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?