Everything's Elementary: Moore & Reppion on Sherlock Holmes

Aaron Campbell on Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes #1

We conclude our two part interview with the writing team of Leah Moore and John Reppion (part one here), today talking about their work on Dynamite's upcoming Sherlock Holmes series, which debuts this week.

Newsarama: “The Trial of Sherlock Holmes” – the arc that kicks off Dynamite’s new Sherlock Holmes series is your next project for the publisher – what can you tell us about it?

Leah: We are doing an original Homes story of our own. The temptation is always to look for a case that is already mentioned and then try and write it up, but we wanted to just create our own story.

The series begins with a fresh case coming in, but it’s one that hasn’t happened yet. All Holmes and Watson have to do is prevent Sir Samuel Henry from being killed on a certain day at a certain time. Once they have achieved this, Holmes will be able to use his superior intellect and powers of reasoning to solve the case, and Watson only has to type it up. It would all be so simple if a series of events didn’t complicate the case in ways neither of the men were expecting.

Holmes and Watson are separated, and have to solve the case between them, even though they can’t meet up. I think comics fans and Holmes fans will enjoy our brain bending plot, and Aaron Campbell’s artwork of course, which is beautiful.

NRAMA: Will the story involve any of the other Holmes mainstays, like the Baker Street Irregulars? If not, would you ever consider doing spin offs involving them, or James Moriarty?

John: Well that’d be telling wouldn’t it? Moriarty has a presence in our story but beyond that I can’t really comment. I think spin offs are a nice idea but you risk getting too far from the source really. There’s so much mileage left in just having Holmes and Watson involved in solving mysteries that I don’t think you really need to look elsewhere.

NRAMA: How did it feel to write an original story for these old and well established characters? How much pressure was there on you to 'get it right'?

John: There is definitely pressure and we really don’t want to alienate existing Holmes fans – we want our story to be part of all that. That said, it hasn’t weighed quite as heavily as it did with Dracula. For me, I think that’s because I’m so familiar with Holmes as a walking, talking character thanks to radio, film and TV – I can hear his voice in my head and I feel like I know his character as well as say Tenant’s Doctor Who. I might be misguided but that’s what gives me a bit of a comfortable buffer anyway.

The Complete Dracula #1, written by Moore and Reppion

A lot of the research we did for Dracula has proved useful for the Homes series too so we’re not as anxious as we were about Victoriana in general. I suppose it’s all just a bit like vertigo really though; I’m just trying to concentrate on the positives and not “look down”, as we’re still winding the scripts up at the moment. Thus far, it’s been a lot of fun though.

NRAMA: Conan Doyle had the joys of unlimited narration and exposition for his stories, whereas you have a five or six panel 'beat sheet' per page with only a minimal amount of space for dialogue. How hard was it to write Holmes in such a restricting format?

Leah: Really hard actually. It’s difficult to put in clues without them being too obvious, it’s hard to get characters to say things without the reader realising why they’ve said them.

Many times while we’ve been writing the series, I’ve wished we had a bit of prose to go into while something happens out of sight. It does mean we are forced to keep our cards close to our chest, and the whole story is mysterious until quite far along. It’s not that things don’t get revealed, it’s just that the ramifications aren’t clear until later on.

The other problem isn’t just the graphic medium, it’s the serialised nature of comics. You have to treat it much more like a TV drama with characters developing along the way and the facts being sprinkled amongst the interaction. Very enjoyable stuff to write though, and a steep learning curve only ever benefits a writer. You never get to the end of a series like this and go, “Whew, I wish I hadn’t had to figure all that out”.

NRAMA: Were there any aspects of the Holmes mythos that you didn't, or weren't able to put into your story - and if so, why?

John: I suppose some people might find the absence of Homes’ cocaine use conspicuous but it’s not something that we’ve avoided so much as just treated the way Doyle did – it’s not all that important except when it’s part of the plot. It’s not part of the plot here so there’s really no point in crowbarring it in.

We’ve tried to avoid over egging our series and just cramming everything in there. The most obvious example of that is Holmes’ sitting room in which avid Sherlockians might expect to see a basket chair, a Persian slipper filled with tobacco, a jack-knife affixing correspondence to the mantel, a deal-topped chemistry table, a bear-skin rug, and so on. The fact is, that all feels a bit over the top to us and we’ve kind of assumed that, although those things may have been there at various times, they’re probably not all crammed in there at once. Or, at the least, not all really prominently on display as if for readers to tick off.

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NRAMA: Taking a leaf out of the Sherlockians book, If you were to place this story in the chronology of Sherlock Holmes, where would it be?

Leah: This story is actually set in October 1895 between The Adventure of Black Peter and The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans. We didn’t want to put it too near the Reichenbach Falls and we didn’t want it too late, as the later stories run right into the First World War. We wanted it to have a fair bit of history to refer to if we needed it, and to have the two men a bit more mature, kind of knowing it all but then being confounded.

NRAMA: You mention Reichenbach Falls - Would you ever consider doing a tale that covered the time when Holmes was believed dead?

John: Yeah, we’ve wondered about covering Holmes’ three years living as Sigerson in future stories. As interesting as that might be though I think it could be too much of departure from the standard Holmes tales. No Watson, no London (or England)… it would be very different. So different in fact that it probably wouldn’t be much like writing Holmes. There are definitely ways you could counter that of course but it’s more like re-inventing rather than adapting.

NRAMA: You're winding up the scripts to the current story at the moment - will you be looking at more Sherlock Holmes in the future?

John: We’d love to do more Holmes in the future although I must admit that this series has easily been the hardest we’ve ever written. I’m sure it will prove very rewarding in the end. Early reviews have been really encouraging and lots of people such as Mark Millar, Leslie S, Klinger and Ed Brubaker have said very, very nice things about it.

I suppose you have to challenge yourself don’t you? There’s certainly plenty of room for other tales of Holmes and Watson’s adventures. Maybe next time we could take it into slightly more supernatural territory (as Doyle did with some of his tales). I’ve always enjoyed the Scooby Doo element of stories like Hound of the Baskervilles which play with Gothic ideas but always end up with “normality” restored.

NRAMA: You mention Leslie S. Klinger who, as one of the most knowledgeable Sherlockians out there must have given some invaluable insight to the characters. But with so much research being placed on your shoulders, where there any times when you felt 'this isn't going to work'? If so, how did you counter that?

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Leah: There were a couple of times when we had put all our faith in the plot going one way and then we’d realise it wasn’t going to work, the plot didn’t hold water, we were going to have to rethink it. Those moments turn your bowels to water, because you have already got the artwork through for the early issues, and its way too late to go back and change any of the big stuff.

All you can do is try not to vomit and go back to the notes, see how far you have got through it, what things are set in stone, and which things you have room to manoeuvre with. Painting yourself into a corner can really force you to be creative.

NRAMA: What do you think about the sudden 'trendiness' of Holmes, with the increased media coverage and upcoming Robert Downey Jr movie? Will your comic link to it at all, or stay faithful to the source?

Leah: We won’t link to it no, we have no idea what it’s going to be like for a start, but no we had our story all planned ages ago, and so it’s too late to throw in any similarities now. I know they were filming parts of it in town which meant Mr Downey Junior and Mr Law were at large in Liverpool. I believe that set many local hearts a fluttering!

I would say we were going to stay true to the material, but as we’re making it up all by ourselves, we kind of can only say we’re trying to be true to our idea of Holmes. We want it to be authentic, and to be honest if it was mistaken for an adaptation that would be the highest compliment, but we just hope people enjoy it for what it is.

NRAMA: So, after Dracula and Sherlock Holmes - what's next for the team of Moore and Reppion?

John: We’re hoping to begin another adaptation for Dynamite soon. Very different from Dracula but no less classic and brilliant in its own way. We should also be getting back to good old fashioned original action horror comics in the not too distant future. Lots of other things in the pipeline as always; we’re keeping busy.

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