Illustrating Sherlock Holmes

beeton.jpg

Beeton’s Christmas Annual, 1887.

The latest in the series of illustrated editions I’ve been working on for Spanish publisher Editorial Alma is a single-volume collection of two short Sherlock Holmes novels, A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four. Work on this book began immediately after I’d finished Dracula so maintaining the Victorian theme was easy enough, although the commission as a whole was an awkward one. The main problem was having barely enough time to create 20 new illustrations while I was finishing work on the huge Jim Cawthorn book. But even with enough time this would have been a difficult brief. I regard Sidney Paget‘s original Holmes illustrations as the definitive ones so trying to offer people a fresh take on the world’s greatest detective is difficult. (And, as with Dracula, there’s further competition from the innumerable screen adaptations.) Then there are the stories themselves which are often more cerebral than visual, offering little for an illustrator beyond successive views of rooms, streets, houses and so on. Even Paget has trouble with this aspect of the stories, with many of his illustrations showing the various characters standing or sitting in rooms. If I’d had more time I might have tried a lateral take on the content—two of the illustrations in Dracula avoided the people-in-rooms problem by showing collections of objects on tables—but I didn’t have the time…

paget.jpg

Watson and Holmes by Sidney Paget. From The Adventure of Silver Blaze, The Strand Magazine, December 1892.

As things turned out, the least satisfying of the novels from a story perspective, A Study in Scarlet, was easier to illustrate because much of the second half takes place in the United States. This was the first Holmes novel, and it doesn’t work as well as the others for precisely this reason, the narrative attention is removed from Holmes, Watson and London, but the change of scene is a benefit for an artist. The second novel, The Sign of Four, is a better story but was compromised in this edition because the publisher only wanted every other chapter illustrated. For this reason Holmes and Watson are elusive presences in their own books although given the problems outlined above this may be for the best.

There’s still one more volume to emerge from my recent round of work for Alma, a collection of four Lovecraft stories, three of which I hadn’t illustrated before. More about this in a month or so. In the meantime, the full run of Holmes pictures follows below, while all may be seen at a larger size here.

A Study in Scarlet

holmes01.jpg

holmes02.jpg

holmes03.jpg

Continue reading “Illustrating Sherlock Holmes”

The Smoke

smoke01.jpg

London in 1898 was the most populous city in the world, a metropolis of “four million souls” as Arthur Conan Doyle continually reminds us in the Sherlock Holmes stories. The stereotypical representation of London in the 19th century is of a city wreathed in fog but the reality was closer to the dense smogs that plague Chinese cities today. The four million souls heated themselves by burning wood and coal, and the resulting smoke (and a fair amount of steam, no doubt) combined with the British climate to create the noxious, tinted “fogs” that fill the streets of Victorian fiction.

smoke02.jpg

Whatever the health hazards, the vaporous atmosphere had its champions in artists such as Claude Monet and James Whistler, both of whom relished the way the smoky air softened the silhouettes of the city. William Hyde may be added to the list for this superb series of etchings showing London at its most tenebrous, another chance discovery at the Internet Archive. London Impressions is an ambivalent celebration of the capital as a city of shadows, smoke and fog, the essays by Alice Meynell ruefully admitting that while the industrial cities of the north may rival London for their polluted atmosphere, their smaller size means that blue sky is never far away, something the Londoner of 1898 couldn’t take for granted. This is a marvellous book, and one I’d love to own if it wasn’t so rare; there’s a copy on eBay at the moment for $1,640. At least we can read it (and download the pages) here.

smoke03.jpg

smoke04.jpg

smoke05.jpg

smoke06.jpg

smoke07.jpg

smoke08.jpg

Continue reading “The Smoke”

Wildeana 10

wilde.jpg

Illustration from The House of Pomegranates (1914) by Jessie M. King.

Continuing an occasional series. Recent Wildean links.

• It’s a measure of a writer’s success if the characters or stories they create resonate sufficiently with future generations to be subject to new interpretations. Among Oscar Wilde’s contemporaries this has happened to Arthur Conan Doyle and Bram Stoker, both of whom Wilde knew. Increasingly it’s been happening to Wilde’s own fiction, especially in the case of Dorian Gray whose tragedy assumes the status of a modern myth. At Cannes this year, Clio Barnard premiered a contemporary retelling of Wilde’s The Selfish Giant. Bleeding Cool has some clips. The social realism is a long way from Wilde’s tale but that shows how flexible these fables can be.

• Jessie M. King’s illustrations for Wilde’s The House of Pomegranates have appeared here before but the copies posted at The Golden Age are the usual quality scans.

Rick Gekoski: “Visiting the US, I am reminded of Oscar Wilde’s tour there in 1881, which allowed him to become an orator and a celebrity.”

Paper Dolls by David Claudon based on the characters from The Importance of Being Earnest. (Thanks to Gabe for the tip.)

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The Oscar Wilde archive

The Magic Shop by HG Wells

magic.jpg

The Magic Shop (1964).

I discovered this TV adaptation by accident while looking for something else (more about the something else tomorrow). The Magic Shop is a 45-minute drama directed by Robert Stevens in 1964 for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Writer John Collier adapted a script by James Parish that’s loosely based on the short story by HG Wells. The story is one I know very well, having read it many times, but I hadn’t come across this TV version before. It’s a surprise finding it so close to Christmas since I first read the story in the only Christmas present that’s survived from childhood, a hefty collection of HG Wells’ short stories that I pestered my parents into buying me in 1973. I mostly wanted to read The Time Machine but the other stories seemed promising, especially the ones illustrated by Richard Gilbert on the (miraculously intact) dustjacket: The Sea Raiders (sailors attacked by octopuses), The Flowering of the Strange Orchid (man attacked by tentacular plant), The Valley of Spiders (attacking spiders falling from the sky), and so on. The book as a whole runs to over 1000 pages, and proved to be a revelation with Wells ranging through fantasy, science fiction, horror, and oddities which don’t fit any category other than Robert Aickman’s indispensable label, “strange stories”. The book made me a lifelong Wellsian, and also spoiled me a little when I moved on to more recent science fiction and found many of the alleged greats to be appalling writers. Wells’ prose can’t compete with Robert Louis Stevenson but it’s still well-crafted in that no-nonsense late Victorian manner familiar to readers of Arthur Conan Doyle.

wells.jpg

Design and illustration by Richard Gilbert (1970).

The Magic Shop is one of the strange stories, the shop in question being a mysterious establishment somewhere in Regent Street, London, one of those premises one discovers by accident then can’t find again. The narrator is informed by the proprietor that this is a Genuine Magic Shop, as distinct from the kind selling mere conjuring tricks. The meaning of this isn’t clear at first but while the narrator’s young son is being beguiled by the marvels on display we follow his father’s growing alarm when he realises there’s more to the shop than he anticipated, not all of it pleasant or fun. The story was published in Twelve Stories and A Dream in 1903, and can be read here.

The TV version takes the bare bones of the tale—curious shop, indeterminate location, friendly yet sinister proprietor—and blends it with the nasty-child-with-magic-powers theme that was dramatised so memorably by The Twilight Zone in It’s A Good Life. The Hitchcock show was made three years after the Twilight Zone episode so it’s easy to see It’s A Good Life as an influence. Leslie Nielsen is the father who takes his son, Tony (John Megna), to the fateful shop on his birthday. The proprietor informs the pair that Tony is “the right boy” since he found the shop in the first place, the subtext being that he’s also possesses the right character to be the recipient of some heavy voodoo abilities. The boy’s bad seed status has been telegraphed from the outset by a birthday gift from an uncle of a black leather jacket; throughout the scene in the shop he looks like a miniature hoodlum. More American anxiety about its troublesome youth? Maybe, although the episode ends so poorly that the whole thing comes across as a lazy piece of filler. This is, of course, a long, long way from the Wells story which is all the more effective for being elusive, understated and, yes, magical.

Previously on { feuilleton }
HG Wells in Classics Illustrated
The night that panicked America
The Door in the Wall
War of the Worlds book covers

Picturing Dorian Gray

dorian1.jpg

It’s taken a while but here at last are some of the pages from my series of illustrations based on The Picture of Dorian Gray, as featured in volume 2 of The Graphic Canon (“The World’s Great Literature as Comics and Visuals”) edited by Russ Kick. I agreed with Russ not to run everything so there’s some incentive to buy the book (or books…there are three volumes altogether). Now I’ve seen the printed edition the whole project seems even more remarkable: 500 large illustrated pages in a variety of media and art styles. Volume 2 runs through the 19th century and ends with my contribution; I opted to do this story in black-and-white but there’s colour used throughout the books. I especially like the Moby-Dick sequence by Matt Kish, a very different take on a very familiar tale.

As with many of the things I’ve been doing recently I opted for adapting materials of the period. Since I have a lot of Oscar Wilde-related reference material I was able to go further and incorporate details that relate directly to the book and Wilde’s life. All the text is taken from a scan of the first printing of the novel at the Internet Archive, the title lettering being drawn originally by Wilde’s friend, publisher and illustrator Charles Ricketts. A heavy black square on each page provides some continuity as well as resembling the frames of comic pages. (Or a picture frame.) The silhouette on the opening page is another of Wilde’s friends, the writer Max Beerbohm, taken from a drawing by William Rothenstein. The pair were dandyish Café Royal regulars throughout the 1890s.

dorian2.jpg

This is my favourite page. I liked the way the composition came together and also enjoyed being able to use John Singer Sargent’s portrait of W. Graham Robertson as the picture of Dorian. I’ve noted in an earlier post the similarity between this painting and the portrait seen in the BBC’s adaptation of the novel by John Osborne. Robertson was a theatre designer and illustrator who Wilde consulted when planning stage designs for what would have been the London debut of Salomé. Robertson was also (so far as we know) homosexual which adds an extra resonance.

dorian3.jpg

The Sibyl Vane page: a combination of details from The Studio, The Strand and The Magazine of Art. The motif at the foot of the page is by Walter Crane. Nothing of Wilde’s appeared in The Strand but that magazine’s most popular writer, Arthur Conan Doyle, had his second Sherlock Holmes adventure, The Sign of Four, commissioned at the same dinner that saw the commissioning of Dorian Gray, both novels being published by Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine in 1890.

dorian4.jpg

A page depicting Dorian’s distracting obsession with jewels and luxurious goods. This chapter can seem somewhat superfluous unless seen in the light of Wilde’s intention to write something like Huysmans’ À rebours (1884).

dorian5.jpg

The “Love that dare not speak its name” page. This makes explicit the subtext of the book although if you read the two paragraphs I selected it’s evident enough why Dorian is causing a problem for so many young men. The blindfolded Eros was a drawing by Walter Crane which I doubled then re-drew slightly so the pair were holding hands. The boy below is a picture from The Strand of the young Edward VII, a robust heterosexual in later years but with a son, Prince Albert Victoria, who became linked to the notorious Cleveland Street Scandal which involved a male brothel catering to aristocrats. The two young men in the picture frame are described as a pair of “panthers” in Neil McKenna’s The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde (2003), by which he means that they were fin de siècle rent boys (as in Oscar’s remark about “feasting with panthers”); McKenna doesn’t give any further details about the photo but it suited the picture.

In addition to this series of illustrations, volume 2 of The Graphic Canon includes two of my Lewis Carroll illustrations in a section by different artists based on the Alice books. I’d be recommending The Graphic Canon even if I wasn’t a contributor, as I said above it’s a remarkable achievement. Watch out for it.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The Oscar Wilde archive