HOUND Revisited ~ Review of Martin Powell and Jamie Chase’s graphic novel adaptation of Hound of the Baskervilles

Well, this has been an embarrassingly long time coming.  We promised Martin this review ages ago. (Yes, we realize that we’ve dropped the proverbial ‘ball’ everywhere else as well, hush now.)  Alas, here it finally is.  As always with our joint reviews, HamishMD and I wrote our respective reviews independently of one another.  I did not read her review prior to writing my own, nor had she read mine.  In fact, we ‘ve intentionally avoided even discussing it with one another specifically for the purpose of not biasing or coloring each other’s thoughts, so this is quite literally the first time those thoughts have come together in one place.  Enjoy!

~ S. Sigerson

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‘S.Sigerson’

HOUND continues to stand not only as one of the most popular of all the canonical tales, but also one of the most frequently adapted. I see HOUND adaptations and reprints of every kind all over the place, which I have to admit sometimes has kind of an ‘overkill’ effect on me. I recently made the somewhat distressing observation that when presented with a variety of Sherlockian reading material/purchase options I’m notably more likely to pass over something related to HOUND than I am just about any other adaptation simply because it has begun, for me personally, to feel like kind of an ‘easy way out’ as far as adaptations go. Don’t get me wrong, I love the story as much as the rest of the Sherlockian world and clearly AM interested in looking at re-imaginings of it, I’m just also a bit wary, and that ‘wariness’ makes me a little picky at times.

One form of adaptation that really HAS grabbed my interest recently is the graphic novel/comic book. I’ve been seeing some very neat graphic interpretations of not only the Sherlock Holmes stories, but also a range of other classical works, which I must say really excites me. I’ve only ever dappled in the comic book/graphic novel world, but I strongly feel that authors and artists are doing a fantastic thing by sliding certain literary staples into a different light. In my opinion, these sorts of visual-heavy re-interpretations are a great way to make classical literature seem interesting and engaging to a wider range of readers who are already interacting with, and being socialized into an increasingly visual world, and who therefore might otherwise dismiss the same story as being outdated or ‘dusty’ if presented as part of a ‘tome’ or freestanding novel.

This having been said, Martin has a thoroughly impressive reputation within the graphic novel world and is well-established as an effective comic/graphic novel author. In spite of my slightly jaded bias, HOUND immediately struck me as a story that ought to lend itself particularly well to graphic re-imaginings, thanks to its often melodramatic imagery, and so it has. Martin’s interpretation was the first of this sort I’ve actually sat down and read (though I do have a couple others on my shelf just now), and I must admit that I’m quite impressed with the result! The artwork here has a ‘sophisticated’ and comparatively mature feel (particularly when held up against the children’s edition released in 2008). The color scheme goes a long way towards establishing the appropriate ‘dark’/’foggy’/’somber’ (almost noir) atmosphere needed to effectively visually portray the feel of the original story where space for description is limited. Writing-wise, there is less emphasis here on the ‘sensational’ and/or ‘paranormal’ aspects of the story as there seems to be in the previous version and more on the intricacies of its human/social elements – much as it stands in the canon – only pared down a bit for length and clarity. The hound itself, for example, is presented as being very frightening indeed, but not so much so that it forces our imaginations beyond the realm of what might seem real-world plausible. The novel reads just as it ought to – as something that at first glance strongly appears as though it might be supernatural, but quickly proves itself to be entirely man-made in origin. There are, of course, details missing, but then there ought to be. It is, after all, a graphic novel, and not a ‘full-length’ reprint of the canon. I can’t see that anything critical is missing. I’ll admit that it’s been a while since I read HOUND, but for my part, I can find no major ‘beef’ or offense to take with Martin’s recapturing of the story. I feel he’s done a good job of maintaining the essence of the original storyline, while also distilling it down into a length more suited for this particular genre of print literature. In other words, short of re-reading the original and grabbing hold of a fine-toothed comb, I can find no particularly strong fault with this version. The only minor issue I had while reading this was in the script used for some of Watson’s handwriting. It looks very neat, but for whatever reason, I found it to occasionally be a little bit hard to read, which was slightly frustrating. Apart from that, I was entirely satisfied with this particular version and will thus give it a 4.5 out of 5 Orange Pips. Well done, Martin!

‘HamishMD’

I have to admit, before starting this review, that when I got this book in my hands I started to cackle maniacally. A graphic novel adaptation of one of my favorite stories, written by a friend, with fantastic illustrations? *Squee* So I was truly coming in predisposed to love this work. However, most of my squee came as I started to read the work, because it truly blew away my already high expectations for the work.

Martin Powell has been a fantastic friend to Sigerson- and the irony for me being that the museum where they met is now where I work. I got to meet Martin this winter, and I found him to be fantastically friendly and funny, and greatest of all, a fantastic story teller. I found this very evident in HOUND, and it kept me on the edge of my seat from the very beginning.

I also must preface this with the fact that I do not own nor have a really read very many graphic novels- though my fiancé will change this. My graphic novel selection in my personal library is very small, and contains mostly adaptations of existing works. However, these adaptations can take very different tactics and are therefore on a scale of effectiveness. My graphic novel version of the Hobbit, for example, is utterly fantastic in art and text. It is, however, over 130 pages long with tons of small text on the page- not a lot is cut from the original novel in regards to narrative text. On the other end is my recent purchase of The Last Unicorn. The art is amazing, but I have been having problems finding my favorite quotes from the book, as they have been lost in this adaptation. At just about 65 pages, Powell’s HOUND hits a good balance, adapting the text into a tight and exciting narrative, while also not leaving out the best of Doyle’s dialogue.

Art:  The art is simply stunning. It’s almost a “noir” style, with cool uses of dark colors and shadows. This fits really well with HOUND’s dark tone and dark deeds. Holmes is particularly well done, as are Stapleton and the Hound itself.

Characters:  This is always the important thing for me in terms of Holmes adaptations, and surprisingly and depressingly, this is the element that so many just don’t get quite right. Powell’s Holmes and Watson are excellent. Their introductory scene is very charming, and I never felt that the two were one dimensional in any way. I’d have loved to have gotten more of Stapleton, Mortimer, and Henry Baskerville…which brings me to…

Story: As I stated earlier, Powell’s HOUND is a really well done adaptation. As he said in our interview here, there were some surprises, but they all fit really well in the medium. My one critique- and this is just me as a fan- is that I didn’t want it to end! I would have loved more of all the characters, but I totally understand the choice to keep it at its current length. Much of HOUND works really well in this medium. I particularly loved the segues of Watson’s letters to depicting the action going on in those scenes. HOUND is built for dramatic noir images, shadowy figures on the moors.

I really give this one a solid 4.5-5 pips. I know there are other graphic novel versions of Holmes out there, and this has given me a thirst to track them down. HOUND has an addictive atmosphere, and I just want to curl up with a nice cup of tea and go back to the moors.

Moooors

> If you’ve not already picked up a copy of this marvelous little book, you can do so right now via Amazon.com! <

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