Quick, Watson! The game's afoot!

Sherlock Holmes, the world's greatest fictional detective, sleuths and spoofs in the comics.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's immortal fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, is a collector's delight and obsession. I base this elementary deduction purely on circumstantial evidence inasmuch as my wife has collected over 300 books on the sleuth, either by Conan Doyle, or other authors like Isaac Asimov, Anthony Boucher, Philip José Farmer, and John Gardner. Books continue to be written about Holmes' adventures long after his creator left this mortal coil in 1930. There have been movies, television, radio shows, and staged theatrical productions-- far too many to list here. There are even Sherlock Holmes CD Rom games available to the collector. What I hadn't been aware of, until I began researching this article, was the extent of Holmes' life in the comic book and comic strip panels, especially in the area of humorous pastiche.

Which is odd in a way because I first developed my own life-long interest in the Victorian age's pivate eye when I first encountered him in Mad # 7, in the story entitled "Shermlock Shomes" (October 1953), which was followed up later, in Mad #16 with "Shermlock Shomes in the Hound of the Basketballs." Those two stories by Harvey Kurtzman and Bill Elder piqued my curiosity about what Conan Doyle had actually written, and before long I too was hooked on the Great Detective.

It's not unusual that I should have encountered Holmes as a parody; he's often been satirized, particularly in the comic strips. To name just a mere few: Padlock Bones, Gurlock Holmes, Sherlock Guck, Sniffen Snoop, Herlock Sholmes, Sherlock Lopez, Ferret Snoop, Hemlock Shomes and Dr. Potsdam, and Padlock Homes -- the last created by comic strip pioneer Ed Wheelan (who once tried to teach me to stand on my head). However two of the most well known comic strip satires were Sherlocko the Monk and Hawkshaw the Detective, both created by the same man, Charles A. (Gus) Mager.

Sherlocko the Monk was part of a series of Monk strips launched by Mager on April 25, 1904, an unusual concept of interrelated and simultaneously running strips running daily: Knocko the Monk, Rhymo the Monk, Tightwaddo the Monk, Nervo the Monk, Hamfatto the Monk and Groucho the Monk (the source of Groucho Marx's stage name). Mager's characters were an odd blend of the simian and human, their quirks were reflected in their names.

The series increased in popularity when Mager added a new Monk to the roster on December 9, 1910, Sherlocko the Monk. By 1913, however, Doyle threatened a lawsuit and thus Hawkshaw the Detective was born on February 23, 1913, sans the ape-like characteristics, running as a full-page strip until mid-1922.

Mager attempted once again to resurrect Sherlocko in 1924, this time as a semi-serious strip, and was again shut down by Doyle's lawyers less than a year later. Hawkshaw continued on as a companion piece for Rudolf Dirks' The Captain and the Kids until the late 1940s, when Mager retired to paint.

As for serious attempts, in 1930 the Bell Syndicate premiered a daily Sherlock Holmes strip by Leo O'Mealia. The strip adapted actual Doyle stories such as Silver Blaze and The Musgrave Ritual and was drawn in an old-fashioned style, complete with typeset captions set under each panel and no word balloons. The strip never attracted a large circulation and folded in 1932.

It would be over two decades before a second Sherlock strip would surface. Edith Meisner, who had written a Sherlock Holmes radio show in the 1930s, provided the scripts, while Mike (Supergirl) Sekowsky handled the pencils. Curiously enough, the strip's inker, Frank Giacoia (one of the early Fantastic Four's best inkers), received all the art credit. Some Doyle material was adapted, but the strip seemed to be heavily influenced by the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce Sherlock Holmes films-- Dr. Watson is considerably stodgier than the capable physican portrayed in the books.

The strip ended in 1956 and was later reprinted in 1988 by Malibu Comics (which also ran an absolutely wretched Holmes-meets-Dracula series, Scarlet in Gaslight). A more dapper Watson was portrayed in a later strip, Mr. Holmes of Baker Street, written and drawn by William Barry (1976). Due to its short life and limited circulation, the strip is a major collector's item in Sherlockia circles.

Holmes first appeared in comics in Classic Comics (later Classic Illustrated) #21, Three Famous Mysteries, which included The Sign of the Four (July 1944). Later Holmes rated an entire issue with Classic Comics #33, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, a collector's item issued in January 1947 and illustrated by H.C. Kiefer (now valued at prices ranging from $112 to $950). In later years, all the major publishers, from Charleton, to Dell, to DC and Marvel, have issued limited series Sherlock Holmes with, unfortunately, equally limited success.

My own favorite comics Holmes collectible is a slim booklet published in 1974 by Now Age Books, The Great Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, illustrated by one of the Philippine's foremost comic book artists, Nestor (Rima) Redondo. A more recent comics connection to Holmes is Michael Hardwick's novel, Revenge of the Hound. Published in 1999 by iBooks, it features a fine cover by Jim Steranko (who produced his own homage to The Hound of the Baskervilles in Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. # 3 (1969).

A quick check on eBay reveals numerous Holmes-related collectibles, and Barnes and Noble lists over 500 Holmes-related books. If you'd like to learn more about Sherlock Holmes and his life in the media, including comic strips and comic books, an excellent source of further information is comics historian Bill Blackbeard's Sherlock Holmes in America (Harry N. Abrams Inc., 1981).

--Steve Stiles
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