As promised, here is the interview with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles author, Martin Powell. Mr. Powell’s resume is an extensive one, so we had a lot of ground to cover….
First, the question everyone gets: How did you first meet Sherlock Holmes?
That would go back to the sixth grade, I think. “The Norwood Builder” was in our English Reader text book and I remember the day my teacher assigned the class to read that story and write a report on it. First, she told us a bit about Sherlock Holmes, explaining that he was the “World’s Greatest Detective” and that he was so smart he could learn all about someone just from studying them for a few seconds. I was intrigued. I read and loved the story. I thought it was very clever how Holmes revealed the culprit at the end. That always stuck with me and I started hunting down more Sherlock Holmes adventures. Some years later, a local TV station began running “Sherlock Holmes Theater” on Sunday mornings, with all the Basil Rathbone films. By then, I was seriously hooked.
Do you have a favorite Canon story? If so, what is it, and why is it your favorite?
Well, probably The Hound of the Baskervilles, actually. It’s the iconic Sherlock Holmes mystery, and the one most people think of in connection with his name whether they’ve ever read it or not. It’s always appealed to me because of its approach of scientific reason over superstition, and also because of its great brooding atmosphere.
And, since this is a blog about pastiche, do you have a favorite non-Canon book, story, or author?
I don’t read many Sherlock Holmes pastiches, because I don’t want to be unconsciously influenced by any other writer other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle when I’m writing Sherlock Holmes. Way back before I began writing professionally, I did read a few non-Doyle Holmes books. The best ones were written by Nicholas Meyer and Michael Hardwick.
Adaptations can sometimes reach a broader audience for classic literature, in much the same way film can accomplish. For example, a comics or graphic novel reader—who isn’t aware of Sherlock Holmes from the original source material—may be more inclined to read a graphic novel or a comic book version than the actual book. In fact, that’s the specific mission of the publisher, Sequential Pulp/Dark Horse Comics, which is why I pitched the project to them. The graphic novel medium provides fans with a visual interpretation of what they could only see before in their minds, which can be very exciting. Comics can often be more effective than film because writers can internalize their characters, allowing us to look deep inside their own heads, in a way that movies can rarely accomplish. If ever.
Can you describe your adaptation process for us?
That’s kind of tough to explain. It’s always been difficult for me to describe my writing process, and adapting a prose novel into comics form is even more complex.
My main focus was to remain as true to the original book as I could be, to make it as authentic as possible, while also pacing the action and directing the characterization in ways which those readers already familiar with the story wouldn’t find too overly familiar or tedious. I re-read the novel and made very meticulous notes, breaking up the action and dialogue into panels as I paced my script. It’s rather similar to crafting a screenplay in some ways. Part of the art of the process is deciding what you can use and what you can lose and also, if appropriate, what to add of your own. My scripts are very detailed. I give pretty full directions to the artist, detailing what emotions the characters should be expressing, suggesting camera angles and close-ups and wide shots. In comics and graphic novels the writer is sort of like a film director preparing the story for the artist who also doubles as photographer and actor.
A little trick I use in all of my comics and graphic novel scripts is to always end each page in such a way so that the reader is compelled to turn the page. That way I can control the pacing of my stories.
After my script was finished the artist, Jamie Chase, interpreted my words into pictures within panels. Then, I went through my script again for a final revision, tightening up the dialogue to leave as much space as possible for the art. I actually copied very little of Conan Doyle’s dialogue, by the way. Instead, I purposely attempted to write in his style. In comics, unlike prose or in film, space is always a concern. You don’t want word balloons to totally cramp the visuals. It’s a tricky process and one you can only learn through the experience of actually doing it. I’ve probably written over three hundred comic books stories so far, and I’m still learning how to do it.
What was the hardest part about adapting The Hound? The easiest?
Adaptations of another author’s work are always more difficult and time consuming than writing something of my own. The toughest part of The Hound was probably figuring out how to contain the plot within a set amount of pages. Most writers like to make their stories longer and that’s usually a mistake. Pacing is the most important part of a mystery tale, leading the reader along with you, misdirecting them, surprising them, etc.
The easiest part was that I love the characters and the story, so all the effort I put into it didn’t feel like work. That’s the very best of times on any job.
You’ve written other adaptations. Was Conan Doyle’s work more difficult to work with? Easier? And why?
Sherlock Holmes is very difficult and mentally exhausting for me to write. That’s why I’ve only written nine Holmes adventures in all these years. It’s an arduous thing following in the footsteps of an author who was so much smarter than me – not to mention Sherlock Holmes himself, who was more brilliant that his creator! I’ve never returned to Sherlock Holmes unless I was in just the right mood and had the proper story already in mind. Every single Holmes tale I’ve written has been composed as if it was my last attempt. Without doubt, that will be true someday, but I’d like to think that there are a few more Holmesian mysteries rattling around with the cobwebs of my brain somewhere. We’ll see.
What made you decide to enter the graphic novel/comic field?
Hah. Well, originally I set out to be a prose writer, trying to emulate my heroes Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Shirley Jackson, and Edgar Rice Burroughs. I worked at that dream for years, never selling anything. Finally, I submitted a script to a science fiction comic book anthology, based on one of my many short stories, and it sold immediately. I tried another one and it sold, too. Eventually, I would sell prose fiction, too, as well as animation scripts, children’s books, and educational science books. I don’t think of myself as any particular kind of writer. I’ve always believed that writers should be able to perform in any medium whenever it presents itself. It’s the only way anyone could hope to be doing this full-time for as long as I have. At least, it’s the only way I’m aware of.
Do you have favorite graphic novel/comic writers and/or illustrators? Who are they?
Bruce Jones, Alan Moore, and Will Eisner are my favorite writers in this medium. There are a lot of others, of course. As for artists, well, my favorites are usually the people I’ve been working with and, very happily, we often become real friends. I’ve been very lucky to have collaborated with some of the best cartoonists and illustrators in the industry. A short list of special favorite artists are Pablo Marcos, Dean Haspiel, Terry Beatty, Patrick Olliffe, Tom Floyd, Dan Brereton, Jamie Chase, Lowell Isaac, and Diana Leto. There are many more, but those are the closest to my heart.
You’re a very prolific writer. You’ve always got a new project going! How do you manage to get so much done? Do you have a typical writing routine?
Hahaha…well, I like to stay warm during the Minnesota winters and eat on a regular basis, so I have to have a very strict professional discipline in order to make a living. It’s never an easy thing, being a full-time freelance writer. You always need to be thinking about where to find your next gig – sometimes thinking forward up to six months in advance. I write seven days a week, with rare exceptions, usually ten to fourteen hours a day. It also helps that I’m an insomniac.
What draws you to the stories and characters you work with? Do you find that you like to explore similar themes?
I’m very specific about what types of projects I choose and pursue. Although I have written for Superman and Batman, I’m not especially interested in mainstream comics. I much prefer the odd-ball stuff. My recent Mars Attacks Popeye is a fine example. When they approached me to write it and told me the title, I was immediately charmed. It also helped that Popeye has been my favorite comics character since before I can remember. I like to be challenged and be offered things I’ve never written before.
What story or character have you most enjoyed working with? Is there one you’d like to write about in a future book?
Well, when the fit is upon me, I thoroughly enjoy writing for Sherlock Holmes, although it’s often quite a task. Much more recently, Mars Attacks Popeye and my own The Halloween Legion have been my happiest times at the keyboard so far, especially the odd little back-up tale which will be featured in the our upcoming Halloween Legion graphic novel. It’s an autobiographic story of when my older brothers took me Trick ‘R Treating for the very first time and, in many ways, is sort of my own origin story. Making it particularly special is Diana Leto’s beautifully whimsical illustrations. Diana co-owns The Halloween Legion with me, knows me very well, and she’s uncannily captured that epic long-ago Halloween night as if she’d been an eye-witness. It’s truly a weird, wild, and wonderful moment in my life, both personally and professionally, set down on the comic book page. I got a distinct chill when I saw her finished artwork. It sort of makes me wonder if I should, perhaps, write more autobiographic material, as I’ve lived a rather adventurous life. I’ve dug up dinosaur fossils, been a professional actor, investigated paranormal events, and have even worked as a stage magician. Hmm. Maybe.
As for other characters I haven’t professionally worked with yet, I would love to write a Betty and Veronica story for Archie Comics! That would be great fun. And I have a feeling that day will come.
The Halloween Legion is very special and even sentimental to me. They represent the best of everything to me, creatively and personally speaking – mystery, humor, nostalgia, and an eerie atmosphere of fun. The characters themselves are the archetypes of Halloween itself – The Skeleton, The Witch, The Devil, The Ghost and The Black Cat. Diana and I have lots of plans for our World’s Weirdest Heroes, as we call them, everything from more prose books, more graphic novels, toys, t-shirts, even animation and film. Our motto is “Every Day is Halloween.” And we’re going to make that come true for everyone who wishes it, too.
In a very different vein, way back when I was just starting out artist Dean Haspiel and I created a grim science fiction mystery series starring an obsessed crime-fighter called The Verdict. It caused a small stir in its day, mainly because of its gritty atmosphere which has become the norm in many comics today. Since then, I’ve written dozens of children’s books, serious mysteries for grown-ups, and have even translated Shakespeare into graphic novels. Dean has had an amazing career as an artist, and recently won an Emmy Award. We’ve been seriously considering blowing the dust off The Verdict and resurrecting him, sensing that the timing seems right.
I have a number of other ideas, too…only time will tell the tale.
Are you working on something new? (Ha ha–of course you are!). What can we expect to see from your pen in the future?
Hah. Always. Like I said, I like to keep the lights on and the refrigerator stocked. Aside from the stuff already mentioned, I have a new graphic novel coming out soon called Martians, Go Home, a sexy sci-fi dark comedy beautifully illustrated by Lowell Isaac, and stylishly lettered by Diana Leto, as well as some officially authorized books based on concepts created by Edgar Rice Burroughs. It’s been a very busy time. Hope it lasts!
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, a graphic novel written by Martin Powell and illustrated by Jamie Chase, was just released by Dark Horse Comics on 13th February. You can find it at your favorite online bookseller, and at most brick-and mortar stores where graphic novels are sold. You can find Mr. Powell’s blog at http://martinpowell221bcom.blogspot.com.