By James Kenney
Sherlock Holmes is arguably the best investigative mind of all time, but will the world of Alice’s Wonderland be too much for even his brilliant intellect to handle?
When a mysterious man interrupts Holmes’ experimentation with a new “tobacco” he is thrown into a whirlwind of ludicrous characters, a London he barely recognizes, and a seemingly unsolvable case. Taking place in just one day the great detective may be forever changed by what he witnesses, if even he can believe it in the end.
“Sherlock Holmes & The Wonderland Conundrum,” a new Sherlock Holmes adventure, written by Chuck Suffel with art by J. Schiek, is an almost exhilarating independent comic book adventure, popular yarn-spinning at its most dashing, a handsome evocation of the late 1800s with Schiek utilizing mysterious greys and blacks with effective, potent uses of color here and there to animate Suffel’s dexterous, intriguing story. A story told with wit and control, and even a little action here and there– though not in the almost-insulting fashion of the recent Robert Downey Jr. Holmes-on-steroids hodgepodges. This is the Holmes we recognize, even if his current adventure takes him to the edge of insanity and credulity.
Suffel is a writer first published under the pseudonym Daniel Charles in the Harvey Award Nominated 27 Club Comic Anthology from Red Stylo Media. Since then he has appeared in several anthology projects from several indie publishers, most recently penning two stories in The Rockabilly Rambler anthology & currently awaiting the publication of “SOAR” in Fugitive Poems’ Anthology Containment Breach, Volume 4. Schiek is an artist, writer and college professor whose work has appeared in numerous anthologies including the Ringo Award nominated Yule from Grant Stoye, and The Toddler-pocalypse from Comix Tribe. His own original comic, a samurai fantasy epic titled Hush Ronin, is scheduled for publication by Band of Bards in January 2023.
I spoke with Suffel about this ambitious, appealing work, which is the first publication by his own Whatcha’Reading Press:
I know the Baker Street Irregulars are out there, creating almost instant interest in a Sherlock Holmes project and also creating an audience ready to judge and reprove if they’re not happy. What made you decide to take on one of the most famous characters in the world?
Sherlock Holmes is, by far, my favorite character in all of literature. Doyle created such a wonderful flawed genius, a misanthropic man of science who also has a soft spot for the pure of heart. He was a hero of mine growing up, full of qualities to aspire to, and foibles to avoid. As you say Holmes is one of the most popular characters in all of literature, a quick google search of Sherlock Holmes gives about 78,100,000 results (in 0.93 seconds). And still with all the works, pastiches, homages, straight-up rip-offs, people still love him.
So several years ago when I came across an open call for an anthology asking for “a crossover between two public domain characters” I looked around and realized that the original Holmes’ stories and characters were entering the public domain, I had to take a shot at it. My original thought was to bring Alice herself into Holmes universe but as I worked through the outline I began to think that it wasn’t her but the Wonderland characters that would work well as foils to Holmes’ stoicism and intellect. Writing characters like Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dumm in conversation with Holmes was way too much fun, I really hope that comes through on the page.
How do you know when a story is right for a comic book, as opposed to a novel or short story or screenplay? How did you know or feel that THIS was a “comic book story”?
Writing a comic book script is a very interesting thing. It’s a collection of static images and each one has to convey precisely what you want the reader to come away with. It’s a wonderfully limiting and at the same time freeing format to write in. TV and film writers will tell you that often when a script is being produced they lose all input into the way it will be filmed, the director tends to have full control. And in a novel or short story you are relying on the reader to interpret what you are describing. Comics are a very collaborative process, more often than not the writer and artist communicate back and forth or through an editor to make sure the book looks, feels, and reads the way it was intended. That’s not to say it always works that way, there were a few anthologies where I submitted my script and never heard another word until the book was finished but I find that to be a rarity.
Why was this a comic book story? Honestly because I set out to write it as one. I have also rewritten it as a short story (coming soon) and I would be happy to adapt it into a screenplay at any time!
At some point, when you’re writing, you must be generating images in your head as you’re writing for a visual medium? How did you react when you saw the actual, tangible art your artist was sending your way?
That is the scariest and most exciting part of making comics! When the script had gone through an edit or two and I was starting to stall my editor pushed me along by sending me a list of artists to check out. As soon as I saw J Schiek’s work I knew I wanted to work with him. He had a few pages from an early version of his book “Hush Ronin” on his site that just pulled me right in. His style was exactly what I was looking for. But even knowing that, and having spoken to him about the book and what I was hoping to see I was still so nervous. I hadn’t needed to be, he completely got what I was trying to do and when he had questions he was quick to ask, it was really a joy to work with him on this project.
This is (I think) the first publication of Whatchareading Press. What is your vision for this press?
Whatchareading Press came about as a convenience. I needed to publish this comic and I wanted to do it myself. There was a steep learning curve but I hired the right people and got it done. I could definitely do it again and would love to but I’m also (very) open to working with another publisher. This is a proof of concept realized, where it goes from here is anybody’s guess.
What was the most difficult part of the process from your first inspiration to doing this to seeing it on shelves?
Convincing myself that it was good enough to go all the way with. And even when I was confident in the script there was still the fact that I had never brought a book all the way to print. Imposter syndrome is real and if it wasn’t for my production editor (thank you Erica Schultz!) this project would have gone off the rails numerous times.
I know you don’t just write indie comics, you read them. What are some of your favorites from past and present?
Independent comics are such a huge part of the industry it’s easy to point to great stuff. Boston Metaphysical Society by Madeline Holly-Rosing is an excellent series. Bob Salley is a writer who hasn’t missed a beat, Ogre, Salvagers, Broken Gargoyles, Shelter Division to name a few. There’s also Eric Grissom who’s latest work with artist Will Perkins Goblin is a great YA graphic novel though I’ve loved his stuff since Deadhorse in 2013. Honestly I could go on and on, there are just too many to mention.
Any projects coming up in the future?
Three scripts currently in different stages but nothing with an artist yet. Soon, very soon.
Where can someone grab your comic?
The book is available online at https://whatchareading-press.storenvy.com and at a few select comic shops including my local shop Royal Collectibles in Forest Hills. I’m in the process of getting it on more store shelves so it should wind up in a comic shop in “your” area soon. To find out more and to see what projects will be coming out next follow me on twitter @chuck_suffel. And whether or not you check out Sherlock Holmes & The Wonderland Conundrum be sure to find and follow artist J Schiek @schiekapedia, our cover artist @Robbertopoli who is currently drawing the latest Dr Who series for Titan Comics, and Erica Schultz @EricaSchultz42 who is a phenomenal writer with numerous titles ranging from indie books to Marvel.