Graphic Classics: Arthur Conan Doyle, by Arthur Conan Doyle, adapted by various authors and artists 6.5
Graphic Classics is part of an anthology series published by Eureka Productions, which collects and adapts handfuls of short stories all pertaining to one theme with the help of various authors and artists. These black and white books are a mish-mash of styles given the diversity of artistic hands involved.
The second release in Eureka’s perennial series (there are dozens upon dozens of titles!), the Arthur Conan Doyle anthology collects some of the legendary author’s most cherished works, including many that are not Sherlock Holmes-related. It’s a de-facto introduction to the eclectic nature of his work.
What’s interesting about this collection, however, is that it was first published in 2002, but was then re-edited in 2005. While the original edition featured ‘The Hound of the Baskerville’, this new one doesn’t – instead it replaces that adaptation, as well as ‘The Lost World’, with 100 new pages of material!
1. The Adventure of the Copper Beeches: Sherlock Holmes is disheartened by the state of his sleuthing career, which he doesn’t find challenging – and which is exacerbated by the arrival of Victoria, a young woman who merely wants to consult with him about a job offer. Though dismayed, he listens to her and advises her on her decision – which she appears to have already made.
After hearing her concerns about the job conditions, Holmes is convinced that, should she indeed agree to take it, he will hear from her again within mere days. And he’s right: she returns to tell him (and Watson) about some unusual goings-on at the house of her employer, a certain Mr. Rutsvale. She implores Holmes to come inspect the premises…
I enjoyed the mystery of this one – though, as per usual, the clues weren’t self-evident other than to Holmes himself. Holmes’ skill of deduction also didn’t shine through as most of the data was simply laid out before him by Victoria. He merely had to go to the mansion and shed light on the matter. Anyway, it read well and the art was nice. 7.25
2. Captain Sharkey: Captain Scarrow is tired of sailing the high seas, especially with the infamous Captain Sharkey lurking out there. On what is to be his last voyage, Scarrow hears of the capture and imminent execution of the dreaded buccaneer. But when an ailing Governor boards his ship for safe passage to Britain, Scarrow discovers the truth about Sharkey.
Frankly, I found this tale a bit familiar and predictable. Perhaps it wasn’t at the time of its writing, but it really didn’t do anything for me. The format was also less compelling, being blocks of text with images interspersed between them; it wasn’t a traditional comic book format. Though it gave it a storybook quality, I didn’t really fancy it. 5.0
3. The Los Amigos Fiasco: I’m not really sure what to make of this one. The story tells of the fictional town of Los Amigos, which is renowned for having built some of the biggest power generators and which is now considering executing criminals by electric chair. But the council that studies the question have one dissenting voice: Peter Stulpnagel, an eccentric scientist.
Stulpnagel argues that electrical power is too new a science to trust as a method of execution. The other three council members dismiss his concerns and move forward with their plans. Soon they are faced with their first challenge: Duncan Warner, an irredeemable brute. And they’re to discover that mad old Stulpnagel wasn’t so crazy after all…
Between the plot, which would have been more at home in a classic DC or Marvel origin story, and the art, which is rudimentary, there really wasn’t anything especially noteworthy about this one. I’d be very curious to know if this is indeed considered a minor classic, or even just how it was received when it was first published back in 1892. 6.75
4. Master: This one’s a 1916 poem adapted over two pages by Roger Langridge. It tells of a Master riding off into the woods to his doom, despite his maid’s warnings. There’s nothing to see here, aside for Langridge’s typically stunning work. 6.0
5. The Great Brown-Pericord Motor: First published in 1905, this one tells of two inventors, a designer and a mechanic, who argue over the rights to their creation, the Brown-Pericord Motor, a bat-like flying device. After accidentally killing his partner in a struggle, the survivor sends the body off into the skies with their invention, hoping to forget and be forgotten.
But his sanity won’t survive the incident.
It was a conventional tale, told awkwardly by Knight, the artist, who crammed everything on the page in thick, cartoony doodles. 4.75
6. How the Brigadier Came to the Castle of Gloom: This is the long-winded account of a former French lieutenant who, on his way to his regiment, was convinced to help a soldier from another regiment get revenge for harm done to his family. Told from the perspective of the lieutenant himself, now an aged innkeeper, the pair end up at a place called Gloom Castle, get locked in the supplies room and eventually break out.
The lead-in was super long and the subject bored me to death. I’m not much of a historical or war type – though Conan Doyle was, so maybe that’s the problem. Someone else might have found it riveting, but not I. Thankfully, it got more interesting at Gloom Castle.
Still, it wasn’t great: the only reason the pair escaped is because a maiden gives them a key to unlock a door hidden behind all the supplies. Um… how did she get that key, anyway? I don’t know what Conan Doyle was thinking but this defied all plausibility. 5.75
7. The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb: This is a Sherlock Holmes story in which Watson brings the case of a hydraulic engineer to his partner. The engineer had been hired by a mysterious man to inspect a press – and barely escaped with his life. Having been brought to the site of the inspection under unusual circumstances, he couldn’t return to it with the police – so he depends on Holmes to figure the matter out.
I enjoyed this one a fair bit because it was draped in shadows, leaving us with many questions and possibilities – so it tickled the brain. But, mostly, I liked that Holmes was involved in its resolution, asking the client pertinent questions and piecing the puzzle together before our eyes. And the style of the strip, though text-heavy, was perfect for the occasion. 7.5
8. The Ghosts of Goresthorpe Grange: Otherwise known as “Selecting a Ghost”, this 1883 short is a satirical ghost story, which finds Silas D’Odd buying Goresthorpe Grange, a mediaeval castle, hoping to find in it a ghost. No such luck, as it happens, so he decides to put out an ad for spiritualists that could come and awaken one. One day, he gets the visit of Mr. Abrahams, a man who claims to have this ability…
I like the tone of this quirky little number, which would likely have been quite amusing had it been put to the screen by Tim Burton and Johnny Depp – especially once Abraham gets D’Odd drugged up and he sees a series of different apparitions, all applying for the job. The art, which had a trippy, cartoony style that would have been at home in the ’70s, helped evoke this vibe. 7.25
All told, I found this anthology interesting because I’d never read Conan Doyle and knew nothing of his work aside for Sherlock Holmes; there was quite an array of styles and genres here. However, I can’t say that I was taken with Conan Doyle’s literary style, which I found a bit bland, rudimentary.
Having said that, it’s quite possible that much of what makes him appealing was lost in translation, as I have no idea how much material has been excised or adapted for the format. In any event, it dulled my curiosity enough that I don’t feel the urge to explore his oeuvre any further in the future.