Interview: Cole Haddon On ‘The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde’

Everyone knows the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but not everybody knows the story of Thomas Adye, the detective protagonist of Cole Haddon’s The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde… yet. But that will change very soon. Haddon’s creation brings together the infamous tale of Hyde, Jack the Ripper, and 1800′s style ecstasy, what more could you want?

In this interview Haddon dives into what makes his literary mashup of Victorian touchstones (plus some of his own inventions) a must-read graphic novel. Focusing on the philosophy that drives the novel, the inspired treatment of blood and color, and the evolution from screenplay to comic (and back again), this interview with Haddon will have those who have already read the book thumbing through it again, and sending others scurrying off to their local comic shop to pick up the trade that comes out on February 22nd from Dark Horse. Read on for the skinny…

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Why Jekyll and Hyde? And by that I mean why out of all the sources from which you drew on, did you choose to give such emphasis to this particular story?

Cole Haddon: The easy answer is that I’ve long felt that Mr. Hyde is the baddest of the bad in Victorian fiction. He’s my favorite monster from literature of the era, and I think I wanted to remind the world, or at least those who had forgotten about him, that he still mattered. The more complicated answer is that I wanted to explore how concepts of morality – clearly not universally accepted ideas or else we wouldn’t have such a culture divide here in the United States – are all man-made and, as such, should constantly be challenged and reassessed rather than blindly accepted. They are, I think, more often than not, tools of societal control. Dr. Jekyll’s struggle to suppress evil in the human soul was just that – an attempt to impose one’s definition of good on society. The results of his experimentation was catastrophe, I think it’s fair to say. But I always wondered if Hyde, being the other side of the experience, might have a different perspective on the matter of good and evil. Might he, in fact, have learned something from the experience, or during his evolution ever since, that could provide insight into how our world works today? I guess that’s why I wound up writing The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde, to see if there was an answer to that question.

Thomas Adye’s transformation plays a central role in the comic. One of the pivotal scenes relating to this transformation comes about when he visits Hyde in the bowels of the jail. Can you tell us a little more about the inspiration behind this?

CH:Are you being coy, Paxton? Heh. Yes, the inspiration was Silence of the Lambs, as I’m sure you guessed. Lambs had a great impact on me when I first saw it. I grew up loving B-films, the off-kilter way they looked at the world, and Lambs was the first time I had ever seen a B-film elevated to the level of art. As for how this relates to Thomas Adye, I saw him as a surrogate for the Dr. Jekyll you find in the original novella. He’s young, naïve, ambitious – wants to save the world. I thought the same about Clarice Starling and, like Clarice, I thought Hyde could help reeducate Adye. That’s about where the similarities end, I think. Adye’s descent and rebirth, like Jekyll’s, is much more personally and philosophically violent and leaves him, I think, considerably more scarred than Starling was by her experience.

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In an earlier interview with BD.com you talk about how you and the illustrator of this series, MS Corley, paid painstaking attention to creating a historically accurate environment, but without giving too much away is there anything else in the illustration that you would hope readers notice, such as light and dark or any Victorian leitmotifs that would add more depth to a reading of this story?

CH:There’s not a wasted detail that I’m aware of, though we never expected anyone else to notice any of them. Mike’s job was to recreate a stylized Victorian England; one that was both historically accurate, but also reminiscent of the worlds found in Universal Pictures’ monster movies and especially Hammer Films’ horrors. Part of this was to create two time periods as well. The first was for the prologues set in 1883. These were to have a cleaner, brighter, more “white-washed” feeling to them. The images were meant to evoke the popular sense of what this world looked like. The second period, 1888, where the bulk of the story takes place, was meant to feel grittier and less mythical. There’s a reason why Mr. Hyde isn’t shown in the prologue, in fact. That monstrous, disfigured version of him, the one most readers expect, only exists in myth in our comic book. You catch a glimpse of this mythologized Mr. Hyde in the Madame Tussaud’s sequence, where he appears as a wax figure. Our Hyde is only seen in the 1888 “present” to keep the distinction visible. Jim Campbell, our colorist, was also instrumental in implementing our thematic work on the page. Each of the major characters has a color palette, so to say. These show up on the four original covers of the series. In the case of Dr. Jekyll, his was yellow. Pay close attention and, as his transformation into Mr. Hyde slowly takes him over, his palette begins to change to Hyde’s green. A tartan robe exemplifies this best. Campbell also made sure that the world of the upper-class remained Technicolor rich and the lower-class world of Whitechapel was more desaturated. The only details that ever trumped this division was the garish red we used for blood, something I insisted on and was inspired by Hammer’s horrors, and, of course, the neon yellow used for the serum.

The Strange Case was originally intended to be a screenplay. How did that impact its adaptation into a comic book series?

CH:It still is a screenplay. Dark Horse and I, along with producers at Mark Gordon Company, developed the idea into a treatment. In film-speak, that’s a fleshed-out outline, more or less. It’s the skeleton of a film with hints of tone and dialogue. We then sold that to Skydance Entertainment at the same time that Dark Horse asked me to start writing the comic book. This is where it gets interesting. Following the treatment and getting hired to write the screenplay, I set out to write the comic book script first. After I wrote that script, I then wrote the screenplay based on the comic book script – which had, in its writing, evolved considerably since the treatment stage. In writing the screenplay adaptation, however, the story evolved even further. I liked so many of the changes and new twists we put into the screenplay that I then went back and rewrote the comic book script. In other words, the screenplay and the comic book script processes were incredibly symbiotic. I’ll probably never have another experience like it, but I think all of our hard work shows up on the page. Or at least I hope it does.

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Since this is BD.com, can you tell us a little about the action scenes, the blood the guts and maybe the Victorian orgy?

CH:The blood, to me, was very important as I alluded to above. Blood is, as far as I’m concerned, an essential and fun part of horror. It’s something to revel in, if treated correctly, as they did at Hammer Films during the productions of their gothic horrors. Jim Campbell and I tried to stick with that approach by experimenting with several different shades of red. When we struck upon the right one, Jim went to work…except, of course, I forgot to mention that the blood in the Strange Cases-verse must always be the focal point of any page it appears on. Bright and garish, it always stands out even when it should be lost in shadows or hidden by distance. Jim made some tweaks and we were good to go after that. As for gore, the guts as you say, we mostly tried to avoid that. At least as it would be described in a modern context. Again, we tried to follow the Hammer model. Mike Corley showed what he had to, and, the rest of the time, let what was just off-panel exist in the reader’s mind. Finally, the Victorian orgy. Yeah, that was a blast to write, especially the blow-job gag. I think Mike had fun drawing it, too. We wanted it to feel like the orgy in Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. In many ways, I think what they learn from their experience there, its implications about society and the powerful, is far more horrific than anything the Ripper or Hyde does in the story.

When will we see Adye next, on the big screen or in another installment of the series?

CH: The producers are working on putting together the film as we speak, but I can’t say much more about that. As for which will we see first, the film or a comic-book sequel, I expect it will be a sequel to The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde. I think it’s pretty clear from the final page of the comic which monstrous villain will be at the center of Inspector Adye’s next “strange case.” I can’t wait to get back to this world and the characters.

Is the Twitterverse still the best way for our fans to keep up with you?

CH: Absolutely. Fans can find me at @colehaddon. Thanks for the questions!

‘The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde’ Trade Paperback Drops This Wednesday, Feb 22, From Dark Horse