Violence and Identity in “Locke and Key” Volume 1


Continuing my discussion of the adult nature of graphic novels, I recently read the first volume of “Locke & Key” called “Welcome to Lovecraft.”  If you’re interested in learning more about what’s going on with the end of the series, here is a good, yet spoiler filled article. As you may know, H.P. Lovecraft wrote horror.  In his works, human beings are often considered minuscule in the cosmic scope.  If you’d like to read more about Lovecraft, then this archive might be useful.  This article in the Guardian discusses Lovecraft’s impact on today’s society, as well as his overt racism.  “Locke and Key” references its Lovecraftian influences as early as on the cover of the first volume.

The art in “Locke & Key” evokes the mood of horror and despair well.   Many characters are harmed and murdered in the first volume.  For example, in the first volume, the eldest son, Tyler, smashes the head of one of the men who murdered his father with a brick to defend himself (26).  The scene is set in the dark, and the teenage boy stands over the other man, blood spattered all over them both.  The second assailant is killed by the mother of the family, Nina.  She kills him by smashing his head with an ax.  When I first read the volume, I could barely look at these images: it actually turned my stomach.

In my introduction to sociology class, we sometimes talk about the consequences of violent art for society.  Does the violence in our society impact the amount of violence in our art? Does violence in art increase violence in society?  Does art act as a cautionary tale?  Certainly, the violence in the volume was not glorified, and we as readers are supposed to view the violence done to the family as abhorrent.  The books are about the characters having psychological reactions to the violence, as well as what happens to their family dynamics.

On the other hand, the art is vastly different when a different mood needs to be evoked.  For example, the youngest son, Bode, draws a cartoon for his new class at school after the family moves across the country (39).  It’s entitled “Whut I did this summer,” and looks like a child drew it. From Bode’s point of view, it explains what happened to his family.  It has a Post-it note attached to it with a piece of tape with the teacher asking for a conference with Nina over Bode disturbing his classmates.  There are many parts of the graphic novel that are beautiful, including the old mansion they are living in.

From a sociological standpoint, I really enjoyed how this volume showed the three children trying to cope with their new home and school.  The volume deals with identity and how an event can shape identity.  For example, Kinsey, the middle child, struggles with fitting in after the trauma.  When her father was murdered, she hid with her little brother on the roof.  As she narrates: “It was very simple on the roof.  This is what I told myself: Don’t be heard.  Don’t be seen.  One thing I did after we moved was get rid of my dreads.  It was really hard to do.  But no one at my new school knows anything about me except my dad got killed.”  She changes her appearance to appear less “freaky” because she doesn’t want to look like she’s seeking attention.  She decides to conform or play a role to fit in at her new school, Lovecraft Academy.  This reminds me of dramaturgical analysis. Kinsey attempts to play a role.  She avoids befriending other students because she doesn’t want them to get to know her past life.  Her story arc is rewarding: she realizes by the end that she needs to be herself.  She returns to her piercings and dyes a patch of hair blue.  Yet, this “deviance” is still acceptable for someone her age.

I highly recommend this volume, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.  I join many  other voices of people that argue that good storytelling does happen in graphic novels, and this medium can be very evocative because it is done in pictures.  Thanks to my English teacher in college for exposing me to the value of graphic novels!


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Filed under Book Reviews, Sociology

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