Sunday, June 26, 2011

Joe Hill: the new master

What is a ghost if not an active memory? A shade of some past person or event, intruding on current moment.

Is Joe Hill such a ghost? Is he someone we used to know, the shadow of a memory?

No, Hill is no shadow. He is as real as it gets and is doing a damn fine job of accomplishing the one thing ever son wants to do: being better at something than our fathers.

Hill's father is famous, but he earned his spot the old-fashioned way: on hard work and talent. It has been an amazing thing to witness. Hill's two novels, his short stories and his work in comics are setting new standards for macabre literature.

Don't be deluded into thinking that comic books can't be literature. Pick up a volume of "Locke & Key," the IDW series written by Hill with art by Gabriel Rodriguez. The books are lessons in how to tell a grandiose story in as subtle a way as possible.

"Locke & Key" has all manners of ghosts. Memories of the past, fears of the future, the present shattered by uncontrollable forces. Hill's words are brought to vivid life by Rodriguez, whether in color or the expert use of black and white.

Hill knows how to team up. When he got together with Stephen King -- hello, daddy -- we were blessed with "Throttle," a novella inspired by Richard Matheson's "Duel."

You want high-powered tension? "Throttle" is it. There is a battle between evil and not-as-evil, as a group of outlaw bikers combat a raging truck driver. But the real story is the interaction between the leader of the pack and his hot-headed son. Both are veterans of their own wars, in distant countries and between themselves.

I recommend purchasing the audio version titled "Road Rage: Duel and Throttle." Stephen Lang reads the Hill/King story and Matheson's suspense masterpiece. Listen to it on your next road trip.

Hill has not only conquered novels and comics, but new media, as well. He's a fairly prolific tweeter and even wrote a story using the Twitter format. "Twittering From the Circus of the Dead" was included in the Bram Stoker-nominated anthology "The New Dead," edited by Christopher Golden. Hill is one of the few people out there who can scare you 140 characters at a time.

Hill has written about ghosts (his debut novel "Heart-Shaped Box," the title story to his collection "20th Century Ghosts), zombies ("Bobby Conroy Come Back From the Dead") and vampires ("Abraham's Boys"). There isn't a monster Hill can't handle like he's been doing it since birth. Hopefully, he can conquer TV, too. A pilot for "Locke & Key" is in the can, scheduled for a screening at the San Diego Comic-Con in July, and searching for a home.

I eagerly await the next release from Hill. His second novel, "Horns," proved him an author willing to take risks and push the boundaries of the horror genre.

If you haven't read anything by Joe Hill, start with "Heart-Shaped Box" and work your way forward through the short stories and catch up to "Horns." You'll soon find yourself in the midst of ghosts ready and willing to become a part of your memories.

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