Screenwriter Cole Haddon is on a roll with his graphic novel, “THE STRANGE CASE OF MR. HYDE,” published by Dark Horse Comics, which is also on track as a major motion picture. I recently reviewed his book which you can read here. It was my pleasure to interview this rising star. We covered many angles of what makes for a good horror story and got a peek at Haddon’s latest project, a new Dracula TV show for NBC:
COMICS GRINDER: About a year ago, the buzz was about the new comic book you’d written, “The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde,” and, of course, the movie deal. Dark Horse Comics will release the collected issues as a graphic novel on Feb 21. The release of the graphic novel is a perfect opportunity for new readers to jump on board. This is not a dark work like “From Hell.” It has a style and a sense of humor that sets it apart, actually quite fitting for Dark Horse. Can you tell us how you came to Dark Horse and how they got you set on both a comics and a movie track?
COLE HADDON: It’s funny, because when I was pitching the idea for Strange Case around Hollywood, the constant concern was that it would be “too dark like From Hell.” I kept telling people, “No, you don’t understand. It’s going to be fun. Blood can be fun!” Luckily, a few people agreed with me. The first was a producer over at Mark Gordon Company. He brought me to Dark Horse Entertainment, which agreed that Strange Case would make a film they could support with their brand. But also, that it would make a comic book series they could support. We developed the idea further, into a solid take, and then pitched it to studio buyers. Skydance Entertainment liked where our heads were at on the project, and hired me to write the screenplay. Simultaneously, I wrote the comic book. The two, the screenplay and the comic book script, had a very symbiotic relationship that I think really impacted the quality of the story in a positive way.
CG: It’s interesting that, in the Robert Louis Stevenson story, both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are far more mysterious than they’ve been depicted in movies. We hardly see either one of them in the Stevenson work. It makes for a wonderfully frightful read, don’t you think?
CH: Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde isn’t my favorite work of gothic horror fiction, but it’s not that far away from the top of my list. Mr. Hyde, however, is, as far as I’m concerned, the baddest of the bad in the Victorian monster pantheon. Stevenson’s approach to the character is terrifying. What you’re describing, the distance with which he approached them, the way he presented them through the eyes of friends and terrified Londoners, was something I tried to recreate. Or rather, I tried to recreate the sense that he was a bogeyman that, as the thing you didn’t see, was far more monstrous. That he was mythologized by that fear in some way. That’s why, in the prologues/flashbacks of my Strange Case, you never see Hyde. You do, however, get to see the public’s perception of him, of that bogeyman, in the Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum sequence in Issue #3 and on the cover to Issue #4.
CG: The template set up by Hollywood has Dr. Jekyll with a love interest while Mr. Hyde has a lust interest. By 1941, this format reached its perfection. Spencer Tracy is paired with Lana Turner, the object of his good standing in the world; and he is paired with Ingrid Bergman, the object of his most base desires. Spencer Tracy, as Mr. Hyde, tormenting Ingrid Bergman, as Ivy, in their suffocating little love nest is decades ahead of David Lynch. I read that you find this depiction of “good” and “evil” to be dated and, certainly, it is. Yet, don’t you think there’s still room to play with the master and slave relationship that Hyde has with Ivy?
CH: My adaptation, while it includes many nods to cinema adaptations of the Stevenson novella, is an adaptation of, or, rather, a sequel to the novella. That meant I had to pursue certain thematic ideas that the relationship you’re describing in the Victor Fleming Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde isn’t very relevant to. It’s a fascinating relationship, don’t get me wrong. What Tracy’s Hyde does to Bergman/Ivy is twisted and, as you said, very David Lynch long before Lynch was messing with our heads, but its scope, its conversation about society and morality, is smaller than the original novella, I think. By the way, I think there is a master-slave relationship in my Strange Case. Inspector Thomas Adye is a slave to the Powers That Be that steer society, that control it for their own gain, and Hyde wants to liberate Adye from that way of thinking.
CG: Your graphic novel, “The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde,” brings in an assortment of new twists and turns to the classic story, most notably it being a sequel and connected with Jack the Ripper. But there’s also the relationship you’ve created between Inspector Ayde and Dr. Jekyll. I’m not sure if this has been brought out before but it’s interesting to me that Ayde and Jekyll look very similar to each other. I don’t know if that was purposeful or not. It adds a surreal vibe to the story. Here you have Ayde who needs the help of an imprisoned Jekyll in order to solve the crimes of Jack the Ripper. And, all the time, Jekyll taunts and tests Ayde, who thinks of himself as morally above reproach. What can you tell us about the Ayde/Jekyll relationship?
CH: Well, to expand upon what I was just saying, Adye is a strict adherent to the morality that’s been defined for him by his government, its elite class, and religion. He, just like Dr. Jekyll in the original novella, believes that this morality, this concept of Biblical good and evil, is something that should be imposed upon society. In fact, that’s what Jekyll’s original serum intended to do. To cleanse evil from the human identity, to make us utterly good and “moral.” That’s why Adye looks like Hyde, I think. He’s Jekyll in a way, the “before.” Hyde is one version of the “after.” Adye, while he takes a different route in the climax, winds up just as changed – but still in a way Hyde can approve of because Adye made an informed personal choice. Mostly, the series is about questioning authority, about striving for reason and critical thinking. There are many outcomes to that, many of which I might not agree with, but I, like Hyde, have no trouble accepting the beliefs of a person who has seriously examined an idea and then chosen to follow it. Blind acceptance of anything is deserving of mockery.
CG: I understand that you’re a huge fan of the old Hammer horror movies. I’ve seen my share. They always left me feeling a little queasy and creeped out and a little mesmerized too. Do you think a horror movie, pretty far removed from the original work, might still inspire someone to read Robert Louis Stevenson or Bram Stoker?
CH: I know they do. The only reason I read Stevenson, Stoker, H.G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, and many others was because I saw old films adapted from these authors’ works. Cinema was my gateway drug and, later, compass to great literature. Things have changed since I was a kid, probably even reversed in many ways, but I know Strange Case of Mr. Hyde wouldn’t exist today if I hadn’t, as a pre-teen, seen the original Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde films and then sought out the novella.
CG: I’m sure readers are curious to know about your career as a screenwriter. How did you break into it? What got you on your way? Maybe you can describe a breakthrough in your writing or a fortuitous event.
CH: I’ve always known I was going to be a storyteller. I experimented with comic books, short fictions, and novels, but my love for film was always strongest. Fear of failure probably kept me away from Hollywood longer than I should have; Midwest parents and communities tend not to encourage Hollywood dreams; but I finally made it out here when I was 29. Within a couple of years, I was lucky enough to have my work passed along to a manager who liked what I had done with the story. He signed me, helped me find agents, and pretty much got the ball rolling. Six months later, I sold my first pitch, to Warner Bros, called Thieves of Bagdad. A few months later, I sold Hyde, which is what the film adaptation of Strange Case will be called. Since then I’ve been working fairly steadily, both in film and now in comic books.
CG: “The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde” is matched perfectly with the artist, M. S. Corley. He has just the right sensibility and attention to detail. He also has a certain angular style that brings Mike Mignola to mind. All in all, your book fits right in with the Dark Horse vision. Does it all feel like it was meant to be?
CH: I’m not sure what other comic book publisher would have embraced Strange Case as I envisioned it. Perhaps Vertigo over at DC, but I’m not even sure about that. Dark Horse gave me the freedom to do what I wanted with the story, to work with the artist I wanted, to, in general, create a comic book I believed in. I won’t claim I was completely successful at that, but I know I, and Mike Corley, had fun trying to pull it off.
CG: Your love of Victorian literature and gothic horror feels very authentic in your graphic novel. Could you give us a short list of some of your favorite stuff, be it movies or books, maybe something we should be looking at.
CH: A short list? Wow, that would be impossible. I’m a huge fan of Universal Pictures monster movies, of Hammer Films’ horrors, of any film with Ray Harryhausen’s name in the credits. But I’m just as much a fan of action-adventures, from The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), to King Solomon’s Mines (1950) to Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). I think Strange Case is probably the bastard child of these two loves. Fiction-wise, I’m just as all over the place. In the past six months I’ve read works by Frank Herbert, Douglas Adams, Charles Dickens, Michael Chabon, and many more. In the past few years, I’ve also increasingly gravitated toward the non-fiction work of freethinkers and intellectuals like Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. In fact, since the passing of Hitchens in December, I’ve been reading and re-reading much of his work. Strange Case of Mr. Hyde owes a great debt to him and the other brilliant minds I mentioned, too. So yeah, not quite a short list…but it’s a list.
CG: Your current project is writing a new take on Dracula for NBC. What can you tell us about this upcoming show? How will it stand out among vampire entertainment?
CH: NBC hired me to write a TV series for them, based on the Bram Stoker novel. What I can say for Dracula fans is that it’s period and that I’m approaching the character and world with the same love and attention for the source material and accompanying mythology as I did Hyde in The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde. As for how will it stand out among vampire entertainment? Well, there are no sparkly vampires for starters.
CG: Lastly, what are your feelings on zombies? Are they last year’s model or do they still have some life left in them? I imagine you’d say the latter if you’re a “Walking Dead” fan.
CH: I am a “Walking Dead” fan. As for are zombies last year’s model? We’re going on 40-plus years of zombies eating flesh and brains. I don’t think they’re going away. They are, when done correctly, cyphers for social issues. Whether that’s racism or consumerism or whatever the day’s dilemma is, they’re empty vessels to be filled up with an idea, explored, and then chopped and blown to bits. Nobody did this better than George Romero, for my money, but his relevance has, unfortunately, slipped in recent years. Long story short: zombies have plenty of oxymoronic life left in them. That doesn’t mean every film or TV show that tackles them is something worth our time; in fact, most of it is crap; but, when done, as I said, correctly, for commentary, even satire, and sometimes both at once, they can be extremely effective in ways other monsters or approaches cannot be.