Reviewed: Sherlock #1 – A Study in Pink

Superficially you can make a lot of analogies between Sherlock and manga; there’s Sherlock and Dr Watson’s intense, emotional self-realisation and very male sense of honour amongst friends that typifies both the Shōjo and Seinen manga disciplines.

Then there’s the artwork itself; Sherlock is perhaps the most beautifully shot show on television and has an exuberance that dares its directors to push the envelope in terms of information delivered on screen – sometimes it works, sometimes it smacks of self-indulgence.

Manga has its own visual language and, if we focus on one of the founding fathers of the medium Astro Boy creator Osamu Tezuka, it tends to speak in largely cinematic terms: action is typically broken down into individual ‘shots’ that replicate the slow motion, extreme close ups and rapid zooms of cinema.

So there’s a definite historical kinship between the object of affection and the admirer’s chosen medium – even if it’s a superficial magpie’s eye for cherry picking a suitable visual tool to communicate their story.

The problem with Sherlock #1, a faithful-to-a-fault adaptation of the opening moments of A Study in Pink by Steven Moffat (itself an adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlett), is that this affection for the show can be frustrating and restrictive – particularly when so much of the artwork shows promise.

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Drawn and adapted by Japanese manga artist Jay. (with a period) for Young Ace Magazine in his native country, fan translations have been knocking around the internet for a while now but, with the rights acquired by Titan Comics, fans now get to see the blistering sight of manga incarnations of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.

To make up for the familiarity of the material Titan have increased the page count and given us new alternate covers – the whole package is stunning.

However, most of the visual choices have already been made for Jay. by the episode itself and sometimes one restricts the others natural inclinations. And, if we’re honest, you would rather have something that takes a risk with the material and fails than something that slavishly follows it and offers no real surprises. The opening scenes of multiple suicides are particularly disorientating and airless, calling out for a looser sense of adaptation than what’s employed here.

Which is a shame because Jay. has a real knack for character design and while you don’t get photo realistic facsimiles of Sherlock and Watson, what you do get are expressive, highly emotive ‘performances’ from each character and that’s no mean feat (there’s a lovely two-page spread where all you get are the faces of Sherlock and Dr Watson, about to embark on their first adventure and its perhaps the best moment in the book).

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A great sequence early in the book sees Dr Watson reliving the horror of the Afghanistan war. You can see the terror etched on his face as he sits bolt upright in bed. There’s a beautiful moment of quiet reflection, where, having been betrayed by his nightmare, John silently eyes up his walking cane – it’s one of the few moments where foreknowledge of what’s to come adds a level of poignancy. The sequencing is equally impressive with a great sense of rhythm and pacing; what’s more important is that the visuals inform character.

As the issue goes on, we’re presented with three front facing panels of John standing to attention and every time, though little variations to the background or visual flourishes, John’s stoic body language tells something different. And then there are moments where Jay. literally spells out what’s on Johns mind with single panels of text exploding against a black background like an engine firing back into life – all these enthusiastic visual choices add to the exuberance of the comic.

The issue really gets going when we’re introduced to Sherlock and John starts to open up. While we still get the same jokes about Sherlock missing the social clues from Molly Hooper’s obvious infatuation, it’s fun to watch Jay. ramp up the emotions of the scene; choosing to let Molly’s face tell the story as Sherlock beats a corpse with a riding crop.

Even if over-familiarity with the source material does ultimately make the book feel like a poorer companion piece to the episode, if you needed a reason to read Sherlock #1 other than the novelty factor of seeing Manga Tim from The Office, then Jay.’s artwork is well worth your time…if only because it hints at better things to come from the series.

Sherlock #1 – A Study in Pink is available to buy now from all good stockist and digitally via Comixology