A Study in Emerald by Neil Gaiman & Rafael Albuquerque (artist) is a Sherlockian, Victorian fantasy graphic novel that I picked up because of the author and artists entirely. I had no idea what it was about initially, and quite frankly, I didn’t care. With this combination of talented creators, I knew that even if it was about a cat’s daily life, it would be extraordinary. You know what? It exceeded even those expectations superbly.
A Study in Emerald follows two Baker Street investigators, The Detective and The Major, who are approached one evening with a query for an utterly cosmic sort of murder investigation. The study, as it were, ends up taking them from the slums of Whitechapel all the way to Queen Victoria’s throne room.
This graphic novel was incredible, to put it simply. I can’t think of a single element that I didn’t enjoy thoroughly. It’s vividly original and fantastically written. The artwork is stunning and works contiguously to help complement the narrative, making one incomplete without the other, as graphic novels should be. Everything about it was flawless, and I don’t normally use that word to describe anything because there’s always room for improvement. Nevertheless, A Study in Emerald truly encapsulated perfect storytelling dynamics.
Gaiman’s flair for the strange and eccentric shines beautifully in the story as he combines a Sherlockian universe with Lovecraftian elements regarding Cthulhu mythos. I formerly had my hesitations about these two aspects being brought together. I presumed one would outshine the other, or that there would be a distinct discord as one is steeped in logical intellective processes and the other is not. Yet, the writing spectacularly balances both qualities in such a way that their combination not only felt comfortable and inspiring, but also quite natural and right in every sense. I closed the book thinking to myself that this is how both of these classics should always be portrayed or shared: together as one.
There is a distinct British tone to the writing that is posh and proper, with a spot of dry humour and subdued intelligence. When woven with a rainy and dark setting, it becomes very easy to get wholly swept away into the world that Gaiman has crafted so meticulously. The tone and the imaginative twists help the pacing to build comfortably and retain a decent element of suspense and mystery all the way until the very end, which is further enhanced by the universe’s lore and history.
While the reader doesn’t learn about the history in extended detail, just enough information is provided to keep one from feeling lost and displaced. We learn the basics of how things came to be as they are and why some people accept it and others do not (the political climate, as it were). The premise at its centre is actually rather basic and that is what makes it so damn exceptional and believable and gripping. The morsels of lore that we get had me rivetted with such excitement and intrigue. I would adore a book that solely discusses the history in great detail. I would devour it with immense pleasure. My joy notwithstanding, I felt that the quantity of backstory we receive is, again, seamlessly balanced with the overarching tale and its limited presence helps to prevent the main idea from getting overshadowed.
Even with the excellent writing and storytelling, it wouldn’t be possible to make it as glorious as it was without the artistic talents of Rafael Albuquerque, Rafael Scavone, and Dave Stewart. The classical horror art-style unique to Albuquerque that braces the American Vampire comic series returns here with a slight variation to fit the Victorian, British grit of rain and despair. The dark and dreary designs and shading help to formulate an ominous veil that sort of hangs over the story, nudging you forward with anticipatory apprehension. The drawings themselves are classical sketch style, akin to what you’d find in 18th and 19th century books with some slight modern touches like airbrushing and digital enrichment. The scenes with bright splotches of emerald make those scenes truly pop to emphasise the Lovecraftian traits. The narrative text boxes are delightfully vintage as they have the appearance of ripped pages from a periodical or tome typed up with a typewriter.
A Study in Emerald was the dark fantasy story that I didn’t realise I was craving so badly. It satisfied my love of both dark and mysterious plights, and my passion for fantasy and the obscure. As someone who positively relishes intellective writing and unique twists to literary classics, on top of everything else I’ve mentioned, the graphic novel ended up being a masterful indulgence of the best sort. If you are a fan of dark fantasy, Sherlockian-inspired narratives, and/or the Cthulhu mythos, then I cannot recommend A Study in Emerald to you enough. It’s bloody brilliant.