The Hound of the Baskervilles
Adapted by Martin Powell; Drawn by Jamie Chase
Dark Horse/Sequential Pulp; $14.99
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles isn’t just my favorite Sherlock Holmes story; it’s one of my favorite novels period. Combining murder mystery with gothic horror in a setting that feels as real as it does gloomy and atmospheric, Hound of the Baskervilles deserves its status as a beloved classic. But that standing is both advantage and drawback when it comes to adapting the story. I expect that I’m not alone in loving it so much that I’m always eager to explore a new version of it, but by now I’ve seen so many adaptations – comics and otherwise – that it’s tough to offer a take that I haven’t seen before. Impossibly, Martin Powell and Jamie Chase have found a way.
It’s not that they’ve gotten especially innovative with the unfolding of the plot or even the visual depictions of the characters. Chase’s Holmes, for instance, looks like a cross between Basil Rathbone and Peter Cushing, the stars of two, iconic film adaptations of the story. And Powell is very faithful to the order in which Doyle reveals information. What struck me most about Powell’s script is the way he’s able to condense the novel into 64 pages without removing elements from the story.
One of my favorite Baskervilles comics adaptation is Ian Edginton and I.N.J. Culbard’s extremely faithful one from Sterling, but it’s twice the length of Powell and Chase’s and very wordy with lots of caption boxes to record Watson’s every thought. It’s a beautiful piece of work and a great way to experience the story, but it’s perhaps not the best volume with which to expose younger readers to the tale. Powell hits all the beats, but he does it efficiently, abridging narration and dialog while letting the art focus on action and setting the mood.
This isn’t Powell’s first run at adapting Hound of the Baskervilles. He also wrote the script for Stone Arch’s version, drawn by Daniel Perez. The Stone Arch edition is explicitly designed for kids and that’s reflected in Perez’ clean lines and exaggerated character and creature designs. The Sequential Pulp edition is appropriate for kids, but Chase’s art is darker than Perez’. His inks are loose and expressive with brushy shadows obscuring details to create a spooky mood.
Though both of Powell’s adaptations are the same length and hit the same scenes at roughly the same places in the page count, it’s interesting that Powell didn’t just use the same script over again for the Sequential Pulp version. The Stone Arch edition has fewer panels per page to allow for bigger art, and as a general rule it also has less dialogue. The best way to explain the difference in the two approaches is just to show an example of how each presents the same scene. Here are two full pages from each version, first the Stone Arch, and then the Sequential Pulp.
I was curious about the difference and how Powell approached each version, so I contacted him about it. He told me that the Stone Arch version altered and deleted a lot of Doyle’s language and that he “adamantly” wanted that back again for the Sequential Pulp edition. The Sequential Pulp version isn’t slavishly faithful to the dialogue from the original novel, but Powell imitates Doyle’s style. My sense is that this gets the authentic feel while also giving Powell the freedom to play with it for the sake of pacing.
The Stone Arch version ends up being perfect for the youngest readers and a fun, lighter version of the story for adults. In contrast, the Sequential Pulp edition – while still suitable for any age – retains the dark tone and spookiness of Doyle’s book. It’s not too intense for young ones, but feels less like a children’s book, so older kids and grown-ups will enjoy it too.