For the majority of Sherlock Holmes’ life, it’s been… elementary. In the world of Holmes, logic always beats the supernatural. However, in Dynamite Entertainment’s latest series with the great detective, that maxim is turned on its ear thanks to returning writers Leah Moore and John Reppion. After kicking off the Dynamite take on the character, the pair are back this December with new artist Matt Triano for “Sherlock Holmes: The Liverpool Demon,” featuring covers by Francesco Francavilla.
In the five issue miniseries, Holmes and Dr. John Watson are expecting some downtime after a trying case, but when that mystery’s end leaves them in England’s “Second City” of Liverpool, they discover a supernatural threat that may be more than even the great Sherlock can understand. CBR News spoke with Moore and Reppion about their return to the Victorian era, as they described their attraction to Arthur Conan Doyle’s immortal creation, how things that go bump in the night work better than one might expect in the context of “Holmes” and why Liverpool is the perfect setting for a down and dirty murder.
CBR News: With “The Liverpool Demon,” you’re returning to a character you helped establish at Dynamite — what was the draw to come back to Holmes? Do you have a bank of untold Sherlock tales waiting on your hard drives?
Leah Moore & John Reppion: We enjoyed working on our first Holmes series (“The Trial of Sherlock Holmes”) so much that we genuinely couldn’t wait to get going on the next one. On the one hand we love a project we can really sink our teeth into in terms of research and on the other we really enjoy the intricacies of crafting a mystery — making sure all the clues are in there and then spinning the plot off in all these different directions. Holmes and Watson are a pleasure to write. They’re wonderful characters with really distinct personalities and world views, and it’s great fun to be able to put them in new and interesting scenarios.
We have a notebook filled with ideas for future Holmes mysteries. Some of them are just cool settings, some are full of plot. We certainly hope to do more with the Great Detective and the Good Doctor in the future.
These days, we’re seeing quite a few modern adaptations of Holmes as a character, though most of them seem to be either adapting Doyle’s stories directly or pulling from them greatly. What’s the appeal to tell all-new stories with this character and his place in time?
Victorian England is such a good visual setting and works brilliantly in comics so that’s a huge plus point. It seemed at the time when we were working on “The Trial” no one else had really thought of doing a straight canonical Holmes book. Trying to please fans of the Conan Doyle originals as well as comic fans remains a challenge, but it’s one we enjoy rising to. The original stories are so tantalisingly full of gaps — there are all these mentions of other cases which Doyle (as Watson) never writes up. We know Holmes must have worked on hundreds, if not thousands, of cases during his career, so filling in those gaps whilst bearing the previously recorded stories in mind is a lot of fun.
In “The Trial,” we established the idea that the stories we’ve all read from “The Strand” were actually written by Dr. Watson as slightly fictionalised versions of the cases he and Homes worked on (names, dates and locations altered to protect identities, etc). That means that although these tales are mostly accurate, we have given ourselves a little bit of extra wiggle room. This isn’t so we can cheat and change things, but so we can offer some extra little surprises in the way the reported versions and our “true” versions differ.
Basically, writing Holmes and Watson in their original setting and time is just lots and lots of fun — there’s so much room in the world for more adventures that it feels like an obvious thing to do.
Speaking of which, this is maybe the first Sherlock story to take place in Liverpool. The solicitations refer to it as England’s “Second City.” What was your impression of Victorian Liverpool? What made it an interesting backdrop in general and for a Holmes story specifically?
Well, living in Liverpool as we do, we know quite a bit about the history and the folklore here. It was a very busy, technologically advanced port city at the time and was seen as the gateway to America — if you wanted to emigrate, Liverpool was the place you boarded your ship. However, if you ran out of money then Liverpool was the place you stayed.
An 1886 newspaper story titled “Savage Liverpool” had the following to say about the city: “The highest type of civilization and the lowest type of savagery are to be found in Liverpool, existing side by side; and in no city in the world can a more startling contrast of the two races of mankind — the civilized and the uncivilized — be found.”
We wanted to take Holmes and Watson out of their typical settings of London and Southern country estates, and place them in more gritty and grimy surroundings where they don’t have the resources of a familiar police force (the Baker Street Irregulars, etc.) to fall back on.
From what we know of the miniseries, it starts with an ending –Â or at least the tail end of Holmes and Watson’s latest case. What can you tell us about where readers enter the story and why you didn’t go back to “one night a person shows up at 221B Baker Street?”
The series is set in 1886 and this would have been a very busy time for Holmes. He’s at the height of his fame and is still a relatively young man (in his early thirties), so we wanted to give the impression he’s jumping from case to case at this point. Additionally, without giving too much away, the case of “The Liverpool Demon” isn’t one Holmes is necessarily asked to take — it’s more that it is something which excites his curiosity.
The title of the story implies some twists with a demon on the loose — what kind of challenge did you want to throw at the great detective? What is it about the mystery and the milieu that work well together?
Having done a kind of twisty-turny conspiracy thriller for our first Holmes series, we wanted to come up with something a bit more Gothic and mysterious in the vein of “The Hound of the Baskervilles” or “The Sussex Vampire.” Part of the fun of those tales is presenting the logical Holmes with these supernatural scenarios and his having to explain them away or deconstruct them. So, in “The Liverpool Demon” we throw some weirdness Holmes’ way and see what he makes of it, but things aren’t as simple as they might first appear.
Sherlock stories often push up against the supernatural while keeping a foot firmly placed in reality, though some adaptations over the years have gone a bit further with spooks and such. How do you approach what’s real and what isn’t as it applies to this character and his world?
Doyle loved to play with Gothic and ghost story tropes to give atmosphere to his stories, but despite being a Spiritualist, Ghost Club member and believing in fairies himself, he always made sure to “put the toys back in the box” as it were — giving Holmes the opportunity to explain away the phantoms.
Ultimately, Holmes is the cold, sober voice of reason but he too can get a bit confused sometimes. It’s difficult to think straight when there’s a citywide panic going on.
Your artist on “Demon” is Matt Triano, someone whose work is likely new to readers. What in his skill set has come to bear on this very specific time period and character?
Matt has come into this with some very big boots to fill — namely those of Aaron Campbell who did such an amazing job on “The Trial” — but we’re very happy to say he’s done so wonderfully. He’s captured the grit and grime, as well as the grandeur of the city, and delivered some wonderful character pieces.
Overall, what’s your guiding principal in telling new tales of Holmes and Watson? What in your research and writing have you learned is most essential for continuing these characters’ lives?
In many respects it’s a kind of “if it ain’t broke…” scenario. Conan Doyle built up the fantastic body of work in which Holmes and Watson’s relationship changed and developed, and where a broad spectrum of mysteries occurred. We’re really just trying to continue to build on what Doyle did, adding in a few little twists of our own but always trying to stay faithful to the characters. The interaction between Holmes and Watson is always the key — their relationship is such an important and believable element of the tales. In “The Liverpool Demon,” Watson is newly married, just moved out of Baker Street, and it’s the end of an era. Holmes is a little disappointed, maybe jealous… the dynamic between them is a bit more edgy.
“Sherlock Holmes: The Liverpool Demon” goes on sale in December from Dynamite Entertainment.