Dark Tales: The Hound of the Baskervilles
Canterbury Classics has launched a graphic novel line they call Dark Tales, featuring comic adaptations of classic (and thus in public domain) stories with some kind of horror connection. I was eager to check out Dark Tales: The Hound of the Baskervilles, since my Sherlock Holmes reading group was about to start on the novel by Arthur Conan Doyle. This adaptation is illustrated by Dave Shephard.
I should have realized that a novel driven by mood and setting is very difficult to collapse into 120 pages. I love the flavorful dialogue and description in the Holmes stories; the creation of atmosphere through the back-and-forth of character dialogue and copious description is a large part of the appeal, and why the series has lasted so long. This graphic novel is, in contrast, a blunt instrument. The first two chapters of the original novel have Holmes and Watson drawing deductions from a walking stick left behind by a prospective client; meeting said client, a country doctor; hearing the family legend of the cursed Baskervilles; finding out the current heir has recently died mysteriously; and ending with the famous quote, “Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!”
The graphic novel covers all this in eight pages. We lose the stick entirely, and the Holmes/Watson interplay, but we do get two opening pages of the giant dog chasing an old man, thus ruining any sense of suspense. Actually, we don’t see a chase, because that would be too active for this inert staging. We get a page of old man looking back yelling “no!”, then a full-page panel of what looks more like a wolf slobbering. The charm and mood of the setting has been lost in just hitting the plot high points.
There’s not enough space to do the novel justice, unless you just want to see scary ghost dog. A lot of detail has been lost. The art is functional but unstylish, with no sense of movement, and too many extreme closeups to avoid having to draw backgrounds. And they are extreme — some are so close to the face as to only have one eye, nostrils, and part of a mouth.
I gave up reading when I found the caption that said, “Sir Charles lay on his face, his arms out, his fingers dug into the ground” over a picture of dead guy on his back, arm up in the air. A wonderfully evocative description was turned into something generic out of a CSI episode.
You can get a good idea of this from the cover, actually. If I told you Sherlock Holmes faced off against a killer hound on the moors, the image as staged here is as boring a version as you could come up with.
The other books in the Dark Tales line are Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu (also illustrated by Shephard), Beauty and the Beast, and The Snow Queen (told by Hans Christian Andersen). (The publisher provided a review copy.)