Inside the Mind of Sherlock Holmes (Benoît Dahan) – Graphic Novel Review

Sherlock Holmes is perhaps the most recognisable and well known literary character ever created. The image of a deerstalker hat, a magnifying glass and a pipe are so associated with him that just putting those three objects together makes people think of the character. He has featured in hundreds of stories over the last century and more of his existence, with many writers trying their hand at the world’s greatest detective. The comic industry is no different, with some fantastic Sherlock Holmes works being produced for the medium, and Inside the Mind of Sherlock Holmes is no exception.

The story begins when a man is found running through the streets of London in the early hours of the morning, wearing a muddied and torn nightgown and mismatched slippers, and sporting a broken collar bone. The man has no memory of how he got there, only remembering going to bed hours before. Being a colleague of Doctor John Watson, the man is brought to 221b Baker Street to both confirm his story, and receive medical attention. The strange state in which he was found instantly grabs the attention of Holmes, who’s been struggling to find anything to keep his troubled mind entertained.

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After a quick study of the man’s condition, and a round of questions, Holmes suspects that it was his previous night’s excursion to the theatre that may be at the heart of the case. He and Watson set out to find out what happened to the man, leading them to discover that he’s not the only person to have gone missing in strange circumstances. The Chinese theatre troupe that mysteriously set up their performance at short notice and vanished just as fast seems to be the key. but as the investigation continues it becomes apparent to the two detectives that they may have only stumbled upon the tip of the iceberg.

Inside the Mind of Sherlock Holmes, by writer Benoît Dahan, does what the title suggests, and really gets into the head of the character. With most Sherlock Holmes being dictated from the point of view of his companion, Doctor Watson, there’s not normally a chance to see the inner workings of the character’s mind. Yes, he often explains how he reaches his deductions based upon the evidence at hand, but that’s not really the same as understanding how his brain works. Shows like Sherlock present the idea of the ‘mind palace’, and show the character sifting through information, but it ends up looking kind of goofy and shows the flaws in the series’ overly stylised approach.

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This book, however, portrays the inner workings of his mind in a wonderful way. Artist Cyril Liéron takes a cue from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself. In A Study in Scarlet, Doyle wrote “I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. The skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic.” This is on the first page of the book, and dictates much of the visual imagery of Holmes’ mind. When the character is taking the clues and working out a solution he moves through the attic inside his head, checking books, taking pieces of puzzle and arranging them in new ways, and even sets up potential models of crime scenes, mixing pieces in and out until he comes to a satisfying solution.

The imagery for Holmes’ thought process is stunning to see, and comes alive on the page in ways that I’ve never seen before. But it’s not the only clever artwork in the book. The rest of the book is presented brilliantly, with intricate, imaginative ways of showcasing the story. Early on, as Watson is looking through the newspaper, so the entire page is shaped as if Watson is holding the panels in the shape of the paper. When Holmes uses drugs, the panels start to break down and fall apart, their shapes twisting and bending as his perception of the world and his mind takes on a different form. And as Holmes inspects clues with his magnifying glass, the panels on the page are arranged to take on the shape of his trusty tool. And that’s all within the first few pages of the book.

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Inside the Mind of Sherlock Holmes presents its story in wonderfully creative ways. As the two characters walk around London we see their progress presented in maps and breakdowns of the city. Some scenes are coloured in ways that emphasise certain clues and objects that you need to pay attention to. Red string, used in Holmes’ mind to connect clues, is used on pages to show the flow of the panels, taking you from one point to another in complex and intricately crafted sequences.

The story is really good, the mystery opens up in ways that you don’t expect, and has some wonderful twists and turns in the narrative. But it’s the way that it’s all presented to the reader that makes Inside the Mind of Sherlock Holmes such a fantastic read. The experience of reading it, of going on this uniquely presented journey, is what elevates this book from very good to excellent. Just look at the front cover of the book, with the literal piece of Sherlock Holmes cut out, giving you an insight into what lies beneath! I’ve read a fair amount of Sherlock Holmes comics and graphic novels over the years, and this is by far the best one.

Inside the Mind of Sherlock Holmes is out on 14th November from Titan Comics

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