How Locke & Key changed my life

CW- Violent image involving a teenage girl

I’ve been out of the comic book game for a long time. Until a few years ago, I hadn’t picked up a comic book since the mid 90’s. My first introduction into comics was the 1991 X-Men Vol. 2 number one, drawn by the legendary Jim Lee. I only got into the comic because of the Fox X-Men cartoon, which I watched religiously.

Since then, I had rarely picked another comic book up until Marvel decided to launch its Cinematic Universe. But I noticed something odd when I attempted to dive back into comic books. I seemed to have lost my taste for superhero comics. I was much older, and I seemed to crave something more mature (not that superhero comics aren’t mature). I needed to find stories that didn’t involve the classic Marvel and DC heroes.

Finding publishers like Image and IDW made me aware that there were publishers other than the big two and that they had scores of different stories to tell. But the thing was, I didn’t know where to start. There were so many to choose from! I was also quite broke, so a voracious comic book habit wasn’t in the cards. That was when I realized that a great source of comics was one of my favorite places in the world: the library.

When I moved back to my hometown last year, I made it a point to get a library card right away. Reading was something I could lose myself in while I looked for a job. What surprised me about my library was the rather sizable collection of comic books they had. I immediately dove right in. I went right past the Batmans and the X-Mens and found the comics from smaller publishers. One particular series that caught my eye, and one I’d heard of before, was Locke & Key.

Locke & Key was published by IDW between 2008 and 2013, and is the story of three siblings, Tyler, Kinsey, and Bode, who return to their family estate in Massachusetts with their mother after a family tragedy. There they discover that the house isn’t what it seemed to be, and was full of supernatural danger and mystery that dated back to the beginning of their family in colonial America.

The writer, Joe Hill, was an award-winning novelist before taking on this comic. His full name is Joseph Hillstrom King, and he is in fact the son of horror author and legend Stephen King. So that lends a lot of street cred, in my opinion. The incredible art was done by Gabriel Rodriguez and colored by Jay Fotos. Every panel is a visceral, haunting experience that pulls the reader in while Hill’s words echo in their head, sending a shiver down their spine. If you’re a fan of Lovecraftian horror, I highly suggest reading it.

What stood out first about the books was that the collections were bound in gorgeous hardcover tomes that resembled something you’d find on the bookshelf of an old, Victorian mansion. A quick flip through to check out the art was all I needed to check out half the series in one trip. I’d finish the series after the second trip back.

Before Locke & Key, strong emotional responses from things I read or saw were reserved for underdog sports teams mounting a comeback or a chilling passage that hit much too close to home in a George Orwell novel. From page one, I found myself falling ass over tea kettle into this story.

From here on out, there will be some minor spoilers, so if you don’t want to know them, it’s best to skip ahead. What we first learn about the Locke family is that Rendell Locke, the father to the three protagonists, is brutally murdered. This event brings the family back to Key House, the house where Rendell grew up. Right away, the book hit an emotional chord with me.

My own father was killed in a car accident when I was 19, near the age of Rendell’s oldest son, Tyler, in the book. The effects of that event still affect me and my family to this day. Immediately, I found myself feeling empathy for the children, especially Tyler. Being technically the first born myself, I knew the burden that had just been placed on him all too well. I didn’t handle it as well as I could’ve, and something told me that Tyler would have a similar experience.

Kinsey Locke

We then come to Kinsey, the only daughter and the middle child of the Locke family. I cannot speak to the experience of being a young, teenage girl in the throes of maturity while dealing with such tragedy and heartache, but Hill and Rodriguez do a damn good job illustrating just how tough it can be. I immediately felt a bond with Kinsey, much like the bond between me and my own little sister. However, I was not prepared to witness the graphic torture poor Kinsey goes through.

There is a sequence where Kinsey gets confronted by their father’s murderer and he brutally beats her within an inch of her life. I have seen some graphic images of violence in comic books before, but nothing could’ve prepared me to watch as a 13 year old girl was so brutally assaulted. My protective nature was triggered watching this girl get violated and brutalized. But, as hard as it was to look at those panels, I did. When I was through with that scene, I had to take a few minutes and step back from reading to recover.

We’ve all had some sort of trauma in our past, and there is a good chance something similar to it will pop up in our favorite media. It may seem like a good idea to ignore it, or close your eyes until it is over. Seeing something that brings up painful memories is often very difficult. I’m one of the mind that thinks the only way to get over trauma is to face it head on. It’s painful, it’s horrifying, but in the end the trauma loses its grip on your psyche and slowly gets easier to deal with.

Up until then, there hadn’t been any media I’ve ever consumed that made me feel so helpless, so weak. I wanted so badly to jump into those pages and rescue Kinsey. After I took the time to process everything I had read, I realized that I couldn’t stop now. I had to see Kinsey win. She had to. Even if I had to find Joe Hill and demand he rewrite the book so Kinsey would be ok.

After finishing the series, I realized that I had not just read a comic book series. I had a real, emotional, traumatizing experience. From a comic book! I felt the urge to start it again, but a part of me wanted to preserve that feeling of experiencing a trauma and making it out of the darkness in the end. I’ll never read Locke & Key ever again. Not because it was emotionally taxing, but because it changed me. It changed how I looked at comic books. Comic books could literally change your life.

I would love to one day shake Mr. Hill’s and Mr. Rodriguez’s hands. Thank you gentlemen, for showing me that even in the darkest of hours, there’s always a key that will open the door to the light.