Growing up, I loved reading Great Illustrated Classics – I’m certain that’s what they were called, but they were these little, square-shaped paperbacks that would adapt classic novels. On one page you’d have text, the other an illustration. They still publish them today, in fact. Larger versions, but the same adaptations and illustrations. You can find them all here. I mention this because reading Cole Haddon’s great Dark Horse series, The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde took me right back to those stories I grew up reading – War of the World, The Time Machine and, of course, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I read them all over and over, but it was Robert Louis Stevension’s great story that I came back to again and again, and which came bursting from my memory while reading Haddon’s story. 18th century England…foggy nights…an inspector in pursuit of his quarry…and Jack The Ripper? It all comes together brilliantly.
Cole Haddon was kind enough to answer some questions via email about The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde, his creative process, inspiration and much more. Listen to the chime of the ten bells…and let’s get started.
Andy Burns: No exaggerating – The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde has been one of my favourite recent reads. You did a great job of combining the fiction of Jekyll and Hyde with the unresolved reality of Jack the Ripper. To start with, how were you first exposed to Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?
Cole Haddon: First off, thank you. It’s always wonderful to hear that anything I’ve worked on has had an impact on readers. Especially Strange Case, which has been a huge part of my life for the past couple of years. An often all-consuming part, in fact. As for your question about when I was first exposed to The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde…wow. I’m not sure I could give an exact year, but I think I was probably eleven or twelve. I had, I know, already seen the Spencer Tracy 1941 film adaptation that Victor Fleming directed. I’m pretty sure I had already seen the 1931 Rouben Mamoulian film as well, the one starring Fredric March. Like most of the fiction I read as a pre- and early teen, I was led to it by my experiences with cinema.
Andy Burns: Along the same lines, what about Jack The Ripper? Do you recall first hearing the stories?
Cole Haddon: I’m pretty sure that was the result of one of those TV shows like “Unsolved Mysteries.” I wish I could say the stories had the same impact on me as fictional books and films, but I pretty much remained indifferent to the Ripper until Brian Augustyn and Mike Mignola’s Batman Elseworlds title Gotham by Gaslight. That was where my interest for the Ripper mythology really began.
Andy Burns: Where and when did the inspiration to combine the two come from?
Cole Haddon: I was actually working on a different project set during the same time period. Something that was, in many ways, a mash-up of the Victorian action-adventure and horror novels I loved. As a consequence, I had put the time lines of various books next to an actual historical time line. When I noticed The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde more or less occurred at the same time period – well, with some fudging – as the Whitechapel murders, something clicked. I had been working on ideas for a Hyde sequel, and suddenly it looked like I had one that could combine my favorite Victorian monster with Victorian England’s greatest historical villain.
Cole Haddon: Not at all, to be honest. I think the Ripper is as much a fictional character now as he is a historical figure. It’s impossible to separate his identity from the pop culture mythology we’ve wrapped him up in. My only rule was that I had to remain accurate to the dates and facts of the crimes, like who died, where, and how they were killed. There was also the novel’s integrity to worry about, of course, but, as I said, from the start this was going to be a sequel. I knew I had nothing to add to the original with a straight adaptation. All I could do was butcher it, and I loved it too much to do that. By making the comic book series a sequel, by only trying to stay true to the spirit, themes, and characters of the original novel, I freed myself considerably.
Andy Burns: As someone who went on the Jack The Ripper Walk in London years ago, I seriously enjoyed how darkly familiar the settings of The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde felt while reading. What sort of research did you utilize in crafting the story?
Cole Haddon: I’m an Anglophile, I guess you’d say. I’ve spent some time in London, I’ve read more books than I could list on the subject of Victorian England, and, of course, there was the novel to draw from. But I have to say, one of the most helpful sources I had was a website called CASEBOOK: JACK THE RIPPER (www.casebook.org). Whenever the artist M.S. Corley and I ran into a stumbling block, the information we found there inevitably provided us the answer.
Andy Burns: One of the most interesting thing about the depiction of Hyde in your story is that he’s much handsomer than I think anyone would anticipate. Did you ever consider having him more physically monstrous?
Cole Haddon: Never. I know what the novel says he became, but I was never interested in staying true to that. I wanted the comic book series to be topical and a shrunken homicidal gnome wasn’t going to resonate with readers the way I wanted the character to. Originally, you see, the first meeting between Inspector Adye and Edward Hyde took place with Hyde’s face visible on the page. Adye was supposed to approach a corner, terrified by the stories he’d heard about this horrible monster Mr. Hyde. But then he was to turn that corner and, instead of finding a malformed, slavering man-beast, he was going to find someone who looked like Hugh Jackman smiling charmingly back at him. I wanted readers to be drawn to him, like Adye was going to be. Ultimately, Mike Corley and I decided to keep Hyde’s face hidden until Issue #2, to generate some mystery and make the reveal that much more surprising, but I stayed true to the original conceit of that imagined first meeting. Hyde and his arguments had to be enticing. They had to be hard to ignore, and they would have been if we had made him a growling gnome with an uncontrollable temper.
Andy Burns: I loved the H.G. Wells references in the book – I’m curious, what sort of influence have authors like Wells or Stevenson had on your creative process, not just in The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde, but in your other writing as well?
Cole Haddon: Did you catch that Inspector Thomas Adye is the same Thomas Adye that appears in The Invisible Man? Most readers only catch the references to the Invisible Man’s father and, of course, there’s the other stuff I don’t want to ruin for readers by talking about. Anyway, other authors that have influenced me? Quite certainly Frank Herbert, Carl Sagan, Vladimir Nabakov, Hunter S. Thompson, Michael Chabon, Frank Miller, and…well, the list could go on and on. Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris had a particular impact on Strange Case. Authors of both fiction and non-fiction, filmmakers, comic book creators, musicians, and even painters have had a huge impact on my creative identity. My next project, for example, bears the mark of just about all of those mediums in some way or another. It also takes place in the same world – or time period – as Strange Case. NBC just hired me to write a TV series based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Andy Burns: What was your work process like for the book? Did you have a typical routine you followed?
Cole Haddon: The comic book was written very quickly, following a lengthy development period with Dark Horse Entertainment. It was set up as a film almost concurrently with the decision to move forward on a comic book by the publisher, and so the two projects, different but interconnected, creatively fed each other. It was a unique process, one that I’m not sure I’ll ever get the opportunity to be part of again, but I’m very proud of the results. Hopefully readers get something out of it.
Andy Burns: Will we see Hyde again?
Cole Haddon: I hope so, but the series, if it continues – and hopefully it will – will be driven by Inspector Adye. Mr. Hyde was but the first of many “strange cases.
Andy Burns: What are you currently working on?
Cole Haddon: Right now, the pilot script for Dracula. Kickstart Entertainment will also be publishing my second graphic novel this year. That’s called Space Gladiator. There are some other fun things going on, but I’m not at liberty to discuss those just yet.
Andy Burns: And finally, is there anything you’re currently reading, comic books or otherwise, that Biff Bam Pop readers should check out?
Cole Haddon: A personal hero, Christopher Hitchens, passed away in December. Ever since, I’ve been reading and re-reading many of his books. I can’t recommend his work enough, to young people especially. I also just re-read Dracula, which was even better than I remembered it being. Stoker does not get nearly enough credit as an author.
Thanks to Cole Haddon for taking the time to talk to Biff Bam Pop, and to Aub Driver at Dark Horse for helping make it happen. You can follow Cole on Twitter at @colehaddon and order The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde from Amazon.ca here.