As we’ve been reporting, Dynamite Entertainment will be bringing Sherlock Holmes back to comics, illustrated by newcomer Aaron Campbell. We’ve spoken with the writing team of Leah Moore and John Reppion about the first arc of the series, entitled “The Trial of Sherlock Holmes,” and Dynamite President Nick Barrucci about bringing the character back.
Now, it’s Campbell’s turn.
Newsarama: Aaron, what landed you on Sherlock Holmes at Dynamite? What made the project something you couldn't say no to?
Aaron Campbell: I had the good fortune of being introduced to Nick Barucci last summer at San Diego Comic Con. He saw some samples I had and I guess he liked what he saw. After the con we started talking about some possible projects I could work on and eventually Sherlock Holmes came up. I think there are several reasons I couldn’t say no to this project at that point. First and foremost this was my big chance to break into the business that so many artists dream of but often never get and if I know anything it’s that fate doesn’t just go around handing out second chances. Second, I couldn’t think of a better project to begin my career in comics. The script that Leah and John wrote is really good and the time just seems ripe for the great detective’s comeback. There’s a movie on the way, PBS is airing all the old BBC episodes, I’m already starting to see Sherlock Holmes endcaps at bookstores, it’s seeping back into the collective consciousness.
NRAMA: That said, how familiar were you with the character(s) before this? Did you need a quick catch-up primer, or did you know largely enough about them that you could tackle the project without too much of a refresher?
AC: I’ve gotta come clean on this one. Before taking on this project I had never actually read any of the Sherlock stories. I admit, it’s pretty sad, especially since I’m a big fan of Victorian literature. So my image of Holmes was much like that of most people, deerstalker, magnifying glass, and a big hook nose. I had a couple months, though, to get schooled before starting the drawing and began consuming everything I could about the great detective. I’ve been reading all the original stories, listening to the old radio broadcasts with Basil Rathbone, looking at early Holmes illustration by artists like Sidney Paget and Robert Fawcett, and watching the BBC series.
At this point I feel like my life revolves around Holmes.
NRAMA: For you, what makes Holmes Holmes, artistically? What characteristics have to be there?
AC: Holmes has become an icon so there are certain things that if you change, you’re basically creating a new character that just happens to be named Holmes. I’m trying to stay true to the basic look of Sherlock that we’ve all come to imagine without entering into the territory of caricature. He has to have the thin build, widow’s peak, long face, and piercing eyes. I’ve gotten rid of all the clichés though. There will be no deerstalker caps, magnifying glasses, or comically large pipes. I think what really makes the character in the end are his mannerisms, the way he carries himself, the way he savors the moments when he can show off his abilities. He really does revel in sticking it to Watson when the opportunity presents itself.
NRAMA: Speaking of Holmes friend, let’s hit the same question, but for Watson. Obviously, he's a strong character in his own right, but yet, has to be secondary to Holmes. How do you show that, artistically?
AC: Watson is another icon and probably the source for our modern concept of the sidekick. He’s like a good multi-tool for Sherlock, when employed for the right purpose he can be indispensible but on his own he’s virtually useless. I see Watson a bit like the bobbies from Monte Python that stumble onto a scene and say, “What’s all this then?” Again, it’s all about his mannerisms. He is loyally and steadfastly Sherlock’s man and looks to him for the answers. Visually Watson won’t project the same sense of confidence as Holmes and at this point he’s a bit older and putting weight on whereas Holmes is still fit and agile. Hopefully this will come through in the book.
NRAMA: What about his world? Were you able to get into the look and feel of Victorian England?
AC: Finding good reference can be difficult, especially for the places that require more historical accuracy, but I think my style works well for the time period. Victorian England was a dim, cluttered place. The thing I’m really trying to get is the sense of contrast, not just in the inks but between the different environments. There wasn’t much in the way of in-betweens at the time. You had the immaculate clutter of the upper classes or the decrepit filthy clutter of the lower classes. Communicating that is what brings it to life for me.
NRAMA: Obviously, with any Sherlock Holmes story, there will be a good amount of exposition and conversation (along with a fair amount of action, of course...) - and we've often heard that those scenes are loathed by artists. How do you feel about them?
AC: I’m probably the opposite. I love the emotional play between characters and working with expression and mannerism. I think it’s during the so-called down times that you build the connection with the readers and get them invested in the characters. When the action arrives then they have a real stake in the outcome.
NRAMA: Has there been anything in the scripts from Leah and John so far that has caught you off guard or make you wish they hadn't put it in the script in the first place?
AC: I wouldn’t change anything. Like I said before finding good reference can be difficult but I enjoy the research. It strengthens my connection to the story. For instance we spend a bit of time at Scotland Yard as would be expected and John and Leah are very concerned with maintaining a certain level of historical accuracy. In the history of Scotland Yard there have been three of them. In this story we visit the second of these incarnations, a red and white candy-cane striped edifice that is now, in the present day, known as the Norman Shaw Building after it’s original architect. I was able to find some good references of the building from a distance but not much in the way of close street level stuff. In addition, there are two buildings separated by a narrow street with arches running across that make up the whole complex. Well, in 1895, the smaller of these two buildings did not exist. So I get to add the fun task of editing that building out. But it’s good because I have to really put myself there. It takes place in a very specific place and time and it’s up to me to stay true to that.
NRAMA: Well, finally then - what scene in #1 are you most proud of so far?
AC: Well, if I told you that I’d be giving the best part of the story away. But when readers get to the climax of issue one they’ll know.
Newsarama has been telling you about Dynamite’s upcoming Sherlock Holmes series, written by Leah Moore and John Reppion with art by Aaron Campbell. We’ve spoken with Moore and Reppion about their take on the new stories they’ll be telling starring the world’s most famous detective, and today, we chat with Dynamite President Nick Barrucci about the new series and bringing Sherlock Holmes back to comics.
Newsarama: Nick, Dynamite has become known as the home for classic heroes such as the The Lone Ranger, Red Sonja, Zorro, The Man With No Name, The Phantom and Buck Rogers coming up. Now, with The Complete Dracula and Sherlock Holmes, you're moving into literary adaptations. What is behind this move?
Nick Barrucci: Both are great characters and two of the most recognizable ones in the world. With Dracula we saw an opportunity to complete the story. With Sherlock Holmes, it was a chance to revisit an archetype of modern superheroes, specifically the detective hero. We are always looking for interesting properties to work on and this time it took us to these great characters.
NRAMA: Why make Sherlock Holmes the second of these literary outings, after Dracula?
NB: It wasn’t planned that one series would follow the other, it just turned out that way.Dracula was moving along and Sherlock Holmes was far enough along that we felt we could announce it.
NRAMA: You're adapting Bram Stoker's originalDracula novel (with additions) for The Complete Dracula, but here, you're telling new stories. Why the difference? Why not adapt the full, or at least the better known Holmes stories here?
NB: Leah, John and Aaron have a take on Sherlock that can only be told though new stories. It draws on the previous ones but is refreshing and exciting.
NRAMA: What led you to Leah and John for this project?
NB: Leah and John were well into The Complete Dracula when we approached them about Sherlock Holmes. Their knowledge and enthusiasm for the character convinced us that they could bring something new to Sherlock. And they’re proving us right, looking at the pages. It's quite elementary.
NRAMA: Same question, but for Aaron Campbell?
NB:We were actually talking to Aaron about another project and realized his style would be much better suited for Sherlock Holmes. It's really exciting to have Aaron on board; he is really doing a phenomenal job.
NRAMA: Obviously, it's a good time for Holmes fans, as Robert Downey Jr. is starring in Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes. Are you looking to piggyback on the film's buzz a little, at least?
NB: Sherlock Holmes has seen many interpretations over the years. And from what I've seen, it looks like it has huge potential. If an upcoming film hits at the right time (and we know that some films get moved around, so you can't bank on it) and helps bring more attention to the character and specifically our series then I’ll take it. Our goal is to tell a great story featuring one of the greatest characters in literary history.
NRAMA: What are your larger plans for Sherlock Holmes at Dynamite? More miniseries with John & Leah after The Trial?
NB: Right now, the focus is on getting this one out to the fans - it's a great story. If the response is positive we’d tell more.
NRAMA: Finally - you have the rights to The Lone Ranger, Zorro, The Phantom, Red Sonja Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, Buck Rogers and a few others here and there - making up a pretty impressive, and "pulpy" universe. Can we just say two words...cross over?
NB: Let's see how we do on this one story. I've never shied away from cross-overs but I think we’ll look at that further down the line.
ENLARGE IMAGEAs was announced by Dynamite Entertainment at the New York Comic Con, Sherlock Holmes is coming back to comics.
The return will be handled by writers Leah Moore and John Reppion, with interior artist Aaron Campbell and cover artist John Cassaday in the May-debuting storyline, “The Trial of Sherlock Holmes.”
For the writers, writing the Sherlock Holmes series at Dynamite Entertainment will be their second time adapting a classic literary character, as Moore and Reppion are also adapting Bram Stoker’s Dracula in The Complete Dracula with artist Colton Worley beginning in April.
So what does the writing duo have planned?
Newsarama: John and Leah, first off, what came first for the two of you at Dynamite,Dracula or Sherlock Holmes?
John Reppion: If my memory serves me correctly I think they both originally came up around the same time (which would have been late 2007). Dracula just sort of took over because it was so research intensive. The time we had between doing Dracula issues was mostly taken up with writing The Darkness vs. Eva and Battle for Atlantis [which appeared in Savage Tales] as well as other bits and bobs we had going on aside from our Dynamite work. All of which meant that we had a long time to think about the Holmes book and exactly what we were going to do with it.
NRAMA: It seems that, for something like Holmes, there's a gulf between having it put on the table in front of you, or initially considering it, and then deciding that it's the thing to do. What influenced your decision to go ahead with this?
Leah Moore: More than anything it was the challenge, the throwing down of a gauntlet to see if were able to do it. It's a big task to come up with a Sherlock Homes story, let alone a series, and even if you get all the characters right, and the mise-en-scene right, you still have the huge great problem of having to construct a fiddly twiddly plot, worthy of the great detective. We were starting Dracula at the time, and that seemed to be the big difficult project to be honest, we could see the exact hugeness of that task, so making something up seemed like it might be totally achievable.
NRAMA: That said, The Trial of Sherlock Holmes is, obviously by the title, an all-new story. What were some of the thoughts that went through your head(s) as you thought about writing new Holmes stories? Obviously, there've been plenty over the decades, but still, with Holmes, there seems to be a pretty high expectation from the fans. Was there any intimidation about that? After all, Holmes fans tend to make Doctor Who fans say, "Man, those guys are obsessed..."
JR: On the one hand the Holmes series gives us our creative freedom back where Dracula had us sticking to a pre-existing plot ands set of characters. In that sense it's quite refreshing. On the other hand, as you say, there's a very high standard to live up to; expectations are going to be high. The thing about Conan Doyle's stories is, there's a bit of distance between the supposed facts and what you're reading anyway because most of the Holmes stories are supposed to be written by Doctor Watson. The good doctor isn't necessarily relating the facts exactly and Holmes himself isn't always pleased with the way his companion writes about their cases. In The Adventure of the Copper Beeches Sherlock actually says "You have degraded what should have been a course of lectures into a series of tales". That is our "in" to the world of Homes; the fact that there are other, more complex layers beyond the short stories that we're all so used to.
NRAMA: Getting into the story a little, when and where, related to Doyle's canon does this story take place, and what is Holmes on trial for?
LM: Our story takes place after The Adventure of the Empty House so after the Reichenback falls, after Holmes' return. It's set in London, so a lot of the same ground our characters tread in Dracula really. I don't think I can say too much about what he is on trial for, but safe to say it's something big! Circumstances lead him into a sticky situation, and then he only has his wits to rely on. Luckily Sherlock Holmes has more wits than most!
NRAMA: What can you tell us about the structure of the story? Just looking at the title, a trial seems to be a chance to bring in a relatively large cast of well-known characters while playing a little Rashomon with a case...
JR: Well, as Leah has said, we don't really want to get into specifics about the trial at this stage (it's a word with more than one meaning anyway isn't it?) but, as a title alone, “The Trial of Sherlock Holmes” works brilliantly. It sort of wrong foots you and makes you wonder how that could happen and that's exactly what a good mystery should do and what we're doing our very best to write. I think people in general are a bit fed up of the sort of twists we get in Lost or Heroes or wherever; where the writers just move the goal posts constantly making each new supposed revelation all too easy to undo with another twist. We want to try to deliver more of a classic, Hitchcock-ian thriller. It's no easy task mind you.
NRAMA: Michael Chabon wrote an essay in The New York Review of Books about post-Doyle Holmes stories, and how vibrant the character and Doyle's influence can be seen as being given the attention and stories that Holmes still inspires. That said, how do you approach the character and even the style in which you approach him? Doyle's stories were clearly Doyle - in writing new Holmes tales, do you try to move your style and tone towards his, or just write as you would normally?
LM: We have to write in our own style because we are writing a comic not prose, but the dialogue we try and give the classic Doyle flavour. It's the structure that makes it or breaks it as a Doyle style story, and we are really working hard to make it as authentic as possible. We really want people to have that same feeling, and then when the resolution comes, not to be annoyed because it’s just a spurious tacked on surprise ending, but delight that it's a proper answer to everything that has happened in the series. God after writing that, I really hope we can pull it off!
NRAMA: When we spoke about The Complete Dracula, you said that there was a fair amount of research that had to be done before you felt comfortable moving forward. How much research, comparatively speaking, did you have to do for Holmes?
JM: The research has been a lot less intensive because there's a lot more to absorb; we can't just sit down and read a single book from cover to cover. However, ever since we first discovered the joys of internet radio and radio play archives, one of our dual obsessions has been listening to audio adaptations of Sherlock Holmes mysteries. I used to have videos filled with the old black & white Basil Rathbone Holmes films which I'd taped from late night TV and we realized that we were both big fans of the UK television series which ran from the 1980s into the 90s. Happily, unlike Dracula, Doyle's stories have largely remained uncorrupted in their adaptations so we've found that we're actually a lot more familiar with the cannon than we'd first imagined. There's still plenty of reading up to be done of course and Leslie Klinger's New Annotated Sherlock Holmesbooks have already proved to be worth their weight in gold.
NRAMA: As we're hearing through the drips and drabs coming out about Guy Ritchie'sSherlock Holmes film, he's adapting things a little, and giving the character some modern touches, as well as a little more action. Do you feel the same pressures, or are you doing the same for adapting Holmes to comics? After all, the novels were quite...cerebral, which can be tough to both portray in comics while keeping people reading, especially when the guy living next door to Sherlock Holmes on the comic rack will have explosions and punching...
LM: Well we have taken out of the first person narration for a start, so John Watson doesn't have to see and experience everything for himself. We can go and be with other characters, follow them for a bit and then rejoin Holmes and Watson when it's the right time to. That's a modern approach to it I suppose, losing the narration.
JR: Although the novels are “cerebral” there is a fair amount of action in the Conan Doyle stories. Naturally, we’ll see that more dynamic side of Holmes’ character and investigations in our comic too. He is a master of Baritsu after all, and can certainly handle himself in a tight spot.
LM: The film is being partly shot right here in Liverpool, using some of the Georgian terraces you will see in many other Victorian dramas. We give good Victorian here obviously. If Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law need any help with their roles then they only have to knock on our door and ask!
NRAMA: Looking ahead, did this story suggest more for you, or do you already have a follow-up planned?
JR: We haven't finished writing the series yet so maybe something will suggest its self closer to the end. When we began the project we said we wanted to play the whole thing straight and make it as faithful as possible.
Maybe, if we did do a follow up, we could take it off in another direction a bit more. That's the only problem though; you've already got great stories out there like Neil Gaiman's A Study in Emerald and intricate, wonderful stuff like Jose Phillip Farmer's Wold Newton Family. On reflection, maybe we'd better leave all that literary cross-over stuff to the father-in-law?