Most days, I’m afraid. Sometimes, I worry that my heart is going to stop or explode or fibrillate when no one is around to help me. Sometimes, I worry that my parents or siblings or siblings-in-law or nephew will die horribly. Thankfully, I don’t think about that last one as much as my morbid sister does. Sometimes, I worry that I’m always going to be alone or I’m never going to reach my potential. Every day, it’s something. Most often it’s the heart one, because, several year ago, I had a bout of viral myocarditis that put me in the hospital for a few days. It left me relatively unscathed, except for a tendency to have panic attacks. Why do I mention this? Because, when you know that I almost always am experiencing some level of anxiety, it might be surprising to know that I really like being scared.
To me, it makes sense. I have been repeatedly told by doctors that my heart is just fine. In fact, it has been several years since I’ve been in this good of shape, and my health keeps getting better. My parents, though ancient, are probably healthier than your parents. The other members of my family are in good positions in life. I have a fairly stable job, for now. In spite of all of that, anxiety still sours most days. Anxiety about nothing or, at least, nothing I can change through worry and fret. That’s why I love to be scared. I’m afraid all the time, but it’s fake. My brain is giving me false readings. When I read or watch or participate in something that scares me, the way my brain approaches almost every moment finally falls in line with reality. In that moment, being scared makes sense, and, in a really twisted way, it’s such a relief. So, I seek out scary things, especially around this season, when it’s dark more than light, cold more than warm, and every shadow feels just a tad deeper than usual. Sometimes, I find movies like Saw, which are not scary. Other times, the better times, I find authors like Joe Hill.
My favorite horror novel is Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill, and, someday, I’ll talk about it here. I read Heart-Shaped Box all the way through twice before I found out that Joe is Stephen King’s son. That makes a lot of sense. Joe Hill has a similar way of setting up every scene in such a way as to make it spooky with forcing the spookiness. Joe surpasses his dad in two ways, though. 1. He doesn’t use vernacular that people would never actually say (e.g. gee golly gosh). 2. He shows you why you should be afraid, instead of telling you why you should be afraid. He does this especially well in the Locke & Key series.
The first volume of Locke & Key is called Welcome to Lovecraft, which made me eyeroll a bit when I read it. Naming the town where your horror is set after the most renowned weird fiction author of the past century is a bit played. Similarly, giving your protagonists the name Locke, the house Keyhouse, and having the main device of the story be locks and keys is also a little eyeroll inducing. Beyond that, though, the story is both adventurous and terrifying in equal measure.
Locke & Key opens at the close of another story, that of the three main characters’ father Rendell Locke, as he is brutally murdered. I won’t spoil the details of the encounter, but the brutality and evil always leaves me shocked. That evil taints each of the characters in different ways. To the oldest Locke sibling, Tyler, it leaves tremendous guilt; to the middle child, Kinsey, the need to disappear in the crowd; and the youngest, Bode, so many questions without the resources to answer them. It also leaves their mother, Nina, a husk of her former self. After the murder, the Lockes move across the country to live with their uncle in the Keyhouse, situated on an island just off the coast of Lovecraft(ugh), Massachusetts. After the move, things seem to calm down for the family, but it’s not long before the magic of the Keyhouse, the real cause of all their troubles, starts to push its way into the lives of the three Lockes as they attempt regain some sense of normality.
Each character is so well thought out. Tyler is ruled by his guilt and anger, and it becomes frustrating to watch him slam his head against obstacle after obstacle when he would be better suited to just talking to his siblings about how he feels. From the beginning, it’s obvious that Kinsey likes to stand out. So, it’s heartbreaking that, after the murder, she feels the need to become invisible and isolated. Each step she makes out of that pit of isolation is torturous for her. Bode is just a little kid who’s confused about what’s going on. He more readily sees the magic of Keyhouse, and wants to share it with his family. They are all so deep in their own sorrow that they pay his seeming nonsense no mind. Each of their stories are a tragic and realistic examination of how we manage mourning. As if that wasn’t enough, the characters inability to really communicate with each other prevents them from seeing what is so clear to an objective reader: something far worse is coming their way.
Welcome to Lovecraft is an exciting start to Joe Hill’s masterpiece of a graphic novel. It also helps that each of Gabriel Rodriguez’ panels are dripping with emotion and suspense. If you don’t continue to read the series, the last installment of which was published in February, you can still enjoy Welcome to Lovecraft as a standalone piece. I have a feeling, though, that if you love this story a tenth as much as I do, you will be picking up the rest of the books, especially if you read them my preferred way: alone at night with only enough light to illuminate the page. If you do, there will come a moment when you’ll have to make a choice. It’s that moment when you’re sitting in the dark, absorbed by the terror of the characters. Maybe you’ll sense something shift in the corner of the dark room. You’ll start to move to turn on the lights, but that would mean admitting that you think you’re not as alone as you first thought. In that moment, you’ll have to choose. You can set down the book, admit that you’re afraid, and turn on the lights to prove that you’re really alone, or you can sit there, eyes down, praying that whatever does or does not occupy this dark space with you is content to study you as long as you are content to study your book. I recommend the latter, you know, just in case.