|Art in the Blood: The Sherlockian Comics of Dan Day|
|By Charles Prepolec|
|In the spring of 1986, all was well in the world of Sherlock Holmes. Jeremy Brett was making his mark on television as the new “definitive” Holmes, Steven Spielberg’s Young Sherlock Holmes had just faded from the big screen and pastiches were hitting bookstores with a remarkable regularity. The image of Sherlock Holmes was once again quite visible and a new popularity was on the rise as the 100th anniversary of his first appearance in print was rapidly approaching. Right from that very first appearance and continuing from it, there has always been a strong visual association with the character, formed and defined most notably by the original Strand Magazine illustrator Sydney Paget. So, with the renewed interest in Holmes in the mid-80’s it was no surprise to find that Holmes had also made his way, once again, into that most visual of all printed media, the comic book.|
|Although Holmes had often appeared in various comic strip forms during the 20th century, he had never really succeeded as a subject for an ongoing comic book series. As a reference to those not au fait with sequential art, comic strips are generally written and drawn by a single creator and appear in newspapers while comic books are bound magazine-type booklets with a variety of editors, writers, pencillers and inkers. Holmes or a parody version of Holmes began appearing in strips as early as 1904, as evidenced by H. A. MacGill’s Padlock Bones, The Dead Sure Detective and reaching a level of popularity through Gus Mager’s Sherlocko the Monk and long running Hawkshaw the Detective series. Along the way, we encountered further variations such as Hemlock Sholmes, Padlock Homes and Sherlock Holmes Jr., but it wasn’t until 1930 that the real Sherlock Holmes finally made an appearance. The art of Leo E. O’Mealia illustrated the first true strip to feature Conan Doyle stories. In the early 1950’s another authorized Holmes strip appeared by Edith Meiser and Frank Giacoia and finally in the mid-1970s a short lived strip by Bill Barry. Meanwhile in comic books, Holmes made a couple of appearances in Classics Illustrated and not a whole lot else aside from a one-shot from DC Comics entitled simply Sherlock Holmes and a two issue version of The Hound of the Baskervilles in Marvel Preview magazine. All of which brings us back to the spring of 1986 and the arrival of the Renegade Press comic book series Cases of Sherlock Holmes.
In a move away from traditional comic book storytelling, this series featured blocks of Doyle’s original text interspersed with the incredible black and white artwork of Canadian Dan Day (assisted by his brother David), rather than having characters spout dialogue through word balloons. In essence, each issue was a profusely illustrated version of a single Canonical tale with a fully painted cover by the brothers Day. The only exception was issue number 3 which featured a rather odd werewolf story written by Gordon Derry. The most striking feature of the series is the use of television and film portrayals as models for various characters and scenes. Although Basil Rathbone was the most common inspiration for the look of Holmes, one can find traces of Peter Cushing, Arthur Wontner, Alan Wheatley, Robert Stephens, Christopher Plummer and John Barrymore as well.
|It is clear that Dan Day must have had a good many film stills available for reference as occasionally entire scenes are wholly lifted from different films. While many different actors inspired the look of Holmes, Watson was always drawn with Nigel Bruce firmly in mind. Dan Day noted that in a black and white medium, the difference in body type and coloring made for a good visual contrast between the slender dark-haired Holmes and the heavy fair-haired Watson. The use of film material did not end there, as we can also find supporting characters based on real actors. A quick flip through a few issues reveals George Hamilton as the King of Bohemia, Leo McKern as Alexander Holder, George C. Scott as Sutton/Blessington and in a strange piece of casting, Raymond Burr as Mycroft Holmes. In an even stranger twist, the first issue, The Beryl Coronet, has none other than HRH Prince Charles as “one of the highest, noblest, most exalted names in England.” The artwork unfortunately is not quite consistent throughout the run of the series and occasionally becomes quite simplistic, which I assume was due to the pressure of looming deadlines. When it is good though, it is the most ornately rendered linework to be found anywhere within the medium. How much of it stems from Dan Day or from his brother David is impossible to tell.
The series ran bi-monthly for 15 issues through September of 1988 under the Renegade Press banner. After a short gap, the series resumed with number 16 in 1989 and continued on to number 20 from Northstar Publishing. A one-shot appeared in 1992 also from Northstar under the title Chronicles of Crime & Mystery: Sherlock Holmes. Interestingly, the success of Cases of Sherlock Holmes also brought about the reprinting in comic book form of the 1950s Meiser and Giacoia strips and the 1930’s O’Mealia strips. New original titles also sprang up at the time pitting Holmes against everything from Dracula to the Invisible Man, most of which were published by Eternity Comics. Currently, Holmes is alive and well at Caliber Comics in the form of their Sherlock Holmes Reader series, which features text articles as well as ongoing graphic stories. Caliber has also reprinted some of the earlier Dan Day books. Visit Caliber Comics to view their current selection.
For further reading on the history of the illustrated Holmes, hunt up a copy of Bill Blackbeard’s Sherlock Holmes in America 1981 Harry N. Abrams Inc. A good online listing of Holmes comics by Mark Martinez can be found here.
|All artwork on this page is copyright © Dan Day 1986 - 1992 and is reproduced here for review purposes only. No rights are given or implied. Reproduction of these images is expressly forbidden without the copyright owner's consent. All text on this page is copyright © Charles Prepolec 2001.|