A Study in Pink: Cartooning Sherlock Queerly (At Last)

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I have never been a fan of comic riffs based off of live-action television and films. The cartoonists that get hired to draw them seem to get hired for one purpose: to perfectly render the likenesses of the actors from the original. What I love about a television show are so rarely the actors, I love the characters that they perform, the stories they tell. For example — Christopher Eccleston was not The Doctor, he performed The Doctor. He gets to be a part of the magic of the show, which also includes the writing, the music, the cinematography, the special effects, and everything else that goes into the full experience of Doctor Who.

The magic of Doctor Who isn’t Christopher Eccleston’s perfectly rendered face. And that should not be what the Doctor Who comics focus on. Comics should be focusing on what they do best: offering a rendition that creates characters larger than life, a style that can embody the feeling of the show in ways live-action can’t. What I want from a comic riff of a television show is a new interpretation. I want to see the characters and their world in ways I don’t get from the show. I want to see how a cartoonist can use their skills to offer a new viewpoint to something I love.

That’s what Jay and Titan Comics offers us with this riff of BBC’s Sherlock. A new interpretation of the series, a new way to look at its world and its stories. And another thing about this comic series?

It’s weird.

A Study In Pink is a beat-for-beat and often word-for-word adaptation of the first episode of BBC’s Sherlock, originally airing back in 2010. It has been six years since this story aired. It is just weird to be reading this redrawn adaptation of this one single episode, six years later, broken into six monthly parts.

But I love it.

I love it!

What Jay’s series offers is a word-for-word, shot-for-shot official IP rendition through a specific lens. And that lens is gay manga.

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Jay offers a loving rendition of the show through Jay’s eyes. The comedic timing of the comic interprets jokes from the show in a new way. While not changing punch lines, the jokes have new delivery, utilizing panel beats in ways comics do well. Text that generally appears on the screen of the show while Sherlock makes his deductions works well in comic format, offering diagrams that use the page to its advantage. Text on a page? An obvious thing comics does well.

I also cannot ignore the love and strangeness that goes into rendering John Watson and Sherlock Holmes. This is an artist interpretation, not about likeness, but exposing the unique characters in their outer features. John’s rumpled face always looks sad, and Sherlock looks like a mean cat. The series has loving renditions of the show’s costumes, impeccable jackets over crisply pressed button-up shirts.

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And if there’s anything I know about this show, it’s the homoerotic tension. I’m not saying I’m an expert in Johnlock, John/Sherlock slash fanfiction, but I know my way around the block.

I was asked to specifically review issue 4 of Jay’s A Study In Pink, which adapts one of the most-quoted scenes in Johnlock history: the Angelo’s Scene. This scene is a perfect example of media queerbaiting. John and Sherlock go to a beautiful Italian restaurant, the owner believing John to be Sherlock’s date. There’s a sprawling conversation where Sherlock does not clearly say if he’s interested in men or women. He believes John to be hitting on him, however, and turns him down gently by saying he’s “married to his work.” John then says the infamous words, “I’m just saying… it’s all fine.

As a queer person, this scene in the show is pretty heart wrenching. The homoerotic tension between these two main characters that will never, ever get together, getting recognized like this. Mocked like this. It doesn’t feel like liberal representation, it feels like queer love is a joke. When I rewatched the show this summer, I actually got pretty mad at how much being gay seems like a joke to this show.

This Angelo’s scene is what I wanted to see rendered for my eyes. I wanted this scene removed from Moffat, removed from Cumberbatch. I wanted this scene restructured and reinterpreted through the eyes of a yaoi manga artist. And not only is its gay quality amped up, as if it’s even more of a confession between the characters, it’s sanctioned. This is an official interpretation. This version with the blushing, the erotic manga bedroom eyes, this is official.

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This is the BBC Sherlock’s official comic. This erotic gay manga redraw of their television show with tighter pants and shirt buttons that look ready to pop. This is the comic they have of this IP. It is so weird. And I love it.

It isn’t perfect. It can be boring, for even the most casual fan, to reread the same story that’s the first episode of the television show. Sherlock being a mystery, a retread is not exactly mysterious. Who is this comic for? People who have never seen the show? Why would you buy a comic based on a six-year-old show, if you haven’t even bothered to watch it in the last six years? I genuinely don’t know who would want this comic…other than me.

What a strange comic this is. I love it in all its strangeness. I can’t wait to see how Jay interprets scenes, characters, jokes. Jay draws Sherlock in ways I wouldn’t draw it (I’m a comic artist too, did I say that?). Jay will take a moment from the show that I interpreted one way, and interpret it in a totally different way (These are small moments I’m talking about, though. Molly’s expression in the morgue. Donovan’s hair. Sherlock’s butt looking out a window… uh). It’s fun to see how the minutia of this show gets interpreted.

I want this weird thing. I want a version of Sherlock divorced of its budget, its actors. I want odd fan works. I want to own these comics and put them under my pillow, to dream about these homoerotic interpretations. This is a strange artifact that I want to own forever. I love comics, I love weird stuff, and I definitely love weird comics.

This is what I want comic riffs of television shows to be. I don’t want them to perfectly render the actors’ features, to attempt to perfectly mimic the show’s qualities in comic book form. I want a television show I love to be made into a weird-ass comic that makes me look at the original show in a new way. Jay’s comic feels very honest, and I’ll continue to buy it.

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About Author

Cathy G. Johnson is an artist in Providence, Rhode Island, making comics, drawings, prints and books about confrontation and sincerity. Drawing inspiration from my life and my community, as well as philosophy and critical theory, with newest book: GORGEOUS out at Koyama Press and the upcoming: NO DOGS ALLOWED from First Second in 2017

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