Trade Secrets – THE SIGN OF FOUR

A common misconception among the uninitiated is that comic books in the west only concern masked mystery men fighting crime. While superhero comics do comprise a large part of the (American) market, sequential art is merely a medium, like literature or film. And all mediums, including film, have a habit of adapting earlier works.

Take for example Sherlock Holmes, the literary creation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, which has been adapted into many formats throughout the years (because the works lie in the public domain). For instance, Hollywood recently released the second in a series of films based on the famous detective, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.

Incidentally, I’ve seen the film and it exceeded my expectations. Go and see it. Now. I’ll wait.

Now that you’ve seen the amazing film (or disregarded my commands and continued reading), let’s talk about The Sign of Four. A graphic novel put out by Sterling Publishing, The Sign of Four was adapted from the second Sherlock Holmes novel written by Doyle in 1890. It weaves a complex plot involving the Indian Revolution of 1857, stolen treasure, and a secret pact between four individuals.

And for those wondering how Dr. Watson and his lovely fiance/wife met (for those who’ve seen either of the recent films), this story explains how they met.

As for the graphic novel, it works very well for what it is. Having never read the original novel, I cannot say as to how faithful an adaptation it is, though the dialogue, pacing, and general tone seem Holmes-y. For many, the manner in which the story plays out may seem odd, however, given the old-fashioned writing adapted from the original novel.

I.N.J. Culbard for his credit does a fantastic job illustrating the work. The character models are distinctive and make interesting use of line work and coloring. For the most part, the art comes off blocky, but is nonetheless a breath of fresh air for those used to works erring on the side of photo-realism. If I had any complaint, it’s that the art relies on the color to create depth, as most models come off two-dimensional.

There’s not much more to say about this graphic novel. It’s a faithful and entertaining adaptation of a classic mystery novel, and would feel right at home in anyone’s collection. For my part, it was a brisk read, though that may be my own reading habits talking. Training myself to slow down and savor the craftsmanship in every comic has been a personal challenge as of late. As for The Sign of Four, I recommend it to anyone craving more Sherlock Holmes, but reluctant to crack open a full novel. It’s a solid purchase to a solid adaptation of a solid piece of literature.

And for those who haven’t already, go see Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. It’s amazing. Watch it.

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