In the heady world of comics-to-film adaptation, we’ve seen Hollywood latch onto both legendary long-running titles and series that have just begun; but for a new upcoming miniseries from Dark Horse, Hollywood sunk their teeth into it before the comic had even been announced.
The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde is a story dreamt up by young screenwriter Cole Haddon that is both a sequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s original novel about the two-faced literary legend as well as a mash-up with a real-life murderer from the same Victorian times – Jack the Ripper. Much like Alan Moore’s visitations with the characters in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or the fiery new take on a classic with Pride & Prejudice with Zombies, this idea sparked a lot of people on first glance. To get the idea off the ground, Haddon partnered with Dark Horse – who besides being a well-known comics publisher, has launched several films – and they came up with the idea to take the story down both roads – write the comic and the movie, simultaneously. As a former comic shop employee, that was music to the ears of Haddon – and music to movie producers Mark Gordon and David Ellison, who snatched up the project on the spot in summer 2010 as revealed even prior to the comic’s announcement. And while the steps from movie script to movie magic take some time, Haddon and Dark Horse worked on the comic script which finally sees the light of day this April with artist M.S. Corley.
For more on this interesting journey and the eye-popping story inside the comic itself, Newsarama caught up with Haddon and found out he has more comics up his sleeve.
Newsarama: This miniseries puts the story of Jack the Ripper against the Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. So Cole, how’d this come together in your head?
Cole Haddon: If you know the novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, you know it’s an account of a man who creates a formula that essentially releases his id upon the world. Of course, Robert Louis Stevenson didn’t have the benefit of Freud’s psychology and terminology at the time he wrote the book, but that’s really what happens: a noble scientist trying to cure evil accidentally does the opposite by letting loose that inside himself which is most, as Stevenson saw it, evil. That makes the story inherently difficult to adapt today, since I think concepts of good and evil have changed significantly thanks to shifting concepts of morality. In other words, in order to make it relevant, you have to change the original story. That’s okay for some people, and I might have even enjoyed writing that comic book, but it seemed more logical to me, if I really wanted to tackle this villain I loved so much, to instead write a sequel. I had never seen a sequel to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, in fact. Not even an unofficial one. Who knows? Maybe I missed it. Anyway, once I opted on writing a sequel, I put the character into a timeline that included historical events. Almost immediately, I saw that Jack the Ripper existed at the same time as the literary Jekyll and Hyde, and, more importantly, the Ripper seemed to be everything that Hyde was, but worse. The two seemed like natural adversaries then, since Hyde’s ego would have given him nothing but pleasure at being the worst of the worst in London’s criminal hierarchy, and the Ripper would have consequently threatened that villainous supremacy. From there, the story just kept expanding, driven by my interest in exploring the moral codification that defined the novel and made adapting it directly so difficult in my mind. Where does morality come from? For example, what happens when those who make the laws are lawbreakers themselves? Does that invalidate the laws? This finally seemed like the relevance I was looking for, the weakness of a society like America that’s increasingly driven by moral polarities that fail to take into account the vast amount of grey that exists between good and evil, black and white, us and them. I’m not sure if people think enough about what they believe anymore. They just regurgitate what a politician, pastor, or book told them to without questioning anything. Jekyll, the amalgamated mental remains of the novel’s two titular characters, preaches liberation from such clumsy dichotomies. That’s what makes him so dangerous, not his indifference for life and death. Sorry, that was a longwinded answer. Probably sounded more pretentious than I usually do.
Nrama: Although it’s a new variation on two classics, you kept to the Victorian time period – but what’d you do to ensure it’d be accurate to the time?
Haddon: It’s not my first project that takes place during the period, so I had a good base knowledge to work off of. That said, the research really kicked my ass and continues to. Exciting stuff, don’t get me wrong. I’m still blown away by some of what I’ve learned about Victorian London. For example, what color would London’s daytime sky be in 1888? For that matter, what about the nighttime sky? Turns out, London was called “the Twilight City” around the time of our comic. The pollution diffused sunlight into this disgusting, often piss-colored sky and, at night, left the city glowing a purplish haze like you find over Los Angeles today. Every panel is filled with so much detail like this, from lamps to costumes to something as mundane as garbage cans you’d find on the street, you really have to make sure you know what you’re talking about as often as possible or the inaccuracies begin to stand out. Luckily, my artist, M.S. Corley – this guy’s amazing, by the way; people will be hearing a lot about him in the next couple of years. Luckily, Corley is as dedicated to detail as I am. But I think both he and I secretly wish our first full-length comics were less research-intensive.
Nrama: The concept itself seems great – “Jack the Ripper meets Dr. Jekyll” – but as a film buff you know things can go up from there, or down. Once you got started writing the story, did it surprise you in any way?
Haddon: You know, I think what surprised me most – and continues to surprise me – is how much I love Jekyll as a character. Like I said earlier, he’s a psychological marriage of his two personas, so he’s much different than what you find in the novel. But his character, this prophet of the amoral, this libertine with the genius of a super-scientist, has just been a blast to write. I almost never know what he’s going to say until he says it, which is much different than my protagonist Inspector Thomas Adye. This guy is as stiff and “in control” as they come, which is why Jekyll has so much fun messing with him. Of all the characters I’ve written in my life, their relationship is by far the most exciting dynamic I’ve been lucky enough to stumble upon. I can only pray to the comic book gods that I’m allowed to write several sequels so I can keep returning to them.
Nrama: In an earlier piece, you said that the character of Mr. Hyde hasn’t “been given his due on the big screen for the better part of a century”. Why do you think that is, and what are you bringing to the character to rectify that here on the comics page?
Haddon: I think it comes back to what I was saying earlier, that Hyde struggled to maintain his relevance. As society became more sophisticated, he became easier and easier to poke fun at or take advantage of for cheap commercial gain. That quote, by the way, doesn’t include television where there have been a few very interesting adaptations of the novel. I’m very excited to watch the latest BBC mini-series, in fact. I’ve stayed away because of this project, for risk of contaminating it with someone else’s ideas, but I hear great things. My point was that, except for a couple of solid Hammer adaptations, Hyde has largely been shit upon since Spencer Tracy played the part. During the 70s, Hammer produced a crass Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde, which is understandable given the decline in quality they were experiencing during the time. By the time the 90s and Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde starring Tim Daly came out, I’d almost given up on the character all together. He was more suitable to satire by then, I think. I can only hope I restore some of his prestige. He really is the baddest literary monster of them all, as far as I’m concerned. Dracula runs a close second, but Hyde is up there at the top of the pecking order.
Nrama: While a movie script is written for a variety of people to read – and sometimes the public, a comic script is like a personal note to the artist to make the comic. How’d you adapt to the comic script form?
Haddon: My first job was actually at a comic book store and, later, I opened my own for a brief time. For a while, I also thought I was going to pursue a career as a comic book artist until I realized I didn’t enjoy illustrating nearly as much as I did writing. Or at least, I couldn’t draw fast enough to keep up with what I was writing. Anyway, comic books aren’t new to me. They’re a co-passion with film. The one advantage they have over film, however, at least for a guy like me who would one day like to direct, is: they’re relatively cheap to produce. Consequently, I have a lot more control over what shows up on the page, from the words to the art to the colors. Don’t get me wrong. Comics, like film, are largely a collaboration, I’ve found, at least if you want anything good to come of your experience. But I think what I’m trying to say is: I get to be the navigator, I decide when and how we get to port. In film, I think writers generally feel about as important as a deck attendant charged with fetching towels, to continue the lame cruise ship analogy. So adapting to the comic script form wasn’t difficult at all. Having to go back to writing for film was the hard part.
Nrama: The movie adaptation of this was announced before the comic had even been announced. How’d it all come together so quickly?
Haddon: Well, it’s been anything but a quick process. We developed the take for the script for almost a year, based on my outline for the comic book. This being Dark Horse, producers Mark Gordon Company, and myself. It’s a tricky thing, trying to sell a period action-horror in Hollywood. We really had to be prepared, and luckily were able to get it done. I attribute that to producers Keith Goldberg at Dark Horse and Josh McLaughlin who was, at the time, at Mark Gordon. They killed themselves to get this sold. That was in 2009. In 2010, I got to start writing the scripts for both.
Nrama: Every year, a list of the top unproduced screenplays is released – and in 2010 it was a script called HYDE by you. Is that an earlier version of this? And was it written as a screenplay first, then a comic – and now back?
Haddon: It’s not an earlier version. It is the script, or at least the first draft. The two scripts, for the comic and the film, were tackled almost simultaneously and quite symbiotically. First came the comic book outline, see, then the film outline based on that. Subsequently, I wrote the comic script off the film outline, which is backwards I know, but the process revealed all sorts of new details and character work I hadn’t anticipated. Almost immediately, I wrote the screenplay, or the film script, based on the comic script this time. Not the film outline. I know, weird. I was so happy with how the screenplay turned out, I went back and revised the comic script based on what I learned in this next step in the process. That’s how the comic became the comic and the film became the film. It’s not typical, but I certainly enjoyed how they fed off of each other. The limitations of one medium became the strengths of the other, oddly enough. At least that’s how it felt to me.
Nrama: Although this is your first comic, it isn’t your first story – you’re a screenwriter of the upcoming Thieves of Bagdad and have been writing for the website Film.com for some time. How’d you end up in comics?
Haddon: It’s where I always wanted to be, along with film. When I first pitched The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde and Dark Horse suggested I turn it into a comic book first, I had to do everything I could not to leap into the air with joy. I always figured I’d have to establish myself in film before I got the chance to transition in any way into comics, mostly because it takes a lot of energy to break into either medium, much less trying to break into both at the same time. Now that I’ve gotten my foot in the door, though, I don’t intend to give it up. Kickstart Entertainment is publishing my second graphic novel this year, which has the working title Space Gladiator at the moment, and John Romita Jr. and I are co-creating a third project that I can’t say too much about at the moment.