Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Study in Scarlet [Graphic Novel] (2010)

     Say what you will, I have some inner need to either work in themes or to work towards completion when it comes to a body of written work.  In both these manners the graphic novel of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's A Study in Scarlet (2010 for the graphic novel; 1886 for the original) fits as there is decidedly a theme this week of supporting the illustrated story and Conan Doyle's Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes were reviewed on 20 September, 2011.  Granted, reading the graphic novel will allow me to not have to pick up the original tale for some time, but it does give me the illusion of having read it.
     I do want to admit – in an ugly sort of way – that I greatly enjoyed being able to finish this in the span of about an hour, much faster than if I were reading the original.  Likewise, much of the needless description of unimportant details are left out as I.N.J. Culbard illustrates the scenes well and perhaps improves upon some of Conan Doyle's approaches to setting the scene.  Unfortunately, neither illustrator Culbard or "text adapter" Ian Edginton can do little to mask some of Conan Doyle's shortcomings when it comes to imagining characters.
     If you are like me – and not in all the bad ways – then you likely grew up with a level of admiration for Sherlock Holmes.  I mean, come on, he's the world's smartest man.  And he can handle himself in a fight.  And he solves crimes.  And stops international incidents from causing wars.  He is about as English a superhero as one could imagine, and he doesn't need to come from a distant planet or be bitten by a spider to get his powers.  But in reading through the stories, there is so much withheld from the reader that it makes it impossible to appreciate what Holmes is actually doing.  And the rest of the cast is usually so confused as to how to go about detective work that the only role they serve is for Holmes to explain what he has done – things hidden from the reader until the end.
     I kind of hate that kind of storytelling.  I think of it as the Henry Lopez school of building a mystery – never mind that Mr. Lopez is working in a different medium and more than a century after Conan Doyle – where surprises can be sprung simply because no information regarding them was ever offered in the first place.  Modern detective stories usually give more of an insight as to the work.  Even comedic approaches like USA's Psych (2006-whenever USA cancels it) show the actual observations, but retain the Holmesian wrap-up speach as to how the mystery was solved.  Shawn Spencer (James Roday), a modern super-observant detective, pretends to be psychic and hides behind humor rather than endlessly berating the police force for not picking up on every single clue.
Shawn Spencer and Guster Burton, Psych's answer to Holmes and Watson.  Less pretentiousness, more snarkiness.  And occasionally the detectives know more than they do.
     Back to A Study in Scarlet.  Conan Doyle gives a brief account of how Watson came to return to England and meet Holmes.  It feels very unsatisfactory, and it is hard to imagine how these two men could come to develop a strong sense of friendship.  Watson comes across as a dullard who is living off of a government settlement due to his injuries in the Battle of Maiwand (in Afghanistan).  Holmes seems like a self-important twat (in the British sense) who is only interested in someone with whom he can split the rent and bully with his intellect.
     As for the story, it actually is pretty imaginative.  Two men are killed and Scotland Yard does not know how to find the killer – and Conan Doyle actually treats the inspectors with a small amount of respect in regards to their thinking and methods.  Holmes stumbles around, insults people, goes missing for periods of time, and then announces he has determined who the murderer is, but needs to get him as to find out why.  That leads to a rather dull and lengthy tale of the motivation behind the killings.  However, we do learn that Watson can diagnose an aneurism simply by checking someone's pulse, so that is quite impressive.
Page 17, where Watson assesses Holmes
     The drawing style feels modern while still evoking a comfortable image of Victorian England.  I prefer how the cutaway scenes are handled to the main story, but both are well done.  The scenes move at a good clip, and the faces come across as emotive enough to get the job done.  The action – there isn't much – is a little lackluster in appearance, but maybe it is meant to be restrained to begin with.
     I think the asking price of $14.95 is kind of high.  I checked a copy of from the local library – at a cost of $0, which is always pretty solid.  Still, it isn't a price gouge.  And if one were really into all things Sherlock Holmes, this would make a fine addition to the collection.  It is also is probably a better means of introducing the characters to the younger set – especially if they can see this before the Guy Ritchie films –than the alternatives.


  1. I can say I've grown up with Sherlock Holmes, I've stopped reading anything including him a few years ago. I don't really know why though, it doesn't appeal to me anymore, I suppose I grew out of it, maybe it was the events in my life. You make a nice comparison to Psych, I wouldn't have seen that. And yes, a price tag of $0 is always pretty solid.

  2. I like the Guy Ritchie movie, Robert Downey Jr. is amazing.

  3. My point was really more that the Guy Ritchie films are probably not the best way to introduce children to the character of Sherlock Holmes.

    I think the interplay between Downey Jr. and Jude Law are almost enough to make the first film worthwhile by itself, but I don't think it is necessarily faithful to the Holmesian mythos.