Sunday, October 30, 2022

Interesting Interview: Johanna Draper Carlson

Looking back, Johanna Draper Carlson has only been a part of my Sherlockian social circle for a year or so but she feels like someone who's been an evergreen member of the community.  Johanna's online presence just elevates everyone around her.  And the perspective she brings to every conversation is a great mix of knowledge and fandom, bridging two big groups in our hobby.

I got to meet Johanna in-person when we were at the Celebration of Sherlock Holmes conference in Chicago last May.  Johanna is such a delightful person to hang around with!  And she contributed a wonderful piece to The Monstrum Opus of Sherlock Holmes so I can now say she is also a delightful person to work with!  And after reading this week's interview, I bet you'll be thinking the same thing.

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

I generally try not to. “Someone who likes Sherlock Holmes,” I suppose, would work for me. Whatever version, whatever format, whatever medium. I love that we’re continuing to get closer to a world where there’s a Sherlock out there for everyone, and I enjoy talking to people about which versions they like and why. 

Some of that is due to past experiences. I spent a couple of decades in comic fandom, where a few bad apples made things difficult. I’ve had to pass a trivia test to demonstrate I have enough knowledge to be considered a real fan, and I have had to ignore insinuations that women are “fake geek girls.” As a result, I can be sensitive to perceived gatekeeping. If someone says they’re a fan, or a Sherlockian, of whatever variety, that’s fine by me. 

I love Sherlock Holmes in part because there are so many variants and flavors and portrayals, and I enjoy learning about why he’s interesting to others, whether they’re traditional, prose-only Sherlockians or media fans or creating their own stories. When they have a perspective different from mine, all the better — that’s more for me to learn from. 

How did you become a Sherlockian?

My origin story has three parts. The first is that I read the Baring-Gould Annotated Sherlock Holmes as a kid. I’ve always been interested not just in stories, but how the stories are made, and the behind-the-scenes. The annotations helped me understand basics, like how much money was worth then compared to now, but also that there were some very devoted fans of this character. (I’m still amused by the fixation on the weather in order to “correct” Watson. Having worked for a comic book company, my understanding of how serial stories are created, and the “just make the deadline” approach I often saw, likely colors my analysis.) 

The second part was moving to Madison, Wisconsin, and discovering the Notorious Canary-Trainers, the local scion society, shortly thereafter. They’re a wonderful group that gathers monthly to discuss a story. I’ve come to understand that they’re rather low-key in comparison to some — no dues, no publications, no set agenda — but most importantly, the people were friendly. Having a group to meet with regularly was encouraging, particularly during the past few years, when we met online. 

Speaking of which, the third part is the pandemic lockdown. I rediscovered the BBC Sherlock during that time, and then met a bunch of fans of that show virtually. That reawakened my interest in media appearances of the character. I also visited various online gatherings, which gave me a good overview of the diversity of Sherlockians. And how welcoming they could be! 

The welcomes extended to opportunities to write. I queried both the I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere blog and Sherlock Holmes Magazine, which resulted in my reviewing Sherlock-related books for the blog and contributing articles to the magazine from issue #5 on. 

What is your profession and does that affect how you enjoy being a Sherlockian?

My day job is Software Development Manager. That gives me a familiarity with tech, which means I could set up our society mailing list and help with virtual meetings. 

My long-lasting other occupation has been writing about comic books, manga, and graphic novels. I launched my website in 1999, and by my reckoning, although it’s not as active these days, it’s the longest-running independent review site online that covers all genres and formats of comics, including graphic novels, independent press, alternative, manga, graphic memoir, superhero comic books, and mainstream works, as well as related media. 

Also during the pandemic, some other comic journalist friends were regularly gathering online. I told them how much I was enjoying rediscovering my love of Sherlock Holmes, and they encouraged me to combine the two interests. I launched on February 21, 2022, and that has led to being invited to make presentations and conference appearances on the subject, which I very much enjoy. 

My technical background means I know how to create a website, and my time as a comic journalist means I know how to tell other people about it. I discovered that there were various sites online with lists of Sherlock Holmes in comics, but none of them were what I was looking for, which was more specific. 

I wanted to know which appearances were stories, and which merely cameos. Were they using a traditional portrayal, or did they take another approach? Telling original stories or canon rework? And how could I find these stories without hunting down back issues? 

That’s why I created It’s intended to be an index to comic-format stories about Sherlock Holmes and related characters in comic books, manga, and graphic novels. My focus is on stories others can relatively easily find and read, if interested, so I talk more about collections (TPBs), reprints, and books in print than collectibles or cameo appearances. I also try to give some guidance as to who might like which stories without giving away too many spoilers. 

Oh, one other thing about my profession — I can’t deny that making a good living makes it easier to visit conferences and gatherings and meet other Sherlockians. So long as I can get the time off. 

What is your favorite canonical story?

My scion name comes from “The Speckled Band,” and that’s a classic. My favorite character is Mycroft Holmes, which means “The Bruce-Partington Plans” should rank highly. I’m going to pick, though, “The Blanched Soldier,” because it’s so petty, which makes it fascinating to me. 

I think many of us are inspired by the close relationship between Holmes and Watson, one of the immortal fictional friendships. Reading a story where Holmes alternates between passively aggressively insulting his former partner and obviously missing him is so emotionally telling. He’s sentimental, darn it, and that reveals a side of the character that’s not as well-known. 

Plus, this is the story that gives us two wonderful quotes: “deserted me for a wife” and the one we all know about “however improbable.” 

(My very favorite story is “A Study in Pink” because it’s a terrific example of how to keep these stories alive for new generations.) 

Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find interesting?

I thought I was walking on eggshells with the first question! This one is tricky for me. I’ve met so many wonderful people in the Sherlockian world. But I think my favorite Sherlockian is Dorothy L. Sayers, because she was so inspired she created another of my favorite detectives, Lord Peter Wimsey. (I finally got an offshoot of the Canary-Trainers to start reading the novels so I would have someone to discuss them with.)

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

I should probably say the comics, as I think that’s why you asked for the interview (and thank you very much for that!), but to broaden that a bit, what really interests me is seeing how many stories have been inspired by the Great Detective. Whether you call them fic, pastiches, sequels, or fanfiction, I love the diversity of subject matter and the many outstandingly creative ideas people come up with. 

Particularly with fic, it’s a brilliant way to find so many unusual concepts. Someone’s got a hobby or an interest or an opinion, and they combine it with Holmes, Watson, and their supporting cast, and a story results. 

One of my personal favorite themes is time travel, as when an 1895 Holmes winds up in present day, or a modern John Watson visits the past (especially when one used the setup Connie Willis created, as seen in To Say Nothing of the Dog). One I found particularly enjoyable had a past Holmes demanding of Mycroft that he use the secret government time machine to send Watson to the future to be cured of cholera, where he was treated by modern Watson. 

Those kinds of stories are great for exploring what makes the characters universal and timeless as well as how they can continue to be relevant. 

How have you seen Sherlockian comics change over the years?

That’s a tricky question to answer, as I am coming to them from a historical, looking-back perspective — I only started paying attention to them a year or so ago. There are plenty of people who’ve been following them as they came out, and who have much more extensive collections. 

I focus on stories about Sherlock Holmes, where he (or she or a related character) is a prominent part of the goings-on. Since starting, I have had the pleasure of meeting people who have gone for the deep dive, picking up anything that had a one-panel cameo or even just a deerstalker. That’s dedication! 

But looking back, it appears to me trends in Sherlockian comics mimic trends in the greater comic industry. We see an explosion of young reader versions of The Hound of the Baskervilles as schools and libraries begin realizing how educational comics can be. We see a rise in more diverse portrayals — including versions starring people of color and women — when crowdfunding allows people to more easily find audiences directly and put out more personal interpretations. 

Most obvious are the media connections, as we see more action-adventure takes when the Downey/Ritchie movies are out, for example. Sherlock Holmes is such a well-known character that tracing the various approaches — in both content and format — taken with him over the years shows in microcosm changes in the comic industry, from expanding audiences to reprint viability. 

What are some favorite Sherlockian comics that you've come across?

My favorite, for the humor and the use of two sets of beloved characters, is Muppet Sherlock Holmes. Sadly, due to licensing changes, it is long out of print. And because it was a kids’ comic, lots of the copies got read to pieces or otherwise destroyed. Which is a darn shame. 

I adore the game-playing in the choose-your-own-path Graphic Novel Adventures put out by Van Ryder Games. There are six volumes now, each with multiple cases, and I think I’ve maybe solved a total of two across the series. 

I really want someone to reprint the two-part Marvel Preview Hound of the Baskervilles from 1976, because it’s moody and theatrical and gorgeous. 

I enjoy the Shirley & Jamila series because it provides hope for the future, with two young women detectives helping out their classmates. As you’ve likely gathered by now, I like seeing people take these characters and their abilities and involvements and find new ways to tell stories with them. 

And for pure laughs, Ghostbees’ Consulting Detectives webcomic is a brilliant portrayal of the classic characters with a modern-day sensibility, making them ever more human. 

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

The book I come back to each month (coordinated with our society’s reading schedule) is About Sixty: Why Every Sherlock Holmes Story Is the Best, edited by Christopher Redmond. Some of the essays provide new insight, some seem to be making the case that any Holmes is great, but I usually learn something new from it. Plus, now that I’ve met some of the contributors, it’s fun to see who wrote what. 

Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now?

I’m excited, sooner than that, to see what happens after all the Arthur Conan Doyle stories become fully public domain in 2023. I know several people waiting to launch creative projects at that point. Hopefully that leads to a blossoming of interesting works inspired by the originals. 

In the longer run, I have strong hopes that we will continue to see more acceptance of varying types of Sherlockians and different sources of interest. Fans these days are more likely to have come from the media versions, and it’s obvious to many that new blood is necessary to avoid societies aging out and disappearing. I hope we can continue to reach out to new people and include them in, just as Sherlockians have been welcoming to me. 

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Some Monstrous Conspiracy [NAVA]

The truth is out there.  And now it can finally be told.

Through no fault of my own, I somehow got roped into shining a light into the darkest recesses of the Sherlockian Canon.  I'm a humble editor/proofreader, so how I ended up working with Nathaniel Barker-Harris, the great-great-grandsomething of Cecil Barker from Surrey is beyond me. 

Okay, let me back up.  You might be wondering what all of this is about.  I posted last week on Twitter and Facebook about a new book I co-edited with Brad Keefauver and Nathaniel Barker-Harris, The Monstrum Opus of Sherlock Holmes.  

The Monstrum Opus of Sherlock Holmes is a collection of 17 essays that pull back the curtain on some pretty big cover-ups (some might even say conspiracies) to hide the true nature of some seriously monstrous interactions that Holmes and Watson had during their years of active service.  I know, "No ghosts need apply."  And yeah, there are a million books out there that pit Holmes against Dracula or other vampires, but this isn't a pastiche or some book filled with spirits contacting the living.  

The Monstrum Opus of Sherlock Holmes collects some pretty prominent names in Sherlockiana and some exciting new ones as well.  And in it they all make some serious arguments that will make you rethink some of the stories that we love so much.  At least they did for me.  Just check out the contributor list:

Elinor Gray

Ray Betzner

Paul Thomas Miller

Nancy Holder

Heather Hinson

Steve Mason

Johanna Draper-Carlson

Beth Gallego

M.K. Wiseman

Phil Bergem

Claire Daines

Derrick Belanger

Nick Martorelli

Luke Poling

Mary O'Reilly

Shana Carter

Burt Wolder

See?  Quite a list!  I've interviewed most of these folks and never knew until working on this project that they had such intimate knowledge of this monstrous conspiracy.  Did they know that others out there had such information as well?  Had Nathaniel Barker-Harris connected them with one another?  I don't know, but I do know that after working on The Monstrum Opus of Sherlock Holmes, I've spent some time looking into the abyss of questioning what I thought I knew.  

Maybe there are more folks out there who know more than they are letting on.  But for now, I'm content to share these 17 authors with the world and let the world decide what to do with all of this new knowledge....

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Interesting Interview: Aaron Rubin

To see Aaron Rubin is to immediately be taken in by his sense of style.  Aaron has been studying the history of art, fashion, and jewelry for years and has lectured on these topics throughout Los Angeles and San Francisco.  He also wrote an article in a recent issue of The Baker Street Journal reminiscing about his early years as a Sherlockian and being possibly the youngest person to recreate Holmes and Watson's sitting room.

Aaron is one of the newest batch of Baker Street Irregulars from this year's class and I've been very lucky to get to know him over the course of this year through emails after we were invested.  And through this week's interview, I got to learn a little more about him.  I love knowing that there was a family connection to this hobby and that he has been involved with his home scion since the age of TWELVE!  If you already know Aaron, you know you're in for some words from a really nice guy, and if you haven't met him yet, get ready to learn about someone you're going to want to get to know better!

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

I believe that a Sherlockian has read the Canon at least once, has the inclination to read it all again, and is at least familiar with the concept of the Great Game (or the Higher Criticism) whether they practice it or not. The road to becoming a Sherlockian can start anywhere, but no matter how devoted you are to the Basil Rathbone films or the Benedict Cumberbatch series or to any series of pastiches, if you haven’t read and digested the entire Canon then you’re really just a Sherlock Holmes fan. That is, a fan of the character named “Sherlock Holmes.” And there’s nothing wrong with being a fan, but a Sherlockian has pushed past fandom into something else entirely. Obsession, I suppose. But whatever that something else is, it should be built on the foundation of the original source material.

How did you become a Sherlockian?

I was extremely fortunate to have Sherlock Holmes introduced to me by my sixth grade teacher. I was instantly hooked, and I was blessed to have parents who could see that my new passion was more than a fleeting interest. My mother was something like a Sherlockian in her youth, and she did the research to find The Curious Collectors of Baker Street and signed us up for membership. Being part of a group of exceptionally friendly and welcoming Sherlockians, at such a young age (I was twelve), meant that I had the support and encouragement to pursue this passion all through my awkward teen years, high school, college, and beyond. 

Age twelve, delivering my first “scholarly” paper at my first Curious Collectors of Baker Street meeting.

What is your profession and does that affect how you enjoy being a Sherlockian?

In my previous life I worked at a major auction house for about nine years. I spent most of that time assisting the Fine Jewelry department and the Entertainment Memorabilia department. I can’t recall any Sherlockian overlap in my work with jewelry (although I was always hunting for an emerald snake ring for my collection), but Holmes did pop up occasionally in the world of Entertainment Memorabilia. I won’t say too much, but it’s pleasing to know that Basil Rathbone (in 1939) and I (circa 2013) wore the same sized jacket!

What is your favorite canonical story?

I recently reread The Valley of Fear and enjoyed it so thoroughly that I was surprised. I probably hadn’t read it in over 20 years and had only a vague memory of finding it rather dull. Mea culpa! Maybe I just didn’t “get it” back then. I suppose it’s a favorite at the moment. For sentimental reasons I always say that “A Scandal in Bohemia” is my favorite. 

Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find interesting?

Maggie Schpak! Maggie’s career in film and television props, jewelry, and costume design is endlessly fascinating. And every marvelous object she has made comes with its own equally marvelous story or humorous anecdote. For decades she has supplied bespoke Sherlockian medals for the Curious Collectors of Baker Street annual medal quiz. And countless tiaras, brooches, stickpins, earrings, etc. (all either explicitly Sherlockian or Victorian-inspired) have been prominent highlights of fund-raising auctions and raffles for both the CCOBS and the BSI. She is a font of amazing stories, great humor, technical expertise in an assortment of fields, a dedicated Sherlockian since childhood, and one of my personal style icons. I guess I tend to assume that everyone knows Maggie, but if you don’t, you should. 

Just a typical teenager’s bedroom.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

My most ambitious Sherlockian endeavor was the transformation of my childhood bedroom into a re-creation of the sitting room at 221B Baker Street. I should clarify that I did this while still using it as my bedroom. I was limited by space, resources, concessions to practicality, and my as-yet-undeveloped knowledge of the period and antiques. But I dove into that project with all the zeal that one might expect from a teenage Sherlockian. 

For my birthday one year I asked for an entire fireplace! Then I discovered that an antique sideboard worked just as well for holding clothes. And my bed could be turned into a reasonably convincing settee. I made it work, and the room evolved in stages over a period of about five or six years until the necessities of a twenty-first century adult lifestyle came crashing in and ruined the fantasy. 

When your parents won’t let you sleep on an antique sofa, you make do with what you have. 

But although my sitting room is long-since disassembled, I have never lost my passion for Sherlockian room re-creations. There are certainly enough of them around the globe to classify them as a subset of Sherlockiana. Creating these spaces (usually interpretations of the famous sitting room) is like playing the Great Game on the highest level, and I admire anyone who attempts it. 

Generally speaking, the approach to this Herculean labor falls into one of two categories. There are those who want to cram a room full of as many Canonically-listed or implied artifacts (whether they would/should be in the sitting room or not) and then furnish the space around these items; and then there are those who attempt to create an authentic period room, meticulously building a late Victorian interior and introducing Sherlockian/Watsonian trappings with an eye to making the space believable. I prefer the latter approach and, if I were ever to have the space and money required, would love to try the project again from this angle. But any manner of re-creation (from tiny miniatures to full-scale rooms) is always a magical treat!

Just a typical teenager’s bedroom.

You are well-known in Sherlockian circles for your fashion-sense.  How has that enhanced how you enjoy our hobby?

Am I? I’m flattered! Here the link with Sherlock Holmes is concrete, but the other way around. Being a Sherlockian gave me an avenue to explore and develop my interest in fashion. The CCOBS has always been blessed with a hefty contingent of historical re-enactors, dancers, and costumers. The club’s annual Gasfitters’ Ball was the history-immersive highlight of my year, but all of our events were (and are) excuses to don period costume. Consequently I went from being a schlubby teenage nerd in a t-shirt to being a teenage nerd in a top hat, white tie and tails, and I never looked back! 

From there my tastes moved chronologically from the 1890s to the present day, and I have finally settled into a “look” of my very own. I rarely wear full period costumes anymore but I do wear frock coats and capes as often as possible! Holmes may also have been responsible for revealing my then-latent interest in jewelry. Now I am rarely seen without a brooch, ring, or other doodad, but it all began with scion society pins and quiz medals!

As someone who has been a Sherlockian since you were a kid, how has your interest in Sherlockiana adapted over time?

As is the case with so many of us, my passion for Holmes manifested as the “collection mania in its most acute form.” When I was just starting out on this journey I voraciously acquired any and every Sherlockian item I could get my hands on. Every book, monograph, tchotchke, artwork, matchbook, or scrap of newspaper I could find – as long as it had at least a deerstalker on it - I had to have it. Now I find I am much more selective and deliberate about my acquisitions. This is largely because, as I got older, I started collecting SO many other things beyond Sherlock Holmes. So space and finances had to be shared among my many passions and hobbies. There are plenty of Sherlockians who have devoted every square inch of available space in their life to the storage and display of Sherlockiana, and I probably used to think that I was destined to be one of them. I admire those people but I’m glad that I have found a way to maintain a healthy Sherlock-Life Balance.

About age twenty, dressed for the CCOBS annual Silver Blaze Handicap at the Santa Anita Park.

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

It’s a cliché, I know, but Baring-Gould’s The Annotated Sherlock Holmes is an essential. As a kid it was my first exposure to playing the Great Game, and those annotations confounded me, vexed me, inspired me, and made me want to read the entire Canon to get to the bottom of things!

Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now?

“Sherlock Holmes” the character isn’t going anywhere. There will always be new renditions and interpretations of him (or her, or them) in print and on screens both big and pocket-sized. And as long as the character thrives then (hopefully) so will Sherlockiana. It doesn’t matter how you find Holmes, as long as you do. Of course I hope that people will continue to love the character so much that it compels them to read the original stories and join a club!