Battle of the Classics : Dorian Gray vs Sherlock Holmes

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Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray and Arthur Conan Doyle's A Study in Scarlet are classic novels of which both writer and protagonist have been etched into the cultural mind scape. Ad nauseum, they have also been reiterated and regorged by a plethora of media, from the theater to the picture box to cinema and comic books for young and old. The latest adaptations comes from UK graphic novel publisher Self Made Hero as part of their Eye and Crime Classics line of books.

Both GNs (is it still an Original Graphic Novel if it is an adaptation of a novel?) are by the duo of writer Ian Edginton and artist I.N.J. Culbard who seem to have a found a comfortable working relationship in Victorian literature. Their collaboration is indeed of a seamless nature, story and visuals working together to translate the wording of the novels into a visually coherent and distinctive world.

The fate of Oscar Wilde’s classic creation of the morally corrupted immortal Dorian Gray is foreshadowed by the painter Basil in the beginning of the novel 'We shall all suffer terribly for what the gods have given us...' Edginton retains the feel and magic of this dark tale of a man who is so captivated by his own beauty that he wishes to physically remain the same while his portrait ages. The portrait becoming not an aging man but a showcase for the ever increasing moral degradation of the soul as Dorian Gray battles for balance between morals and aesthetics. Being made immortal and led astray by his own inner turmoil and the influence of the decadent Lord Henry, the portrait becomes more and more of a horror.

Truely one of my favourite novels, I must applaud the creators' efforts in translating it to the sequential page. The GN feels absolutely true to the work of Oscar Wilde, retaining most of the original text, Edginton makes smart choices in setting up the stage and omitting certain scenes from the novel. His scenes are set up to be dynamic and to advance the story, establishing a nice rhythm for the reader so the graphic novel never becomes tiresome or simply a rehashing of the book.

The same can be said for Edginton's writing on the first Sherlock Holmes mystery A Study in Scarlet. Establishing all the tics and tocs of 'consulting detective' Holmes and his sidekick Watson, it ranges the gamut from humorous bantering to  dreary London tenements to the dark undercurrents of a heroin addiction, this is where it all began. Holmes is confronted with a mad current of events : a murdered man with no blood in sight except for the German word 'rache' written with blood on the wall, a lost wedding ring, a dark skinned murderer and transcontinental mystery.

Perhaps more the stuff for a visual approach than Oscar Wilde's florid prose but make no mistake, Arthur Conan Doyle's prose is a wordy monster, slogging along on the pages, written in perfect detail and prone to elaborate description. Once again though, Edginton and Culbard rework it into a fluid sequential work, keeping the original dialogues lively and witty and they even work the chapter headers into the flow of the narrative. This truely represents the one and only Sherlock Holmes as envisioned by its creator.

Artist I.N.J. Culbard whose previous work in H.P. Lovecraft's At the Mountain of Madness (reviewed by myself at The Comics Journal) delivered solid but unremarkable work soars to new heights in both adaptations. It must be said that the man tries to give each book his own distinctive look. While At the Mountains of Madness sported an open look perfunctory to an already open and cartoony brush line, leading to a rather sparse and unremarkable result, Culbard goes for a slightly more rounded and detailed line in Oscar Wilde's Gothic novel. His figure and facial work is accentuated by rounded slashes of the brush in between off kilter geometric shapes, lending a symbolic touch to the flair of Victorian high society. His gray scale colouring also adds to the ominious atmosphere the book exuberates while his usage of decorative patterns heightens the richness of the well-off, his brush tends to gets wilder in the scenes where Dorian visits the seedy underbelly of London.

In  A Study in Scarlet, Culbard once again subtly changes his approach and inserts hatching and scratching into the drawings combining it with slightly photo-realistic backgrounds. Holmes standing evermore closer to the brink of society, the border between chaos and order, Culbard uses this feeling to make his linework stand more on edge. Gone are the fluid geometric shapes of Dorian Gray, Holmes and Watson are rendered in broad slashes where the brush suddenly changes direction to indicate a nose or a mouth. Rendering his own colours, Culbard also drowns everything in browns and blues, the everlasting fall colours of a London riddled with crime. 

I would heartily recommend both adaptations for those either interested in the quality retelling of two classic novels or those in need of a stepping stone to the actual novels themselves. Ian Edginton and I.N.J. Culbard have succeeded in creating captivating visual translations of the works of Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle.

The Picture of Dorian Gray & A Study in Scarlet are published by Self Made Hero. The Picture of Dorian Gray is 128 pages long and retails for £12.99. A Study in Scarlet counts 138 pages and retails for £14.99. Both graphic novels are available in comic shops and bookstores.


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