Bringing Sherlock Holmes Back to Comics: Moore & Reppion

Moore & Reppion Talk Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes #1, page 1

The game is afoot, indeed.

As 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?

We asked.

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.

Sherlock Holmes #1, page 2

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.

Sherlock Holmes #1, page 6

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 Holmes books 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's Sherlock 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.

Sherlock Holmes #1, cover by John Cassaday

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?

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