Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Hound of the Baskervilles (Campfire)




I’ve wanted to check out Campfire’s comics adaptations of classic literature for a while now. I keep seeing them listed in Previews and wondered if they were any good. Adaptations like Graphic Classics and All-Action Classics have raised the bar for this kind of thing and my expectations have gone up too. Campfire was nice enough to send me a few titles to review and since I’ve just seen the Rathbone Hound, I put that comic on top of the pile.

As I read it, I was reminded of Siskoid’s comments about the Classics Illustrated version of Hamlet: “Plot, plot, plot. The original Classics Illustrated is driven by it rather than poetry or emotion.” Not to compare Doyle to Shakespeare, but that’s the feeling I got about Campfire’s Hound too. Doyle’s novel is atmospheric with its vivid descriptions of the eerie moor. It’s a wild place with only a few, scattered houses and every walk home is filled with peril. If you’re not straying over sudden cliffs or falling into bottomless mires, you’re on the run from supernatural dogs and homicidal madmen. It’s a setting full of adventure. It’s too bad that the Campfire volume captures so little of it.

For example, Doyle’s novel begins spectacularly with a cold open of an old man being chased by an unseen pursuer down an alley of ancient yew trees. He falls dead within sight of the door to his lavish mansion. JR Parks begins his adaptation with a history lesson.

To be fair, the history of Baskerville Hall is thrillingly gruesome, but it requires some set up before getting to the part about the cruel nobleman, his capture of a beautiful girl, her escape, and his doomed pursuit of her across the moor. Doyle brilliantly does his set up with the novel’s opening scene. Readers are introduced to Baskerville Hall by seeing Sir Charles Baskerville die there. So by the time we hear the backstory, we’re already on edge and very interested.



Parks, on the other hand, presents things logically, orderly, and rather dispassionately. He relates the backstory almost like a prologue except that as we read we learn that it’s being told to Sherlock Holmes by Dr. Mortimer. And since we’ve been plopped into the middle of this conversation with no context for why these men are talking about this history, Parks has to catch us up with clunky dialogue. I’m paraphrasing, but Holmes essentially says, “That’s very interesting, Dr. Mortimer, but why the hell did you travel all this way to tell me this?”

Gone also are the bits where Holmes and Watson speculate about Mortimer based on the cane he left earlier when they were both out. Holmes mentions the conversation to Mortimer, but we don’t get the fun of seeing it. That’s the main problem with this comic. It gets the job done of telling the story, but has no fun doing it.

Vinod Kumar’s art doesn’t help. He does a nice job with landscapes and architecture and creating an environment that stays consistent from panel to panel, but nothing feels solid. Interiors are especially sparse as if the people who live in these places haven’t quite moved everything in yet. Kumar also has a hard time drawing people. Heads are frequently too small for their bodies and no one’s clothing fits correctly. There are also a limited number of faces and body types that Kumar’s comfortable with, so he relies a lot on facial hair to tell the characters apart.

I’ve still got a few other Campfire books to read, so I’m not giving up on the publisher just yet, but their Hound of the Baskervilles isn’t a promising start.

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