A Study in Emerald hardcover graphic novel
Writer: Neil Gaiman
Artist/Cover artist: Rafael Albuquerque
Adaptation script: Albuquerque & Rafael Savone
Colors: Dave Stewart
Letters: Todd Klein
Editor: Daniel Chabon
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics/Dark Horse Books
Price: $17.99 US/$23.99 CAN
This comics adaptation of a Neil Gaiman short story from 15 years ago blends the seminal works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and H.P. Lovecraft that captures the atmospheres, intelligence and, in the case of the latter, pervasive horror in a riveting read. I hadn’t been aware of the previous piece of prose work by Gaiman, so artist Rafael Albuquerque’s decision to revisit the material opened my eyes to something I’d unfortunately missed. Now, I have to be honest — I’ve not read any of Lovecraft’s writing, only about his writing. The good news is that one can appreciate and thoroughly enjoy this story with even only a passing familiarity with his darkly surreal stories of ancient evil. Though creepy and unsettling throughout, the story is oddly playful as well, and Albuquerque’s loose linework brings the Victorian period to life perfectly.
Scotland Yard sends an agent to engage the services of a particularly successful and noted consulting detective, who lives on Baker Street in a rooming house with a new flatmate, a damaged soldier bearing the unnatural scars inflicted upon him in a war in a faraway land. The pair are soon guided to a grisly crime scene, where the victim’s green blood is splayed all over the walls and floor, and a single word is scrawled, taunting the authorities and the detective.
Albuquerque boasts a style that’s predominantly angular, and that brings a literally sharp edge to the depiction of the “detective’s” intellect. He nevertheless adapts his elongated approach to capture the organic, alien nature of the inhuman characters. The design for the unusual take on Queen Victoria here is truly unsettling, mainly for how her “face” is conveyed. Of course, one can’t understate how vitally important the colors are to this storytelling effort. Sure, one scene relies with shockingly bright and unnatural shades of green, but Dave Stewart’s real contributions are to be found in the backgrounds, with muted browns and yellows and greys being employed to reinforce the uncomfortable and weird atmosphere while also bringing out the dingy qualities of the era in which the story is set.
The chapter breaks in this book are accompanied by mocked-up product ads that fit the time in which the story is set, and they incorporated such literary and historical figures as Dracula, Dr. Jekyll and Jack the Ripper. It felt as though the storytellers are taking some inspiration from Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics. Those faux ads are designed and colored perfectly.
The script dances around the obvious to the point that it’s quite entertaining. The names “Sherlock” and “Holmes” are never used here, but it’s clear who the archetypical detective is meant to be. Gaiman’s plot alters the Watson dynamic, pairing the main protagonist with a similar but definitely different partner. I was also impressed with how succinctly the script establishes a different world order in a place where the demonic Old Ones play an actual role in industrialized society.
Perhaps my favorite aspect of the book is the unconventional ending Gaiman offers up. Given the central character, it’s no surprise that the mystery is solved, but it isn’t resolved, per se. Bucking what’s expected, the reliable tropes of genre, almost always makes for a wonderful surprise, for something striking and unique. A Study in Emerald fits the bill. 9/10