Horror fans first met Joe Hill as a young boy back in 1982's Creepshow, starring as a boy who wanted nothing more than to read his horror comics despite his father's discipline, a role he scored from being the son of the film's writer Stephen King. It might have been a few years before Hill returned to the genre world, but he has delivered audiences a number of compelling stories, such as the novels Horns and Heart-Shaped Box, in addition to the graphic novel series Locke & Key. It's no exaggeration to say that horror runs in his blood, with another of Hill's novels, NOS4A2, currently earning an adaptation on AMC.
NOS4A2’s second season picks up eight years after the events of season one. Vic McQueen (Ashleigh Cummings) remains more determined than ever to destroy Charlie Manx (Zachary Quinto). Charlie, having faced his own mortality, emerges desperate for revenge against Vic. This time, he sets his sights on the person who means most to Vic – her eight-year-old son Wayne. The race for Wayne’s soul sends Vic and Charlie on a high-speed collision course, forcing both to confront the mistakes of their pasts in order to secure a hold on Wayne’s future.
ComicBook.com caught up with Hill to discuss the adaptation, the possible future of the franchise, and how Netflix's Locke & Key found its successful formula.
Header photo courtesy of Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images/AMC
ComicBook.com: I'm from Massachusetts and showrunner Jami O'Brien is from Massachusetts, while you're from Maine. Both NOS4A2 and Locke & Key take place in New England, so what do you feel it is about that part of the country that makes these horrifying stories feel more believable?
Joe Hill: Someone asked me the other day who's the scariest character in NOS4A2. In a recent episode, Vic McQueen's mother, who is a Boston native, thick Boston accent, she goes up one side of an FBI agent and right down the other for failing to protect her daughter. And after watching her harangue this guy, I thought to myself, "Maybe Linda's the scariest person." If I ever got yelled at like that, I'd probably wet myself.
I don't know that New England is any more of an ideal place to set a horror story than any other. The writer Grady Hendrix has had success setting a terrifying story in an IKEA store. So I think the setting is not necessarily important, except that my stories tend to come out of a New England space because that's what I know. I know how people live their lives here. I know how they talk to each other. I know what the work is like. I know what the winters are like. I feel comfortable setting stories here because, especially when you're writing a story of the supernatural, the job is to persuade people that maybe there could be a kidnapper who has an old car and he takes children in it and that car drains them of their souls. Maybe something like that could happen. Maybe there could be a New England house full of enchanted keys and every key unlocks a different door and activates a different supernatural power. And so how do you convince someone of that? I feel like you have to do it by giving them true details. So if you can convince them that the place that the story you're setting your tale in is real, that the people are real, that that's how people are. Then, when you introduce a ghost or a demon or a vampire, they're more likely to accept that as well.
When I interviewed Virginia Kull last year about developing that accent you're talking about, she said she went to the regional thrift store Savers and just listened to other people in the store.
Oh, that's great. I love that.
She had a thing in the first season where she goes, "No, no. Vic is too 'smaht' for that." I was quoting that line for a year just because I loved it. Just because it seems so true to me. It seemed like I've heard that in Kmart and standing in line to get 'hawt dawgs' at the fish fry place. I've been hearing that since I was a kid. It's perfect.prevnext
Challenges and Opportunities
Your work has been adapted before, so when NOS4A2 started gearing up, what were you most excited to see brought to life and what were you most apprehensive to potentially see altered for a TV series?
In terms of apprehension, it's a big, fantastic world and it represents, in the sense of this is a world with a unique, interior mythology, you have this mythology of strong creatives, people who can bend reality with the help of what they call a "knife," which is usually a physical object that they can use as a kind of occult totem. And it has a vampire in it. NOS4A2 has a vampire, but he doesn't have a cape and he doesn't have fangs. He doesn't sleep in a coffin filled with grave dirt. He's not scared of garlic. You can't drive him away with a cross. He doesn't drink blood. He is the most un-vampire-like vampire a person can imagine. I think my only concern, my only real concern was, is the mythology being too complicated to absorb on the fly in a TV show. Is it too baroque? But we seem to have cleared that barrier.
I think a lot of that has to do with Jami O'Brien and the great writers' team that she's pulled together. She has a very deft touch when it comes to introducing and explaining the supernatural concepts and not doing too much explanation because, let's face it, explanations suck.
In terms of the kind of stuff that I was most excited to see, I was pretty excited to see Christmasland. And we get a lot of, I don't think it's a huge spoiler to say, we'll be spending some time there in the second half of the season. I really enjoyed writing about Christmasland, which is a symbolic death place. In some ways, it echoes Paradise Island in Pinocchio, which is the place all the bad boys go. They go there and they drink and they gamble and they smoke and gradually they're turned into jackasses and then sold as mules. As a kid, that terrified me. As a small kid, I was just like, "Ah."
So there's a little bit of that there. There's also a little bit of Animal Farm. The workhorse, Boxer, is eventually sold for glue and the pigs who sold him say that he's still alive and he went to go live on a place, this glorious farm, on a place called "Sugar Candy Mountain." And I always thought, "Oh my God, what a silly metaphor for the graveyard." And, actually in NOS4A2, in the book, to the west of Christmasland is a mountain range and one of those mountains is Sugar Candy Mountain. I'm pretty sure I flipped that right in the book.prevnext
And the book also has a map listing a number of other creepy locations.
Yeah. Pennywise's Circus and the Lovecraft keyhole.
How on earth did you come up with "Pennywise's Circus"?! It sounds so creepy and you just made it up out of nowhere.
Yeah, I know. I'm so inventive. It also had the Tree House of the Mind, which is where Ig goes in Horns to become a devil.
Oh, I hadn't picked up on that one.
In the case of all those references, Jami O'Brien and the TV show took that right out of the book. In the book, at one point, Bruce Wayne McQueen is kidnapped by Charlie and he's still got his iPhone on him and Vic goes, "Oh my God, we can track him with Find My iPhone." So they pull up the map and they find him. They can find his moving dot. The only problem is his dot is on the Saint Nicholas Highway. And it winds through, instead of America, it winds through the United Map of American Inscapes. And you get all these fantasy world locations, including Orphanhenge, which is a place I haven't written a book about yet, but I keep meaning to. I love that kind of thing. I love anything you can do to make a fantasy world deeper and more rich.prevnext
Speaking to the expanded world of the novel, this specific series will conclude with Vic and Charlie's journey coming to an end, but since AMC has expanded its other series, could you see NOS4A2 getting a spinoff or a sequel series?
Well, well before there was ever a TV show, I planned to tell another story about Maggie Leigh called "The Crooked Alley," which takes place before the events in NOS4A2. It would be interesting to write now because my view of the character has been radically changed by Jahkara Smith. I so love Jahkara's performance as Maggie that I feel like it's more interesting than the version in the book. So, in terms of the work on paper, I think there might be room to revisit that world and these characters at some point in some fashion. But I also think AMC could do the same if they want and if there's an audience appetite for it. That was part of the point of spending time in Parnassus in Season Two to meet Old Snake and The Hourglass.
Having read the book, these new characters definitely help keep me on my toes and make the series that much more engaging.
Yeah, I kind of poked The Hourglass in. That came out of conversations with Jami. All I can say is he seems like a real dangerous and sinister cat and I'm just glad and relieved that he's definitely completely 100% dead. As we learned from episode six, he's definitely, definitely, definitely dead. There's no chance he could still be alive.
Exactly. I mean, it's not like the show has had characters have their hearts pulled out of their chests and somehow still be alive.
That's right. Death is very final in NOS4A2.prevnext
I'd also like to thank you for how clever the title of the story is, as any time I pronounce "NOS4A2" out loud and people realize it's a play on "Nosferatu," they always look impressed.
There was a little bit of concern when I pitched the title to my publishers. There was a little bit of concern about it and we talked about other titles. We talked about calling it "Triumph," but I thought that sounded suspiciously like a sort of feel-good Christian novel. I'm like, "I don't know about that one." We talked about "Wraith," which ultimately did become the title of the graphic novel.
I just always felt like the title was "NOS4A2." I thought it was interesting. And the argument against it was readers won't know what it means and the argument for it was, "Yeah, but because they don't know what it means, won't they take a moment longer to look at the book and try to figure it out?" You've presented them with a word puzzle. Won't they stick around to try to solve it? And I say that the readers did.
Oh I don't know, I was walking through the bookstore the other day and saw some book called "IT" and thought, "What the hell is that? Who cares. Moving on."
Well, when my dad decided he was going to title the book "IT," my mom instantly said, "The critics will say that the title of this book is missing two letters."
I think it might find a following someday.
He also said he was going to call a book "Insomnia." And he said, "Even though I know critics are going to say, 'Insomnia. Cures it.'"prevnext
Obviously Locke & Key was a success, with Netflix renewing it for a second season, but some fans noticed that the overall tone shifted away from horror and more towards fantasy. I was curious what you thought about this shift and how that came about.
I loved the show. I loved what the show became. Carlton Cuse, who's the showrunner on it, is kind of a professor of television, and made himself a student of the previous two attempts to adapt Locke & Key, which had failed, and tried to crack the puzzle of why did those versions not work. I think that Locke & Key the comic book was always like Harry Potter gone bad. It was always a little bit like R-rated Harry Potter. Scarier. More horror. It was less Harry Potter, more "Horror Potter." And I think that what he realized was there were the elements of this terrific YA fantasy thing there, and that the solution to the problem was to lean into that. So the earlier versions of Locke & Key were two parts horror and two parts fantasy. And the Netflix version is one part horror, three parts fantasy, and that seems to be the right chemical mix for TV.
You also had one of your stories adapted for the Creepshow TV series and when I spoke to Tom Atkins [who played your father in the original movie] and I mentioned--
Oh, I love Tom!
And I asked him about returning for the series, he sounded excited for it, so I'd love to see the two of you reunite for the show.
I'd like that, too.
Admittedly, he sounded more excited to reunite with Adrienne Barbeau.
She's the best, too.0comments
Tune in to new episodes of NOS4A2 Sunday nights at 10 p.m. ET on AMC.prev