Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Review time! with ‘Inside the Mind of Sherlock Holmes’

“So they gave me a tin hat and they gave me a gun and they sent me away to the war”

Titan Comics bring us Inside the Mind of Sherlock Holmes, which has a fancy die-cut cover (that center image is part of the end pages of the book). It’s by Cyril Lieron and Benoit Dahan, and it’s translated by Christopher Pope and lettered by Lauren Bowes. Let’s have a look at it!

I guess this book has been getting a good amount of praise in France, where it was originally published a few years ago, and the praise is entirely warranted, as this is a terrific comic. Lieron comes up with a very Holmesian case, and Dahan’s artwork is staggering. I’m not as huge a fan of Holmes as some others, so I haven’t delved into either the Doyle canon as much as some (I’ve read the original stuff a few times, but I don’t pore over it), nor have I gotten into the vast amount of post-Doyle Holmes stuff as much as some, but I do dig the detective, and Lieron seems to have a very good handle on what makes a great Holmes mystery. It begins with a colleague of Watson’s, Dr. Herbert Fowler, being brought to Baker Street by the police, who found him wandering the streets wearing his night clothes and mismatched slippers – one of them a woman’s. Fowler has a broken collarbone and no memory of what happened to him. Holmes, naturally, is intrigued, and when a female corpse is found in the Limehouse Basin, the case becomes a more serious one of … murder!!!!

Fowler, it turns out, had attended a Chinese circus the night before, but he doesn’t remember what happened. Holmes pieces together the clues, of course, and the case reaches back to the Second Opium War in 1860 (in the long list of disgraceful wars, the Opium Wars are high on the list), which is a clever plot point. Lieron sets the book in 1890, and it feels like it, with British imperialism and the casual racism of the period acting as major plot points. I don’t want to give much more away about the plot, but it is very interesting and unusual, something that was always a hallmark of Doyle’s Holmes stories. And it doesn’t feature Moriarty, which is a huge point in its favor. Lieron also does nice work with the main characters. Holmes and Watson have a good relationship – Holmes is obviously the smart one, but he doesn’t ridicule Watson (well, he does a little, but it’s very gentle), and Watson does ask good questions and spur Holmes on, which is kind of what Watson’s for. Watson, of course, is more of a blunt instrument – Holmes fights well, but Watson seems more comfortable with violence – so when fisticuffs are called for, Watson is your dude. They really do have a good relationship. Meanwhile, the villain of the piece is fascinating – Lieron gives him a very good back story, so he becomes a bit more sympathetic even as he’s committing evil acts. Despite his grand scheme, which is fairly evil, you can squint a bit and think he’s a hero for what he’s doing. Those kinds of villains are usually the best kind, because it makes the reader more committed to both sides instead of just the side of the “good” guys. Holmes himself knows that the case is not as simple as a bad guy doing bad things, and Lieron allows him to be a bit prophetic about the consequences of British imperialism, thanks to the benefit of hindsight that we possess. It’s a good adventure with some interesting things on its mind.

Dahan’s art is superb, as the idea is to show Holmes’s thought process, which might become dull in some hands, but allows Dahan to really cut loose with visual bedazzlement. He gives us a red thread that flows through the book, connecting all the clues as Holmes collects them, and as you can see by the cover, he gives us a kind of steampunk-Victorian representation of Holmes’s head to show his thoughts – it’s a cross-section of a regular Victorian house, but inside we get clanking machinery processing the thoughts, as well as cabinets and drawers where Holmes stores his thoughts, and several rooms he can walk through as he puzzles through what’s going on. It’s an excellent visual trick, and it makes Holmes’s thought process clear while also remaining interesting to look at. In most Holmes stories, Holmes talks us through how he knows things, and he does that here, but Dahan augments it by the art, including adding small circles outside the margins (but connected by the thread) of earlier clues, so we can keep up. Holmes always seems suited to comics, I think, because when you’re reading the prose, often the first time you hear of clues – a random stain on someone’s robe, for instance – it’s when Holmes brings it up. In comics, the artist can draw that in and readers may or may not pick up on it, but it’s there for Holmes to notice. Dahan does that very well in this book. His layouts are amazing – he uses the entire page, packing panels in without being too dense or confusing, using a map of London to show our heroes’ progress through the case, and using amazing details to ground the story in late-Victorian London. The street scenes are superb – there are so many ancillary details in the panels that it’s fun to just see what shops are on the streets Holmes and Watson are walking down. Dahan does some interesting tricks, too – he instructs the reader to hold pages up to the light to see what’s juxtaposed on the opposite page, he tells us to fold some pages (gently!) to link up with others, which creates some nice visual tricks, and he makes some panel borders hint at themes in the text itself, which is fairly clever. His characters are distinctive and interesting, and his action scenes are well choreographed. I haven’t even scratched the surface of what makes the art so phenomenal, but trust me – it is.

Inside the Mind of Sherlock Holmes is one of the best comics of the year. It’s cleverly written and drawn, and it can be read multiple times because there’s probably many things you missed on a first read. A lot of this blog’s readers are Holmes fans, I’m sure, so there’s that, but even if you aren’t, this is a fascinating mystery with stunning art. What more could you want?

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.