Say the name ‘Sherlock Holmes’ and everyone young and old has a familiarity with the character. Whether they’ve read the original stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, seen him on television from the old BBC series to the new one, the recent movies with Robert Downey Jr. or even in cartoons and comics.
One of those comics is ‘Watson and Holmes”, the first publication launch by freshman comic book company, New Paradigm Studios.
Written and illustrated by comic veterans Karl Bollers and Rick Leonardi. the comic re-envisions Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson as African Americans living in New York City’s famous Harlem district.
Though originally set in the fictitious city of New London, the characters were quickly moved into a more realistic setting, ” Yeah, Harlem was my idea since, being African-American myself, I can identify with it culturally. It just seemed like a natural fit for the characters. Also, I live in New York City and 125th Street is only a few stops away on the subway. I’m deep in it. Great for reference and story fodder.” explains writer Karl Bollers, whose writing credits include many Marvel super hero series such as the X-Men’s ‘Emma Frost’, ‘X-51: Machine Man” and ‘What If? Secret Wars’.
Whereas Bollers admits being a casual Holmes fan before getting the writing gig, his artist Rick Leonardi is an avid reader and expert of all things Holmes and Watson, considering them the first super-heroes.
Giving many notes throughout the plotting process, Leonardi helped guide the rest of the team into a ‘Sherlock’ state of mind, “Watson & Holmes is one of those projects that once you hear it pitched, your reaction is, ‘Of course! Why has no one thought of this before!’ The notion of taking the Holmes franchise and transplanting/updating it to an American, ‘ethnic’ setting is genius: it strips away the [false] assumption that part of what makes Holmes such a successful and durable character is his Englishness, and directly attacks the stereotype that the only kind of stories that can arise from an ‘urban’ environment must involve macho posturing, gunplay and not much else.”
Leonardi’s credentials speak for themselves. In his three decade career, he has pretty much drawn every major super hero in both the DC and Marvel Universes, “My intro job was Thor #303 for Marvel back in 1980. This was a Doug Moench script, with inks by Chic Stone, and to pencil it I was required to live close enough to NYC so I could come into the offices 2-3 times a week for revisions. Jim Shooter [then Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief] personally rode shotgun right through to the end of the issue, after which he pronounced me ready to go solo.” The Philadelphia-born artist is best known for his long runs on Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger, as well as Spider-Man 2099 and some Uncanny X-Men to boot… along with stints at DC with Nightwing and Vigilante as well as Dark Horse on the Star Wars books.
In a story conceived by publisher Brandon Perlow and colorist Paul Mendoza, Bollers further developed the Watson and Holmes story for the comic book format.
“Dr. Jon Watson is an African American veteran of the current war in Afghanistan who now works at an emergency clinic in Harlem. The story is seen from his perspective. We’ve taken a different approach to the personal life of this version of Watson that really lies in stark contrast his classical literary counterpart. I’m being vague because I don’t want to reveal any major story points, but it’s a really relevant and modern-day update of the character and as a result, he’s had great deal more life experience than Arthur Conan Doyle’s by the time he meets Holmes,” describes Bollers.
“And speaking of Holmes…Ah, Holmes…Holmes…Holmes…Holmes. He’s the smartest kid in the room and knows it. Also African American, this dreadlocked private investigator operates out of Harlem, but takes cases all over the city. He’s got his sort of preternatural brilliance enhanced by a photographic memory. He takes on those seemingly unsolvable cases that get forgotten if not solved within a certain period of time. These two men are brought together by what seems to be a typical occurrence in the ‘hood, but find themselves quickly sucked into a web of money, lies, and murder.”
“The first issue, as first issues must, entails a lot of scene-setting and introduction of characters, but Karl Bollers has done a terrific job of gathering up the readers, and accelerating them through a fun-ride of a story to a nasty cliffhanger ending,” Leonardi says of his writer. “Along the way, we get some tantalizing glimpses of Dr Watson’s backstory, we swing by 221 Baker St, meet Mrs Hudson, see Holmes perform several fine feats of deductive logic as well as display certain other interesting talents, get ominous hints of dangers yet to come, chase a bad guy, rescue [maybe] a hostage- it’s epic!”
“I do feel pressured in a way, simply because Sherlock Holmes is such an iconic figure and I want to get it right for the fans. Everyone and their grandmother — including my own who first introduced me to the ‘Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ — knows who the character is on some level even if they just know the name and nothing else. The great thing about Holmes is that he’s such a gifted sleuth and fighter and that translates really well to a contemporary urban setting,” says Bollers.
“The cap and pipe? Not so much. We’re really giving Watson an opportunity to shine here. He really gets top billing here and I guess that breaks with canon in a way. He’s big and solid and the the sort of guy that you don’t want to brawl with. I think what’s most important at the end of the day and the start of the next is the characters’ actions remaining true to what they would do in any setting.”
Set as a four-issue limited series, each issue is digitally painted by Paul Mendoza whose texture and hues enhance the art.
“Apart from the story, another reason to pick up the title are the colors. From what I’ve seen, Mendoza’s work on my art is going to be a revelation in terms of how color can be used to set mood, achieve depth, imply the world beyond the panel borders. It’s old knowledge, as old as the Renaissance, but heretofore not seen in comics,” according to Leonardi.
Despite the praise given to Mendoza’s work, Mendoza himself was in awe of Leonardi’s work, “Not much else to add there, other than the art by Rick Leonardi has made the city they live in a character itself. Some wonderful art is being done here, and it’s quite fun to discover more and more as you dig through the pages.”
With that thought in mind, it was soon agreed that a Black/White version [a.k.a. the Noir variant] needed to be planned to properly spotlight Leonardi’s artwork.
Both the Color Edition and the Noir Variant are available for $0.99 via digital distribution using the ComicsPlus app by iVerse Media via iPad, Kindle, Android, etc.
UPDATE: On the day of its release, Watson and Holmes topped the ComicsPlus charts by coming in at No. 1 and No. 2 (color and b/w editions respectively).