Writing duo Leah Moore and John Reppion may have their heads buried in books every day from now until the summer. Not that that's a bad thing.
After being recently announced as the writers of Dynamite Entertainment's ultra-faithful adaptation of Bram Stoker's classic "Dracula," the pair will also be reviving Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famed sleuth in a "Sherlock Holmes" ongoing series starting this May. With art by newcomer Aaron Campbell and covers by John Cassaday, the series will spin all-new tales of the detective and his right hand Doctor John Watson, although the new stories will remain steeped in lore of the original Holmes mysteries.
Leah Moore told CBR, "I have to say that even though we haven't had to adapt a huge novel, we have possibly had more research to do on Holmes [than for 'Dracula'], because we need to research the fictional side of it to find existing characters to use, or cases to refer to, and we also have to research what people would have done in 1895, but across a massive spectrum of events. If we have police in it, we have to look at how that worked, if we have shops or markets, we have to get them right, the travel, the dress, the politics. It's a bloody minefield, to be honest. Every time we come up with a great plot idea, it sparks five or six new things for us to look in to. Hopefully all this means it will have a great plot and also be really accurate."
Accuracy in original tales comes with matching the tone and characterization of the observant lead, which John Reppion explained was preferable to representing the same stories folks have already read or seen again and again. "Sherlock Holmes, much like Dracula, is very much ingrained in popular culture, but, unlike Stoker's novel, many of Doyle's mysteries have not been so heavily revised when adapted," he said. "A lot of the Holmes stories you see on television, in film, and hear on the radio are pretty straight versions of the originals, and, as such, many people are probably more familiar with the canon than they realize.
"Since Leah and I first discovered the joys of internet radio almost a decade ago, we've always particularly enjoyed listening to Sherlock Holmes mysteries. We were also both fans of the UK TV series 'The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' which ran from the late '80s into the '90s - of course, I didn't know it was research when I was sat on my Gran's living room floor watching it. Neither of us can claim to have read every single Holmes story, but thankfully there are fantastic books such as Leslie Klinger's 'New Annotated Holmes' series and Lee Jackson's 'Dictionary of Victorian London' which we can turn to for help."
After their rounds of research, the case Moore & Reppion lighted upon became "The Trial of Sherlock Holmes." And although (as with any good mystery) the ins and outs of the ominous case remain a secret for now, Reppion did note why they chose to set their first story after Holmes' return from his supposed death in battle with James Moriarty. "If we were writing a pre-'Final Problem' story, I think there would be too much temptation to prefigure the events at Reichenbach Falls and to be sucked into the trap of canon chronology," the writer said. "There are too many mysteries for that to be an option really, because I can imagine getting bogged down in which case happened when, how this thing relates to that and all that kind of thing. Setting the story in 1895 means that you've got a very classic start up scenario with Watson having lost his wife, sold his medical practice and moved back into 221 B Baker street and his and Holmes' relationship and status being well established. Everyone knows their names and what they do and we can more or less hit the ground running."
Running alongside the pair of crime-solvers will come a bevy of foils both traditional and original, including Holmes' occasional sparing mates from Scotland Yard. "We loved having the chance to re-use some old characters, but without re-reading the whole canon it's a bit hard to do it all the time," said Moore. "We have made reference to old cases and characters wherever we can, just to bed our story in amongst the others. We have tried to create new characters that already feel established, that you feel you could have seen before and just forgotten about. The people in Doyle's stories are really well characterized in the way they speak to each other, so it's been great to do lots of it in the dialogue as well as the action."
With luck, Moore & Reppion will be able to match (or at least live up to) the writing standard set by Doyle's meticulously detailed originals, although Reppion admits that in real life he's "probably not all that observant really. If I'm watching a film or TV, I can usually unravel a mystery pretty well, but I don't think I've got great prospects as a real life sleuth, sadly."
For her part, Moore would "like to think I'm observant and that I would have dazzling insights, but to be honest I'd probably be so busy congratulating myself on noticing one thing that I'd miss half a dozen other things...better not give up the day job yet!"
Aiding the pair in threading clues together in a satisfactory manner will be interior artist Aaron Campbell, whom Reppion praised, "Aaron is great at detail and detail is what makes a mystery. In Doyle's stories, Holmes can always offer up a revelation at the end of the narrative referring to something he noticed back on page one, but in a comic we need to make sure that that muddy footprint or pane of broken glass or whatever was definitely there in the first issue. Aaron is really good at characterization too and has really given each person their own unique identity. It's a real treat to see the pages rolling in and I can't wait to see it all colored."
Moore feels that when all is said and done, she and Reppion will be able to ride the fine balancing act of which clues and hints to drop early while also not giving away the outcome of their first Sherlock Holmes mystery this May. "I have to say that is the very hardest thing about the whole thing, doing everything so that when you read it back again you go, 'Ahh it was there all along.' Its really hard. We have tried to make sure everything's there, but you don't want the story to just be clues, clues, clues the whole way. You have to be careful too with comics, because people can only see things if you get the artist to draw them in. Its one thing to say in a novel, 'I spotted the footprints in the flowerbed,' but in a comic you have to show the flowerbed, and very, very subtly, the actual footprints right from the get go. Our descriptions have been probably infuriating Aaron terribly as we keep saying, 'Draw this in but not so anyone can really notice it, but so you can see it, but not very well.' He might not like us much by the end of this! "
Check back with CBR this week for a chat with "Sherlock Holmes" series artist Aaron Campbell.