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Saturday, November 09, 2013

The Lost World

The latest book in Book Palace's series of Illustrated British Classics features four stories from the pen of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, including two Sherlock Holmes yarns and a Professor Challenger, as well as one of his finest historical novels.

Doyle is today best known for his creation of Sherlock Holmes. As I write, Holmes has just been voted the best ever crime series by the Crime Writers' Association in a poll celebrating the CWA's 60th anniversary. Holmes kick-started detective fiction as a genre and the genius of the character is shown by his mutability. Holmes is the star of two TV shows that have brought him to the 21st century (the BBC's Sherlock and CBS's Elementary) and he must surely be the star of more non-canonical fiction than any other character, with writers from Adrian Conan Doyle to Anthony Horowitz creating new mysteries for the sleuth to solve.

Good as these were, Doyle was also an excellent adventure writer, notably writing the Professor Challenger series of three novels (The Lost World, The Poison Belt and The Land of Mist) and short stories as well as novels set in historical wars such as Micah Clarke, The White Company and Sir Nigel.

Of the four stories presented here, my favourite is Sir Nigel, superbly drawn by Pat Nicolle in 1966-67, originally in colour. There's a richness to the illustrations that can still be seen in black & white – and the strip reduces to black & white very well – and Nicolle's accurate depiction of history is always a bonus. You can almost feel the cobbles under your horses's hooves or the waves pounding against the hull of your ship.

The two Holmes stories are drawn by Robert Forrest, who is something of an acquired taste. Introduction-writer Norman Wright considers Forrest's 'The Sign of Four', the definitive comic strip version and whilst his characters can look a little stiff, his fog-shrouded London and mist-shrouded Dartmoor – in his adaptation of 'The Hound of the Baskervilles' – has rarely been equalled.

Gerry Embleton's adaptation of The Lost World from 1972-73 is equally superb, as you would expect from an artist whose draughtsmanship is beyond doubt. The Look and Learn adaptations tried to use original text where possible, so both Sir Nigel and The Lost World are told through panels of text rather than word balloons, which give these adaptations a more authentic voice than many others.

If I'm to find fault with anything, it would have to be the reproduction which is less black & white and more fifty shades of grey. Believe me when I say I know it isn't easy to get a decent image off a yellowing comic, but it can be done. Printing on a (5%? 10%?) grey background means that nothing is white and the lack of contrast means that nothing is black; it's like looking through one of Robert Forrest's Dartmoor mists.

A quick word of praise for Norman Wright, who provides an informative look at Doyle and his works in his introduction.

The Lost World. Book Palace Books ISBN 978-190708107-1, November 2013, 137pp, £15.99. Available from Amazon.

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