Sherlock Holmes and the Lost Hour

I’ve written before (not on the blog, in print) about the inherent problem of doing mystery stories in comics form. It is inherent to mysteries that details are important. Any detail which seems out of place will seem significant, and should be addressed in the mystery’s solution. In prose, you have the advantage of very tight control over what information you give the audience. In film, while mistakes are certainly possible, you have the advantage of actual physical sets and props that can be coordinated, and a staff of alert people keeping track of things. But in comics, everything is drawn, every line is an interpretation rather than a reflection of reality, and it’s very easy to accidentally create “information” that will seem significant. And if there’s a very obvious piece of dubious information, the reader can be left doubting the telling of the work rather than accepting it, thus pulling them out of the story.

I came across what appears to be a particularly egregious example of this, in the new Dynamite Entertainment comic book Sherlock Holmes, written by Leah Moore and John Reppion and drawn in a precise-if-stiff manner by Aaron Campbell. Time is very much of the issue of this story, and in a house laden with clocks, Dr. Watson sees fit to comment on this one:

Any ten oclock scholar should be able to see the problem

Any ten o'clock scholar should be able to see the problem

Now I might call that timepiece unusual, intriguing, perhaps fascinating. But for something to be a magnificent timepiece, I reckon it should be at least capable of tracking time; the inability to register ten o’clock is a harsh limitation.

We see the same timepiece later, with it’s own odd variation repeated. Had it been redrawn by hand, I would’ve figured that the apparent error was intentional, that this clock does have this curious feature. But given that the clock face digits look to be computer type, the easiest thing to do would’ve been to draw it once and copy it over.

Now I could be wrong; it may be that this was supposed to be a subtle oddity that Dr. Watson is overlooking but which Holmes will make something vital of when the moment comes (the story is not completed in this issue). But even if that’s the case, it just points up the problems that come with the inability to trust the work on the level that mystery requires.

Published in: on May 13, 2009 at 6:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

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