Violet Holmes and the Agents of H.I.V.E.: Adventures of a Teenage Detective
Violet Holmes and the Agents of H.I.V.E. Volume 1: Adventures of a Teenage Detective is a graphic novel about Sherlock Holmes’ daughter. It’s got a lot of reasons to recommend it, although it’s a pretty bad comic.
I am going to try and avoid using that unwieldy title again, to start. Violet Holmes is one of the early publications from Orange Pip Books, started in 2019 as a division of the longer-established MX Publishing, which puts out Holmes-related books, both fiction and non-fiction. Orange Pip aims for younger readers, with dual goals of publishing light-hearted works (because traditional Sherlockians can be a bit stuffy) and more LGBTQ+ and BAME characters. (BAME is the UK term for “Black, Asian, and minority ethnic”.)
(I would love to include more of their goals, because I think they’re very worthy, especially about encouraging imagination and inclusion, but they’ve put them on their website as an image!)
So, a comic! Great! I, particularly, love that idea, as this past year has been a year of Sherlock Holmes for me. I dove into different versions of the character and a great variety of publications starring and about him. I think a young woman version would be a great read.
However, this publication gives a strong feeling of a comic done by someone who hasn’t actually read many of them. Whoever put it together doesn’t know enough about the needs of the format and current expectations for a professional graphic novel. To start, it’s magazine-sized, which does the sparse black-and-white art by Georgia Grace Weston no favors. It generally feels like a school project, assembled on a copy machine without reference to modern design expectations.
It’s oddly paced (which is perhaps explained by having started life as a film idea by Nicko Vaughan). There are only 64 story pages, and the first 13 involve a hostage standoff where we see Violet’s unnamed mother killed and Sherlock (drawn as a completely generic figure, but with weirdly scribbled-in hair) taking the baby.
The characters aren’t adequately introduced to the reader, and the situation is unnecessarily grim and violent. It’s a space-waster. We don’t need this much detail, and it doesn’t fulfill the reader’s interest in seeing the title character sooner. Much later in the story, Violet sums up her “origin” — my mother was killed, Sherlock adopted me — briefly, and that’s all that was needed. (It actually wasn’t until I read the press kit that I realized why the mother had to die, as a key plot point is mentioned there that isn’t sufficiently shown or told in the comic itself.)
Throughout the book, the figures are stiff and flat, and there’s a general lack of backgrounds and other establishing images. The dialogue changes size radically from panel to panel, as though they roughed in the boxes to hold it and then resized the font to fill the space. Whoever did the lettering doesn’t understand how to balloon to make it easy for readers to read the dialogue.
The pacing and storytelling is way off. For example, an entire page is given over to Violet’s hand on a notebook, as she thinks “this is hateful” on her first day at a new school. Whoever broke out the story into panels and pages and images needed a lot more editorial feedback from someone who knew how comic reading flow works, including how to size panels for reader emotional involvement. The dialogue problem would be much improved if that had also been taken into account, expanding panels with five or six dialogue balloons into actual sequences.
This is labeled as volume one of a series, so not much actually happens here. That’s another new-creator mistake, not giving us enough to make this volume satisfying on its own. It’s all introduction and setup — Violet meets two friends, and they find out there’s a secret society. There are hints of a lot more promising story behind the story we’re given. For example, my favorite parts were Violet and Sherlock texting each other, but as he’s away on a case, we do not see the two interact on-panel at any point. That’s a shame.
I know I’ve been remarkably harsh here, but it’s because this character has a lot of potential, and the ideas are good. I just get very tired of people who seem to think “oh, how hard can it be to make a comic?” There’s a lot of work that goes into putting together a book that would be worth the $10 they’re charging for this. I think it does the comic medium a disservice to let people get away with not taking it seriously and not learning how to do it well. The equivalent would be thinking I could publish a novel without understanding how sentences were capitalized and pages were numbered and text broken into chapters.
I’d like to see a real story, not just an introduction, with these characters, and I hope that when/if volume 2 ever comes out, they get some professional comic creator input beforehand. Editors who know the medium are a good thing.