For those of you unaware of Cole Haddon, gentleman scholar extraordinaire, he writes “The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde” alongside his partners in crime M.S. Corley and Jim Campbell, for the indubitable Dark Horse Comics. A while back we started talking on Twitter and it turns out he’s a former Michigander plus a brilliant comics scribe! I wanted to ask him some questions about his series and his feelings on using public domain work in comics and so without further ado, here’s the interview!
I Speak Comics: What was it about Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that inspired you to write what is basically a graphic extension of the original novel? What about that particular universe spoke to you?
Cole: The easy answer is: I’m such a fan of the original novel, I just didn’t think I could do it justice and, being such a fan, I also felt uncomfortable perverting it in order to make it feel “fresh and new” for today’s audiences. Writing a sequel just seemed like a better way to pay homage to a character – this being Dr. Jekyll and his alter-ego Mr. Hyde – that I loved so much.
The more complicated answer is that I’m appalled by the state of America today. Popular rhetoric would have you believe we’ve never been as divided as a country as we are right now, but, the truth is, historians will tell you it’s always been this bad. I mean, look at the Civil War. How much more divided can you get? Look at the struggle for workers’ and Women’s Rights. Look at the Civil Rights movement. Look at Vietnam. Conflict over our national identity is part of our national character, but I guess, with it being the 21st century, I just expect better from us at this point. Worse, we’re not even fighting about real social issues anymore.
We’re fighting about morality, or ideas about what morality is as held by a specific group. A group that hasn’t come upon this morality by way of study or struggle, but because they had it defined for them by a book and interpretations of that book by men, and sometimes women, who almost always have ulterior motives like personal gain, political power, or social subjugation. I wanted to explore this dilemma, this crisis, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde seemed like a great jumping-off point. Jekyll and Hyde are a study in duality, after all; of puritanical righteousness and ultimate freedom. Neither had much value as a social model, I knew, but then I started wondering what would happen if Jekyll’s scientific mind and powers of reason forced the Hyde persona to think critically about what he had learned as a deviant and libertine. Would that amalgamated personality have any special insights?
I decided a recombined Jekyll and Hyde would. Insights built on critical thinking and, as I put it, struggle. On personal choice. That’s why I think, at the end of the day, I’m most glad I went with writing a graphic sequel to Stevenson’s original novel: my Dr. Jekyll was able to act as a teacher for my protagonist, the puritanical stick-in-the-mud Inspector Thomas Adye, whose quest isn’t to embrace Jekyll’s possibly depraved, possibly brilliant ideas about morality or the lack thereof. Adye’s quest, as Jekyll would have it, is to simply make a choice for himself about what is right and wrong rather than blindly follow other people’s definitions of right and wrong.
ISC: I think it’s safe to say that you’re working on what one might call an unofficial sequel to one of the most famous literary classics in history. Because so many people know the story of Jekyll and Hyde, were there certain aspects of the original that you felt like you needed to transplant into the comic so it would resonate?
Cole: I did my best to stay as true as possible to the “facts” as established by Stevenson in his novel, if only because I love the novel so much. But facts are easy really. You just stick to them. More difficult, but just as important to me, were the two themes of the original novel as I saw them: the nature of morality and transformation.
I discussed morality already, but the transformation of the actual story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, this in addition to the characters, was also a lot of fun to play with. Each issue, for example, begins with a flashback to the events of the original novel. Each of these is told with very period language as it’s popularly imagine: stiff and droll.
Victorian England is also presented in these flashbacks as it most often is in popular culture: from the upper class’s point of view. Exactly as we’ve come to expect from a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story, but then we jump forward to 1888, to the Autumn of Terror as Jack the Ripper’s campaign of murder was called, and all of a sudden the language, the characters, the way the world looks is flipped on its head. Transformed, or so I intended. Some readers never figured this out, or at least a few critics didn’t; live and learn, right? Maybe I could have made it clearer.
Another example of how I tried to turn the original story on its head a bit, or “transform” the story for the sequel is a scene at the end of Issue #3. Jekyll confronts a wax figure at Madam Tussaud’s Wax Museum. The figure looks exactly how London’s 1888 public – and we – perceive Mr. Hyde: as a horrific, mangle-toothed Neanderthal in a dapper suit and cape. Not at all what I’m suggesting Hyde was, of course. Jekyll and Hyde, of course, go through a more physical, traditional transformation as well.
Then there’s Jack the Ripper and my hero, Inspector Adye, who both have transformations of their own to contend with…but I don’t want to ruin the fourth issue.
ISC: Subsequently, what did you do to make this your own unique tale?
Cole: There were three ways I set about doing that: conceiving it as a sequel, as we’ve already discussed; using the story to, as the original did, convey allegory appropriate to the era in which it was written; and, finally, presenting the story in the gothic cinematic style of Universal’s and Hammer Film’s monster films. Especially Hammer Films, I’d say. But for that, I largely had to rely upon my artist M.S. Corley and my colorist Jim Campbell, who had to execute – quite brilliantly, I think – what was inside my head.
ISC: What is it about The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that you think lends itself to the comic book medium?
Cole: I’m not sure if Stevenson’s novel and its characters/themes do lend themselves to the comic book medium, at least not directly, though Alan Moore did handle – and even evolve – Jekyll and Hyde quite brilliantly in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. And obviously, I’ve taken a crack at it. Indirect adaptations, however, are wholly different stories. For example, the Hulk, who’s really just a big green version of Hyde, works incredibly well.
Honestly, the only reason I opted to tackle the character in comic books is Hammer Films. The ones that made Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Oliver Reed, and so many others just great. Hammer Films is back today, thanks to some act of the cinema gods, but it will never be the same studio that Terence Fischer and Jimmy Sangster called home. I would have loved to work with these guys back in the late-50s and throughout the 60s when they were making films likeThe Curse of Frankenstein and Captain Clegg.
However, I wasn’t even born when those films were being made, and so I’ve had to satisfy myself by creating a comic book homage to the studio’s work instead. Hopefully it works all the same.
ISC: Do you think your comic measures up to Stevenson’s classic?
Cole: I can only hope, but I wouldn’t presume to say so. I let others make those judgments. What do you think?
Gotta say with grad school looming nigh over the horizon I’m getting more and more stressed out. Am I going to make the cut? Am I Masters program material? Where am I going to live? What am I going to eat?
All these questions are buzzing around inside my head while I’m working 40-50 hours a week at 3 different jobs.
That aside, I’m still spending a decent chunk of cash on comics every week. They’re my escape, though Bayonetta has recently sunk its claws into me. Hard mode. Love my dual shotguns. But what funny books hit store shelves this week? Let’s take a look!
Dark Horse Comics B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth Monsters #1 – Sometimes I worry about my purchasing habits. If it’s new and it says B.P.R.D. then I’m going to buy it, regardless of what it is.
Hellboy: The Fury #2 – C’mon, Hellboy’s punching a dragon on the cover! I gotta say that I’ve been enjoying this series and it’s come so far from Hellboy’s humble beginnings. My only question? When are we gonna see some aliens?
DC Comics Green Lantern #67 – To be honest I’m just waiting for a chance to drop this book. I don’t like Hal so whenever it goes back to him just solo adventuring, boom done. However this book has been great with all the other Lanterns hanging out and I’m very curious where this is all going. I’m mean crud, Mogo’s gone. What’s next?
Green Lantern Corps #61 – Hoo raa now this is my shit! Really nothing else to say about this book besides it’s a great read.
Image Comics Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors #3 – Cute and cuddly super villains learn the ropes for a life lived on the wrong side of the law. It’s light reading and fun to boot.
Guarding the Globe #5 – I’m curious as to where this book is going. It’s only a mini so will the Guardians of the Globe again be relegated to a supporting role in the Invincible books? Every member’s got a lot of personality so it’d be a shame to see them all disappear but eh, not too sad.
Marvel Comics Black Panther: The Man Without Fear #521 – The American Panther? What the deuce? I’m too lazy to see if it’s the same creative team writing and penciling but you can bet that if it’s of the same caliber as recent issues I’ll be picking this one up.
FF #6 – I love Black Bolt. I’m not sure if I’ll purchase this ish, but I’m definitely going to read it in store if nothing else. Hail to the king baby.
Incredible Hulks #632 – I don’t know if I’d call Greg Pak’s Hulk run “legendary” yet Marvel solicits. However with Paul Pelletier on the pencils I’m getting it. He draws the Hulk but good and his ladies are purty. Woot!
X-Men: Schism #1 – I don’t know what’s going on here but if it’s supposed to be the event of the decade (we’re only a year into the decade though…) how can I not read this? Go Cyclops!
Miscellaneous RASL #11 – One of the few books that just straight does not come out near enough. Quarterly? I’m dying here Mr. Smith!
Before I blast off into theoretical realms unknown I think it’d be beneficial to lay a solid foundation for the ideas I’ll be talking about later in the series. First and foremost is the term public domain, which I’ll be throwing around a lot and transmuting into an acronym when I get tried of writing it (PD). If something is in the public domain, and in our case we mean any literature in the PD, it is no longer under any sort of copyright protection.
So anyone that’d like to publish, let’s say The Art of War, can. It being written over 2000 years ago puts it out of reach of even the most dedicated copyright lawyers of the period. That isn’t to say that you can copy modern translations of the work though, present day lawyers will jump all over you for that.
Here’s another example: Let’s say you wanted to write a sequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” in comic book form. Well Cole Haddon has done just that in his comic series “The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde.” Seeing as the venerable author died in 1894, at the tragic age of 44, and over 100 years have passed since his demise, his work has fallen out of copyright protection and into the public domain and is now open for adaptation.
The same is true for other such masterful authors as Jane Austen, Jules Verne, Mark Twain, Bram Stoker; the list goes on and on. Granted things get a bit trickier if you want to use works penned by the recently deceased authors of our age, what with copyright laws seemingly being pushed back to infinitum by our legislators, but that’s besides the point. For the third and final time – Public domain literature is free of copyright restrictions and can be adapted and tweaked at will.
So how have comic books creators taken advantage of this phenomenon? Over the past few years I’ve noticed 4 main classifications of adapted PD literature in the graphic storytelling medium: 1) Strict adaptation, 2) tweaked adaptation, 3) untold adventures, and 4) the patchwork universe. Of course there are always exceptions to every rule and these classifications are by no means immutable, but I think they do a good job of setting up the ground work for discussion.
A strict adaptation is when a creator takes a novel and transforms it into a visual tale. Here the writer must pick and choose which words to rip from the prose and feed to the reader while the artist must do their best to make sure that their every picture is worth a few hundred words at least.
This has got to be the most difficult PD adaptation a creator can undertake. They hack and slash the time-tested work of a master, reassemble it into something that communicates the story visually, and then find an artist with the ability to make it look and feel right.
Unfortunately, unless the finished product is something of such surpassing brilliance that it outshines its progenitor, most of these graphic novels tend to be merely an introduction to their meatier original material. Great examples of this type of PD adaptation can be found in the Puffin Graphics collection.
Tweaked adaptation occurs when a creator changes the events of the original work to suit their own creative desires. That probably sounds incredibly vague but for those of you well-versed in mainstream comics think about Marvel’s “What If?” books. There the writer changes an important event in the history of the Marvel U, e.g. General Ross originally becomes the Hulk instead of Banner, and then reveals an all-new aftermath over the course of the comic. It’s still a Hulk story with the same events leading up to the Gamma Bomb explosion, but stars a different Hulk.
A good public domain tweaked adaptation is the Wachowski Brothers’ unfortunately unfinished Doc Frankenstein series. In the comics Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’s Monster is a super genius hounded by warriors of the Catholic Church.
The Wachowski’s utilized the classic origins of the motley monster (with one or two slight adjustments) to cement the foundations of their tale, but from there tell a decidedly different story in a completely different and original universe!
The tweaked adaptation is almost like a catch-all category for the comics that don’t quite fit into the other more defined classifications. In the end, a tweaked adaptation stars characters from one specific public domain universe and can be subject to an almost limitless number of variations depending on the whim of the creator. They can rewrite history, add new main characters, tell the tale from a different point of view, modernize the story, or take classic characters and put them into an entirely new universe, like the Wachowskis did.
Untold Adventures is a very common type of public domain adaptation found in comics. As of right now I’m not quite sure if the Untold Adventures should be just a sub-category of Tweaked Adaptation, but bear with me. By definition (my own of course) they’re simply stories about public domain characters that haven’t been told by the original author but are told in the original universe. I’d also like to include a few small stipulations: 1) the PD character’s origins remain relatively untouched unless the tale takes place at an earlier date, 2) the setting remains true to the original and outlandish, non-genre events are kept to a minimum (no alien attacks or time traveling madness here).
Any of the recent Sherlock Holmes comics fit the bill for this one. Tarzan comics, which usually begin as adaptations of Edgar Rice Burroughs original novels, inevitably become Untold Adventures once the creators have run out of material to adapt.
On an interesting note in Tarzan: Le Monstre by Stan Manoukian and Vince Roucher, Tarzan actually goes toe to toe with three other public domain characters: The Phantom of the Opera, Frankenstein, and Jekyll and Hyde. While I would consider this an Untold Adventure, it has elements of the Patchwork Universe as well. There is bound to be crossover between the categories and this comic is a perfect signifier of that fact.
Finally we come to the Patchwork Universe. These occur when creators combine different public domain characters and universes into one overarching narrative. In these stories the Big Bad Wolf might fall in love with Snow White, or Sinbad the Sailor might meet John Carter of Barsoom in an attempt to expel H.G. Well’s War of the Worlds aliens from the red planet.
The first volume of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen combines elements purloined from such megalithic authors as Jules Verne, Sir Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, H.G. Wells, and many many more. Bill Willingham’s Fables goes even further, drawing from ancient fables, legends, folk tales as well as the public domain to tell his stories. As I said above the Patchwork Universe contains elements from multiple PD universes and combines them into one narrative. Simple as that.
WHEW! And there you have it, how public domain literature is utilized in comics today. Obviously this is a constantly evolving phenomena, with new comics being written and published daily, but I think it does a passable job explaining just what a PD comic can be. I hope this was informative and I’ve got more on the way so stay tuned!
This week in Unlimited Highlights we relive some of Cap’s greatest exploits from the second Great War. This is the stuff that the film pulls from so if you’re hyping yourself up for what will undoubtedly be an awesomely patriotic punch-fest, you should definitely read up on this jazz.
My personal favorite this week has one of the longest titles for a single issue ever: Captain America Theater of War: Operation Zero-Point #1. Yeah, that is a mouthful but it’s a great issue, a one and done that satisfies on every level. Daniel Knauf and Mitch and Elizabeth Breitweiser do Cap proud on this ish and you’re missing out if you don’t check it out.
I interviewed James Chen, the co-voice of the fighting game community, a few weeks ago and it was an absolute pleasure picking his brain about MvC3. This guy is an absolute encyclopedia of fighting game lore, much more so than what you see and hear on Wednesday Night Fights. He’s got theories about the popularity of fighting games that would make a few damn interesting academic papers. I honestly had a blast chatting with him. Keep up the great work at Wednesday Night Fights James and good luck at Evo!
With the Captain America flick due out on July 22nd you can bet we’re going to be hyping the release as much as possible and to help fans familiarize themselves with Cap’s world Unlimited Highlights focuses on his archenemy the Red Skull this week. Ol’ Skull has got to be one of my favorite Marvel villains of all time. Nazis are just fun to hate.
I like that he’s so black hearted and unrepentant, and believes so fervently in his white supremacist/nazi propaganda. My favorite issue this week was Avengers #69 (1998) simply because of Olivier Coipel’s pencils. I think this was his first big story arc and it’s a beautiful start to what I hope will be a long and illustrious career.
Keep your eyes peeled for more Captain America Unlimited Highlights and I’ll be sure to keep you guys posted!