A Study in Scarlet: A Sherlock Holmes Graphic Novel by Arthur Conan Doyle, Ian Edginton and I.N.J. Culbard

Review published on September 5, 2017.

This is only the second graphic novel I have read. To be honest, ten years ago I would have been snooty and questioned the value of graphic novels as an art form. Maybe I have grown up a bit, I certainly hope that I came to this graphic novel with an open mind.

I spent a pleasant hour or so reading A Study in Scarlet and enjoying the art work very much. It refreshed my memory of the original novel I read a long time ago. The essence of Conan Doyle’s work is distilled in the dialogue and the way the plot unfolds in this graphic novel will be very familiar to fans of Conan Doyle and even the Benedict Cumberbatch TV series. That said, I don’t think A Study in Scarlet is intended for me, I think it is ideal for a young adult audience. Or someone much more interested in visual storytelling. So I intend to pass it on to my teenage nephew because I think this might be an ideal way to get him interested in reading a classic story. Like a lot of boys he isn’t into books so I hope this will encourage him and maybe this is a way for him to become familiar with the great detective.

For me, if this graphic novel brings in readers and widens the appeal of Sherlock Holmes, as it maintains the spirit of the original, it is a massive success. It is a tribute to Conan Doyle and a lot of fun. Ideal perhaps for a long train journey or a rainy afternoon. I have always loved the Sherlock Holmes short stories, reading them is what gave me a passion for books when I was a teenager. I read the long novels later but they do not mean so much to me, I am not so attached to them. That said, I would hate to think that the ethos and intentions of the original would be lost here. So I was really pleased that A Study in Scarlet was respectful of the original. We have the essence of Holmes, complementary art work and a little touch of humour in the mix.

A Study in Scarlet (1886) introduced Sherlock Holmes to the Victorian public. He has become the best known detective in the world. Edginton introduces Watson and Holmes, initially it is perfunctory and long; who they are/how they met (but so was the novel). Then the characters interact and the murder mystery begins to intrigue. I found the telling convincing, the puzzle well expressed, the pacing strong and whittling down Conan-Doyle to the minimum works very well.

The story begins with Dr. Watson, he joins the British army and is wounded in Afghanistan. Forced to return to London the veteran is left pondering a new life. As his funds dwindle he takes a flat share with Holmes in Baker Street. Gradually Watson is drawn into Holmes world of investigations. Then the police seek Holmes’ help. A man has been murdered in a house on the Brixton Road, an American, there is blood on the floor but the corpse appears not to have been wounded. While Inspectors Gregson and Lestrade of Scotland Yard are cracking on with their own theories, Sherlock is reading the clues and piecing together what really happened. Before long another body turns up. And as the chase for the killer unfolds Watson can only marvel at the brilliance with which Holmes connects facts and sees the vital evidence that the police miss.

I like that Edginton did not modernise the storytelling, he remains faithful to the original (both writer and illustrator are clearly fans of Conan Doyle). For example, the criminal is caught and admits guilt before we are treated to an explanation of why the crime was committed. A more modern telling would have those details uncovered by the detective before the denouement with the killer – to ring out every last ounce of tension. The original structure may be less snappy but curiosity keeps the reader focused right to the end. To match this, the drawings of Culbard have a wonderful feel of the time and place, sort of retro, and the mood is dark and noirish, as befits a murder mystery.

By necessity there is no room for wider exposition, the character are two dimensional but then character was not a strong point for Conan Doyle either. Our understanding of Holmes has been derived from the TV and film versions of the hero mixed with our own mental invention based on small but significant details in the stories.

What the graphic novel achieves is to bone down the story almost to a short story and that makes it more like the real Sherlock for me.

Not much bigger than a standard paperback this edition is compact and neat, it is part of a series to celebrate 10 years of publishing by SelfMadeHero (originally published in 2010). Following this novel, Edginton and Culbard went on to interpret the other three long novels of Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle, which are also available.

Paul Burke 3/3

A Study in Scarlet: A Sherlock Holmes Graphic Novel by Arthur Conan Doyle, Ian Edginton and I.N.J. Culbard
SelfMadeHero 9781910593332 pbk Sep 2017

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