Drawing the Detective: Aaron Campbell on Sherlock Holmes

Aaron Campbell on Sherlock Holmes

issue #1, page 1

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?

issue #1, page 2

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?

issue #1, page 6

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.

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