Watson & Holmes: A Study In Black

I’ve read several of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories featuring the gifted and influential detective, Sherlock Holmes, and his trustworthy partner, Dr. John Watson. More than a few years ago, I had the idea to create my own version—as many others have—only mine would be African-American and muddling through state college. At some point, I mentioned this to a friend and they pointed me at the graphic novels, Watson & Holmes, featuring black protagonists. Curses, foiled again! 

Recently, I picked up the first in the series at my local library. (Much love to my local library, they help me with my comic book problems.) What follows is strictly my aesthetic opinion and hardly an honest critique. Since I started reading comics, it was the artwork that always attracted me first. Eventually, I would follow series mostly for the artists and I found that the better the art, the more likely the story followed suit.

The art in Watson & Holmes: A Study In Black was serviceable, it got the job done and displayed the story with professional competence. And I didn’t like it. Rick Leonardi illustrated the bulk of the book and he employed a “rough hewn” style which I rarely enjoy. It creates a look that appears unfinished, to me, as if the storyboards were fleshed out and dry-inked in a hurry. Also, I find Leonardi better suited to drawing over-the-top superheroes than detectives on the street. The cover is lovely, however. Karl Bollers’ script was also serviceable, it got the job done, moved Holmes along to meet up with Watson and off they go. But Holmes’ logic in this story seemed less logic and more leaps of fantasy involving either chance or precognition. The introduction of Holmes’ brother, Mycroft, seemed rushed and disjointed. Where the character was visually authentic to the original, the character himself was a slapdash hodgepodge of “classic” Mycroft and black cultural stereotypes. There were typesetting errors as well. It may be idiosyncratic of me, but type that’s crushed up against word bubbles and, especially, typos, really throw me off the story in a comic book. The last quarter of the book, a sort of self-contained short related to the initial story arc, is illustrated by Larry Stroman. I have largely enjoyed Stroman’s work, but over the years I’ve gotten a sense of when he’s cranking work out in a hurry. This appears to be one of those occasions where his character design and layouts fall into his familiar rut. Overall, as an adaptation of a popular subject, it succeeds. In that Holmes and Watson are iconic but new characters, this graphic novel series is a nice direction to go for the characters.

All-in-all, I’ll give the next book a go to see how matters have been adjusted. Volume 2 features three new writers and two new illustrators. In the meantime, this has hardly dissuaded me from pursuing my own version, seeing that the only similarities in adaptation would be skin color.