movies ID 20th Century Fox TV Land women classics dramedy universal monsters Hallmark Christmas movies Awards Rom-Com hollywood Netflix festivals Lionsgate legend The Purge finale anthology Mary Poppins Returns Mystery comic books Premiere Dates Film kong First Look spanish language 45 VICE fresh stop motion Lucasfilm mob target scene in color halloween tv casting biopic stand-up comedy WarnerMedia know your critic scene in color film series aapi batman South by Southwest Film Festival Oscars robots MTV ratings Television Academy IFC Netflix Christmas movies book adaptation cinemax 99% true crime nbcuniversal space BBC One marvel cinematic universe Masterpiece streamig Starz Chernobyl Emmy Nominations cartoon Neflix singing competition sag awards Podcast Acorn TV criterion kids Action halloween Amazon Prime Heroines scorecard San Diego Comic-Con Walt Disney Pictures series emmy awards Food Network Pixar A24 cancelled TV series Comic Book fast and furious young adult elevated horror crossover historical drama game of thrones Travel Channel Mudbound Comics on TV 90s Esquire rotten asian-american justice league Dark Horse Comics dragons Disney+ Disney Plus Character Guide based on movie rom-coms blaxploitation Amazon Prime Video Superheroes Elton John Ellie Kemper Comic-Con@Home 2021 Calendar SXSW Schedule prank kaiju news interviews TCA Winter 2020 gangster The CW psycho worst ESPN toy story razzies 79th Golden Globes Awards Shondaland best IMDb TV Animation DC Comics SundanceTV APB 71st Emmy Awards Toys MCU sopranos quibi 93rd Oscars technology documentary Showtime MSNBC trophy indiana jones 73rd Emmy Awards Election critics 2016 biography Year in Review green book HBO Go TNT tv talk Academy Awards comic book movie theme song TLC Spring TV Lifetime harry potter blockbuster Rocky Fantasy reboot dark Nickelodeon Rock docudrama Writers Guild of America Song of Ice and Fire remakes ABC Family science fiction Fargo First Reviews Cartoon Network godzilla IFC Films TCA 2017 christmas movies Marvel Music Ovation sitcom comiccon Vudu Apple TV+ Columbia Pictures Sundance Now Hallmark comic Tarantino Disney Plus superhero Sony transformers scary Warner Bros. football richard e. Grant Turner Classic Movies E3 Family jurassic park slashers Pirates Pet Sematary RT21 Martial Arts New York Comic Con Super Bowl Discovery Channel Baby Yoda lord of the rings Legendary spanish Paramount adaptation hispanic romance The Walt Disney Company Pop TV cancelled Spectrum Originals a nightmare on elm street cops 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards Lifetime Christmas movies zombies Britbox mission: impossible Pacific Islander Disney Channel target obituary international strong female leads revenge Polls and Games Tags: Comedy serial killer Star Wars Best Actor discovery USA Pride Month live event comedies free movies LGBTQ OneApp Women's History Month Winter TV natural history Thanksgiving Star Trek Valentine's Day royal family History Red Carpet PaleyFest cancelled TV shows chucky screenings renewed TV shows sports twilight GoT Creative Arts Emmys FX on Hulu boxoffice Tumblr NYCC Universal Pictures canceled Biopics TCA teaser talk show YA nfl saw reviews posters Bravo cars Hollywood Foreign Press Association new star wars movies archives franchise 2018 Pop Binge Guide Video Games monster movies what to watch rotten movies we love political drama DC Universe Extras DGA ghosts CMT Spike CW Seed BBC National Geographic travel Fall TV 2021 Winners DirecTV Superheroe LGBT police drama medical drama Star Wars Celebration DC streaming service festival vs. Brie Larson 21st Century Fox latino YouTube versus aliens Oscar wonder woman Prime Video Best Director Black Mirror Geeked Week 2015 4/20 video on demand The Walking Dead sequels YouTube Red thriller Watching Series Best and Worst Disney streaming service critic resources black USA Network golden globes Disney Set visit venice A&E VOD 2020 Holiday dreamworks Paramount Network popular films YouTube Premium screen actors guild toronto Amazon summer TV GIFs Turner Marvel Television witnail BBC America Sci-Fi SXSW 2022 Instagram Live docuseries hispanic heritage month book TruTV Tokyo Olympics boxing The Academy feel good comic book movies Avengers cults children's TV hist GLAAD breaking bad Broadway indie rt labs critics edition The Witch award winner new zealand streaming doctor who documentaries animated CBS jamie lee curtis Alien foreign satire OWN Endgame FOX war PBS video HBO Comedy Central Mary Tyler Moore french australia 72 Emmy Awards Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt game show President Marvel Studios nature Fox News Countdown social media king kong suspense NBA Awards Tour Marathons BET PlayStation Apple TV Plus Paramount Plus dexter Trailer diversity joker Emmys Classic Film laika TV movies composers Certified Fresh high school Peacock Cosplay italian superman genre independent adventure AMC Plus BAFTA Kids & Family disaster concert Sneak Peek canceled TV shows crime drama Infographic Hear Us Out 1990s MGM TV Syfy adenture live action slasher TIFF spider-verse Photos Hulu Black History Month Opinion broadcast Western all-time Holidays Captain marvel spain Box Office TCA Awards spinoff Best Actress FXX CNN ITV heist movie scene in color ABC Country supernatural Funimation Universal summer TV preview olympics summer preview scene in color series directors Freeform werewolf anime black comedy spider-man king arthur TV renewals james bond Best Picture marvel comics psychological thriller 2017 Nominations Sundance NBC Christmas 007 movies ViacomCBS streaming movies Reality Competition television spy thriller Comedy The Arrangement facebook TV One FX Focus Features telelvision Reality mutant golden globe awards Musicals rt archives dc cooking 2019 dceu sequel scary movies TBS period drama deadpool Anna Paquin Musical HBO Max El Rey Trivia Ghostbusters leaderboard japan zero dark thirty Mindy Kaling movie