Thursday, October 24, 2013

10 Hours, 60 Dollars Part 1: Gaming's bright future and why AAA games might not see it.

The Videogame industry seems to be caught in an interesting predicament, creatively speaking. Note that when I use the all-encompassing term "The Videogame Industry" I am in fact committing the unfortunately common sin of equating the entire breadth of human creativity in interactive media to its largest (or at least loudest) corner: The AAA sphere*. I won't misrepresent the medium like this again, but it's worth pointing out how easily we tend to see issues in the AAA sphere and extrapolate doom and gloom for the whole videogame industry, which is actually doing pretty darn great.

In fact, I think that gaming on the whole is the strongest it's ever been and is only going from strength to strength, even if 'AAA' gaming is in grave danger of losing its relevance. For all our grumbling about endless brown military shooters, Gaming has long been an artform where unfettered creativity and even surrealism has thrived, moreso now that the act of creating Games has itself been embraced by greater numbers of increasingly diverse people; people willing to both take the medium in risky new directions, and deliver focused and refined gameplay that isn't solely concerned with wrangling as many demographics as possible. 
It isn't hard to see why we're seeing such an exciting influx of fresh perspectives: What with the growing accessibility of game development (Unity! Gamemaker! RPG maker! Twine! Etcetera!) and greater commercial viability of publisher-free distribution (Steam! GOG! Humble Bundles! Newgrounds! Your own-dang website! App-stores a’plenty!), the spectrum of different people and perspectives getting involved in making Games grows in turn. 
And if the richness of an artform can be measured by the breadth of human experiences expressed through its artists, the fact that self-expression through Games is no longer primarily restricted or beholden to just Rich White Dudes is certain to make Games a far richer medium for all of us.

What's more: the gaming market (and marketing) has evolved to a point that this diversity and daring can be rewarding for small dev-teams at both a critical and commercial level. As the mainstream gaming audience has matured and more mechanical and thematic ground has been covered, Gamers (and the Gaming media that informs them) have begun to grow hungry for the kind of innovation and daring personal expression that leaves large publishers screeching and clutching their focus-tested data as they scuttle off into the night. The success of the likes of Minecraft, The Binding of Isaac, DayZ and Gone Home shows us that fresh ideas (and well-executed old ones) have begun to hold more weight than just flashy new graphics, and for a fair few years the indie and ‘zinester’ scenes of game creation have been able to do their thing, find their audience, and (crucially but tragically rare for artists across history) stay ‘fed’ and ‘alive’ doing it.

This is not to say that it’s all sunshine and roses for all independent and hobbyist game creators, financially or otherwise. One of the sad realities of the commercial side of pop-art is that the more uncompromising and personal artists are in their work, the smaller their potential audience (and revenue) tends to be. As is the case for artists in any medium, there are countless incredibly talented game-makers who aren't getting the attention and success they deserve. However, more so than any prior point in gaming's short history, the internet's tremendous ability to facilitate word-of-mouth marketing among 'niche' audiences puts that recognition well within reach. And that right there? That's something to be celebrated.
         Of course, profitability needn't necessarily be a concern for the many people making games purely for the love of the artform and/or for the betterment of humankind. Just look at the hundreds of people who participate in game-jams such as Ludum Dare: submitting daring and unique games in all their unpolished glory for no more sinister motivation than the thrill of the challenge and the love of creation and the exploration of new territory within the medium. Humanity’s selfless dedication to the artform doesn't end at 48 hour whirlwind development cycles though, as many devs choose to invest major portions of their lives into developing and freely distributing games for the common good. Take Zoë Quinn & Patrick Lindsey's “Depression Quest" or Anna Anthropy's "Dys4ia", games that deftly use the meduim's strengths to express (and let players explore) the creators' deeply personal experiences of depression and hormone-replacement therapy, respectively. These and many other interactive experiences, which possess so much potential to spread awareness, understanding and empathy about the issues they deal with, are released to the public for free; an act that can only be described as a public service. Personally, the fact that games like Depression quest (which did more to help me understand and fight my depression than a lifetime of people telling me to just "make myself happy") are being made and given to humanity with such regularity gives me more hope than a thousand Dead Space sequels.
No one’s saying there isn’t room for improvement in the indie scene, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable that right now I feel more excited about Gaming and its future than I’ve ever been. Every day I’m hearing about, discovering and playing phenomenal titles that ten years ago would probably have been doomed to obscurity; and I find it hard to feel the same cynicism so many people seem to have about modern AAA gaming when there’s so much amazing stuff going on right outside that sphere. This is not to say that these concerns aren't valid when it comes to the shinier side of game development.
In fact, I think it’s time I addressed  some of them. As much as my attention is focused on the little-fish, big-ideas wonder of indie-gaming right now, I feel there should always be a place in our medium for the big ‘ol blockbuster, and it’d be a terrible shame if AAA development crapped itself out of existence for good. Speaking of AAA’s craptacular current trajectory, let’s talk some of its bigger issues, shall we?

Now don’t worry, I'm not going to make any ridiculous sweeping statements decrying the quality of games from any single development paradigm, that'd be close-minded, presumptuous and obviously wrong. Many of my favourite games, old and new, are big-budget affairs, and their size, scope and polish are big part of why I like them.
While there’s certainly nothing inherently bad about big budgets, it’s hard to ignore how the handling of these budgets and publishers’ Sisyphean struggle for profitability keeps many AAA games from reaching their full potential. From a general consumer perspective, it’s clear to see that the mindless greed and incompetence of said publishers have tethered AAA gaming to a grotesque parade of unsustainable standards: one of ever growing budgets, less realistic sales expectations and talented development studios left broken and scattered in its wake. This parade, by the way, is being quite-rightly laughed-at by smaller devs achieving artistic and (relative) commercial success with tight budgets, realistic expectations and helluva lot more heart.
Indeed, while the humbler sections of the medium struggle and succeed in their quest to create new, exciting and meaningful experiences with the limited tools at their disposal (To The Moon, Thomas was Alone, Sword & Sworcery, Depression Quest, Dys4ia and so many more), the primary force for innovation driving the AAA sphere seems instead to be the major publishers' short-sighted crusade to find new ways to separate consumers from their money, no matter the cost. The cost being, of course, obscene amounts of money**, which is where it all falls down I suppose. 
This isn’t news to you, though; the AAA industry’s downward spiral seems to be obvious to everyone except the publishers themselves, and the briefest look at any respectable gaming site’s news feed should be enough to clue one in on the fact that the wheels on the proverbial apple cart of AAA gaming are rotting and collapsing under the strain of publisher hubris. Many have speculated that we're headed for a total industry implosion akin to the infamous Atari-crash of the 1980s, but I don't tend to agree with this assessment; mostly because all the aforementioned exciting stuff outside AAA's cacophonous shit-show render it highly unlikely that public interest in videogames as a whole will ever drop to "ET: The game" levels. I do fear that the AAA sphere is hurtling towards some manner of reckoning though: possibly a point where many big publishers quite rightly realize trying to eke out impossibly huge audiences with even huger budgets just isn't worth it, but quite wrongly decide to jump ship entirely rather than actually come up with a sensible business plan. Time will tell I suppose.
With that said, when it comes to the depressing business-ey side of gaming, I’ll leave the bullshit-calling and solution-suggesting to the far-more-qualified likes of people like Jim Sterling and Shamus Young. I’d rather talk about issues concerning the games themselves, and I imagine many of you do too. So let’s get back to the matter at hand: a predicament that can’t be solved simply by having AAA publishers and developers coming to their senses, as it is as much an issue with how we as consumers define a game’s worth as it is a problematic trend in the games themselves.

This "predicament" is one of limitations, specifically the self-imposed standard length and pricing that the AAA development sphere has unanimously adopted, and which we as consumers have learned to expect (and even demand, when game length is concerned). Now I'm sure many of you are quite comfortable with the AAA development sphere as it is, in terms of the games themselves anyway, and your perspective is every bit as valuable as mine. I just think that when anything becomes anywhere near as ubiquitous as the $50-$60 price point and the 8-12 hour (or more) standard playtime in AAA games, it's vital to discuss why these norms are in place and whether it is truly in the medium's best interest that they be that way. I'm not saying anything necessarily HAS to change, I'm just discussing the potential for creative expression to be limited by the relative lack of wiggle room with standard length and pricing that publishers push and consumers expect. So pitchforks down, yeah?

[To be continued in Part 2 – How long, oh Game? Or: How developers should learn to stop worrying and love Good Pacing]

*While exact criteria for AAA gaming are kinda nebulous, I broadly define it here as the section of the industry that makes games with the biggest budgets, biggest pricetags (40-100 USD) and biggest marketing campaigns designed to capture the attention of the widest possible audience.

**Of course, profitability certainly doesn’t need to be a concern for the people who make games purely for the love of the artform and/or the betterment of humankind. Just look at the hundreds of people who participate in game-jams such as Ludum Dare: submitting daring and unique games in all their unpolished glory for no more sinister motivation than the thrill of the challenge and the love of making Games. Humanity’s selfless dedication to the artform doesn't end at 48 hour whirlwind development cycles though, as many devs choose to invest major portions of their lives into developing and freely distributing games for the common good. Take Zoë Quinn & Patrick Lindsey's “Depression Quest" or Anna Anthropy's "Dys4ia", games that deftly use the meduim's strengths to express (and let players explore) the creators' deeply personal experiences of depression and hormone-replacement therapy, respectively. These and many other interactive experiences, which possess so much potential to spread awareness, understanding and empathy about the issues they deal with, are released to the public for free; an act that can only be described as a public service. Personally, the fact that games like Depression quest (which did more to help me understand and fight my depression than a lifetime of people telling me to just "make myself happy") are being made and given to humanity with such regularity gives me more hope than a thousand Dead Space sequels,

**The mind boggles at how much money EA dumped into the massive marketing campaign trying in vain to get Battlefield 3 to sell as much as its Call of Duty counterparts, despite the actual Profit margins for the whole shebang taking a dive for the sake of having BIG NUMBERS on both sides of the proverbial ledger. Also spare a thought for nigh-universally despised “services” such as EA's Origin, Microsoft's Games for Windows Live and Ubisoft’s U-play, and just how much money these companies must have invested in developing these services only to end up with nothing but server expenses and new reasons for their customers to hate their guts. Now think about how many Passion Projects could have been greenlit with that money and weep.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Kind of Music I Listen to, Part 1: Me and the Music

“So uh… what kind of music do you like?” asks my new acquaintance, desperately trying to cling to conversation as the evident common ground between us shrinks with each awkward word. “Surely this ol’ standby can’t fail to ignite debate?” he thinks to himself, “After all, everyone likes music!”

For the longest time though, this universal truth, like so many others before and since, just didn’t apply to my contrary ass.

“Music?!” I would say, my disdainful tone rapidly dissolving any hope of pleasant conversation from my friendly victim’s features, “You mean that whiny repetitive garbage that punctuates the pain of every annoying commercial? That self-satisfied screeching of the bastards responsible for the pointless music videos that so intrusively intersperse my beloved cartoons? That virulent tool of the diabolical Spice Girls that inspired my friend’s older sister to subject me to a unique performance of ‘Tell me what you want, what you really, really want’ in which she threw ACTUAL SPICE directly into my EYES? That shit?”

“Uh, yeah. So you don’t like any of it?”

“No. No I do not. You monster.”

In my defense, this was the late 90s: The likes of Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys and the aforementioned Spice Girls had reached a critical mass that granted them total audio dominance until the blessed day that they stumbled drunkenly out of our ears and into the tabloids. The last wheels of Cobains’s mopy revolution were grinding loudly on in a desperate facade of relevance. R&B had gained mainstream appeal. It was a dark time.

Understandably I feel, I went through the first 15 or so years of my life just tolerating music as the inexplicably popular vice of the society that I’d already devoted my existence to abandoning in favor of the “Democratic Republic of Me and my Damned self Alone.” They could keep their music, I thought, just as they could keep their sports and their friends and their unreachable goals of happiness and love. I had my books, I had my videogames, and to the acceptable exclusion of all else, I had myself.

This is about as true today as it was then, with one obvious exception: I have my music now.

I’m not sure when it was exactly that I was born into my new glorious world of audible emotion, but I do know what it was that set me on my way.

I was a listless teenager (as I imagine most of us are as we have our first accidental stumbles into the selves we shall ultimately become), surfing the vast HTML oceans that my new broadband connection afforded me. One of my regular internet haunts at the time was, a site both famous for its Flash Portal that hosts tens of thousands of user-created flash-animations, and infamous for the fact that among these are the birthplaces of the “Numa Numa” and “All your Base” memes. Anyway, one of the prominently featured animations on that day was a fun little music video called “Yoshi’s Island Jam”, which was a tribute to one of my favorite childhood videogames. For me, the most striking thing about the video (aside from the disturbing image of an adult-sized baby Mario bobbing his head to the music while the words 1-UP flashed epileptically across the screen) was the music itself. While I wouldn’t call this little electric ditty anything approaching a masterpiece by my current and (I’d like to think) refined sensibilities, it intrigued me at the time with its clever mixing of melodic layers and its relieving lack of the obnoxious lyrics that had so far soured me to the medium. I clicked on the “audio” link in the video’s credits in hopes of finding a new mp3 to inhabit the barren memory card of my new N-Gage (Disclaimer: I regret nothing), which at the time boasted only Strauss’ Blue Danube, an mp3 that I used solely for demonstrating the wonders of technology to old people. Fully expecting a flood of spyware to ooze forth from whatever dark alley of teh interwebz that this professional-sounding track could be illegally downloaded, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the link simply led to another section of its oft-overlooked Audio Portal.

Much like its Flash counterpart, the Newgrounds’ Audio Portal allows independent artists to submit their creations for grading and categorizing by their peers. The key difference being that users are actively encouraged by said artists to freely download, remix and/or use the tracks in their own flash creations (as long as proper credit is given, via such aforementioned “Audio” links).

After guiltlessly listening to the Yoshi’s Island track (actually called “All of the World”) to exhaustion and downloading it for what would prove to be years of use, I checked out another of API’s (the author’s) more popular works, which was another techno track called “Paradise on E”. Now I know what you’re thinking, but I opted to ignore the song title’s colorful serving suggestion and immediately find what wonders the track would hold for my tragically dope-free mind to soak in.

I’d say this was about the point that life became worth it.

This track, a fantastically paced and coordinated mix of measured anticipation and intense euphoric release, was my first pure experience of beauty. I mean, before that I had a vague idea of what beauty was supposed to be: the pleasantly coalescing features of the women who scorned me, the epic vastness of nature that I could never quite force myself to forget was just air and sticks and dust, a singer’s sincere vocal expression of a love I would never hope to understand, let alone feel for myself; the reason the true nature of beauty always seemed to elude me was that it was always something that belonged to someone else. But as I sat there, listening to the beautifully inhuman melody glide from the quietly emboldening set-up to the masterfully controlled explosion of unrelenting joy over and over again, each time focusing on a different melodic aspect or layer of sound so as to experience it with renewed virginity, I knew I had found a beauty that was mine. The track forged a connection to my ever waning acceptance of my existence that has since been an invaluable conduit for the world’s redeeming features to pull me back from the brink. I had discovered a fundamental truth about myself…

I fucking love Techno.

Not the mindless obscenely repetitive droning of three-note tunes, brain-boring phrases and clumsy, artless bass that tragically seems to represent the genre in the wider public sphere, mind you. I’m talking the proverbial good shit here. I’m talking about a natural evolution of classical music that uses modern tools and sensibilities to produce art with the same intentions that Mozart and Pals had when they defined their cultural eras: music whose myriad audible aspects are meticulously crafted to convey the purest representation of the artist’s emotions and musical talent, while remaining unrestricted by petty lyrics that would tie our interpretations down to a single perspective that only the artist could ever truly embrace.

Like you, I love my music, and like you, I want to share my music and the feelings it invokes in me with the rest of the world. Usually one could just trust the radio or MTV or whatnot to do this work for you since most genres are given a fair shake by the mainstream media, giving the casual listener enough opportunity to whet their appetite for the really good stuff even if said stuff is pushed into obscurity by the auto-tuned whumphing horror of Lady Gaga and her ilk. As I’ve mentioned though, techno has been unjustly misrepresented by the polarizing mindless extremity of the bass-drenched 20 minute atrocities and keening Europop gibberish (which I imagine could only be marginally enjoyed through a filter of nigh-fatal doses of ecstasy) that you’re likely to think of when someone tells you they’re into techno. This is an injustice I hope to help correct.

So join me as I present The Kind of Music I Listen to, one artist/style at a time, and listen as I describe just why each track is as amazing as it is. Each part in this ongoing series will contain a set of mini-reviews for individual tracks that I feel best represent a particular artist (or particular style if one artist’s work isn’t enough to go on) starting with my current favorite artist, NemesisTheory (whose list of freely and legally downloadable music is linked) next week sometime.

In the meantime though, here are links to the musical libraries* of some of my favorite artists (in no particular order) if you’d like a taste of their greatness before I cover it with my own strange definition of depth.

*All music is uploaded personally by independent artists and intended for free distribution and even sampling provided full credit for the original artist is given in either case.

Nemesis Theory











>Next time, Symphonic Storms and the majesty of NemesisTheory

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Splunk’d: The Many Failed Lives of a Spelunky Player. Life 1

I’ve always felt that Spelunky (which some of you should remember as Derek Yu’s magnum opus of randomly-generated runny, jumpy, treasure-grabby death) never did get the recognition it deserved. Despite the fact that Quinton Smith (late of Rock Paper Shotgun) took the time to write a dead-on summary on just why Spelunky is so fantastic, I've never seen true reflection of the game's greatness in the form of a diarised account of Spelunky's true majesty: the countless never-repeated obstacles, heart-seizing discoveries, precious victories and crushing failures that every (probably) doomed venture into Spelunky’s depths entails. Of course, we can probably forgive Quinns his shocking negligence in light of certain other distractions.
In an attempt to bring balance to the universe , I’ve made a diary of a few of my own ill-fated ‘Splunks’ (as I really shouldn’t call them, but do), in which I perform my usual insane practice of roleplaying the kind of ‘Splunker’ (oh god someone please stop me) that the randomly generated blurb on every startup of the game suggests I am.
I have a feeling this will end badly, and since Spelunky’s score screen suggests a 4:273 ratio of things not ending badly, I’m pretty confident I should trust my gut on this one. This never stopped me before though (excepting, of course, the 269 times that it did. Badly)

Life 1: Shot through the Heart, and I'm to blame.

Putting the folded photo in my pocket
I furrowed my brow
And thought of her one last time

A strange breeze swirls around me as I approach the entrance to the place in which I’ll earn her back: cool as the night, but tinged with the faint wisps of desert heat still smoldering in the sand below me. The moon is full tonight, blazing in its own quiet way. It gets me thinking again: Thinking of her and the way she-GAHFUCK! GIANT BATS!

Everything blurs together as I force myself forward towards the cave (though it’s hard to tell what’s forward anymore. Maybe it’s her, maybe it’s the Great Dimensional Leak of ’87, I don’t know. Let’s just say that when I say this crazy direction I’m going in is forward, it feels right). Piercing chiptune screeches fill the air as I run to the cave entrance. Frantically lighting a torch, I search for the secret entrance she told me would be here. The screeches grow louder by the moment but...Found it! I throw down a rope and begin my descent. At least I’ll be safe in the cave, I’m sure of it.

My fears that this would be another profitless bone-hunt are eased instantly as I drop into the first chamber. Already I see a brilliant golden Idol gleaming in the gloom, well within my reach: its only defense a silent stone guardian carved into the cavern wall: probably some kind’ve piggy diety worshiped by the ancient natives. *snort* I’m sure whatever Godless savages arranged this believed the threat of divine retribution alone would ward off superstitious looters. Ha I say! Their puny beliefs will have no effect on my looty lust because I’m a rational, thinking-type genius. I'm a goddamned junior scientist! Bill Nye sent me a certificate and everything!
As I stride valiantly towards my prize, I furrow my brow even harder to more effectively think about how awesome at thinking I am. I think of her. My brow hurts. Hastily picking up my prize and dismissing the ominous click of what I can only assume to be an unrelated geological phenomenon, I rush even valient-lier back to the entrance which is...closed. Completely. And something’s rumbling. Oh shi-*CRUNCH*


*huff* HIIIYUP!
Woo-Hah! Did you see that? Did you fuckin’ see that? I am the freakin’ God-King of badassery over here. Did Indiana Jones ever escape a boulder by jumping over it? No. No he didn’t because he’d have never thought of it because he isn’t me and I am a genius. Who’s the creepy wannabe now, Ford? Ho-yeah! Not this guy!
Err, I mean uh (angst, angst, angst, okay)...Uh, the cold stone rolled beneath me like, uh, like I was one of those circus bears who stand on those big rubber balls and...roll...them...but the ball isn’t rubber, it’s a SKULL and the bear is like, bald, or something because that makes it sad.
Whew, saved it.
I have my prize, but the victory seems bittersweet as I my gaze flits between my Idol and the firmly sealed entryway. As I look around me, desperately searching for a way out, I feel strangely comforted. I hold the idol and I feel the warmth of something familiar, something I thought I’d lost long ago.

It has her smile...
Heartened, I push forward into the unknown. The cave is riddled with equal parts danger and vindication: I find gaping holes to leap over and (adorably) deadly snakes to fight off either with my obligatory whip or with the shrewd combination of gravity and a solid-gold idol. These hazards only serve amplify the rush I get as I scoop up the priceless gold coins and assorted gems littered around every deadly nook and cranny. Actually "priceless" isn't quite accurate. My inexplicably precise sense of appraisal puts my net profits at exactly $2300, not including my Idol which I believe selling would be a bad idea for any number of reasons.
Oh crap.

I don’t like the look of that carving. A minute or so back I noticed the bloody giblets of a bat flying at me from the general direction of one of these. Plus, I’ve seen bloody arrows of questionable origin littering the floors of the cavern. It doesn’t take a genius to deduce that death and that statue have a few things in common, but I am and it helps. Knowing might be half the battle, but it doesn’t help the fact that the only way onto that ledge is the ladder leading directly into that carving’s line of fire. I’ll need a cunning plan if I’m going to-ahhh yes that’s it. Genius. Seeing as those flying bats got gibbed by these things and no one with any sense of symbolism would carve giant googly eyes onto their death trap if it wasn’t meant to see stuff, I’m guessing the mechanism is triggered by things moving in front of it. I’ll just climb up that ladder, wave my precious but crucially not-me Idol at the trap’s face until it’s spent, then climb up in safety. The plan’s infallible. It’s genius.

Yes Genius, which is why it totally worked and I escaped heroically and the loss of half my health points is completely unrelated and probably due to snakes or type-2 diabetes or something. I am a genius. You know this. Shut up I still have my Idol.
I continue my descent, braving falls and foes too numerous to mention before I hit what seems to be the cavern’s ground floor. My unshakable belief in a fair and just universe tells me that there must be a way out of here somewhere on this floor. Too excited for caution, I blaze forward, sneering at the lesser beasts lurking in the alcove below me as I pass harmlessly over them. It’s about at this point that I notice I’ve run under the hairy horror lurking above.

The man-sized arachnid plunges down towards me like an eight-legged guillotine, its crimson eyes creating a frighteningly effective contrast with its glistening white fangs that I can’t help but admire as I run away screaming. Actually wait, I don’t do that. Well okay I do do that a little but then I stop. I’ve beaten man-sized snakes and bats and giant boulders and that jet-bike level on Battle-Toads. I can beat this.
“Listen here, Bub”, I shout in my flawless Australo-Canadian accent at the surprisingly non-conversational fanged monstrosity bounding towards me, “It’s clobberin’ time!”
All across the world a million nerds are screaming at their monitors in fury. Their hate feeds me. “Suck my Face”, I scream eloquently as I chuck the golden head into the airspace I deduced to soon contain spidery death. However, my perfectly understandable miscalculation of freak-wind conditions in ancient caves leaves my precious careening into the aforementioned alcove of insignificance whilst Arachno the Fangular (as I somehow find time to name him) flies unhindered into my actual face as invited. The pain is indescribable so I won’t describe it, I’ve no time for brutal similes as I dash in what a spike filled dead-end seems to indicate is the wrong direction despite it seeming so right at the time.
Arachno continues his pursuit, his speed quickening greatly as his frenzied leaping sends him ricocheting down the low tunnel after me. In a brilliant manoeuvre, I duck on a ledge as he leaps over me. For a single precious instant I dare hope he’ll impale himself on the deadly spikes in his path, but he lands within a hair’s breadth of safety. I might have the time to flee but no time to get My Idol, this has to end now. Clamouring up into tunnel, I ready my whip-he follows-I strike-he leaps-a shock up my arm and a shower of blood: too much, not all his. He’s done, but the clenching throb of my last heartbeat and the abrupt end to the funky retro soundtrack that has played in my head all my life tells me I am too.
As I lie here in this cave of insurmountable peril, my life’s achievements seeming to flash above me for the world to see, I think of her again. I remember our last conversation where I’m standing over her smashed laptop and asking how I can make her love me again. As it plays out with perfect clarity I remember for the first time how a small pang of guilt crosses her features before she tells me just where to go.

What a bitch.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Call Me Holmes: A comic adaptation of Sherlock Holmes

I recently wrote the first half of a graphic-novel adaptation of a Sherlock Holmes story for my "writing for comics" media seminar. Much like the seminar, this piece is kind of a dry-run for the novel I intend to write one of these days (from which this blog derives its name, by the way), addressing similar themes and using the same sort of style. I'm rather proud of how this one turned out so rather than let it languish forever unknown in the depths of UCT's media department, I've posted a copy below. It's the script for an 8-page comic so it has panel descriptions (not labeled due to having to import it from the program that lists them automatically) which you can skim over to get the general idea, and dialogue expressed through balloons represented by the name of the character speaking with the words under it. There are also semi-dialogy captions which are described in the panel descriptions and are followed by a colon. Here's an example of how the pages go:

Page X - 1 panel

STEVE is standing in a field and talking to himself. Caption top left (panel description)

(Narrator): Steve was talking to himself one sunny day... (caption - basically one of those square text boxes that aren't speech balloons)


Hello, Self!


Which you could use your fancy shmancy imagination to deduce would look something like this:

but, you know, good.So without further Ado:

Setting: London 1960s

Page 1 - (8 panels - 3x3 grid of panels with the last two(i.e. bottom-right) panels merged to make a panel that is double the usual width)

DOBSON (White collared shirt with maroon tie, black pants, black shoes) is sitting at his desk, on a swivel chair (over the back of which a brown waistcoat is draped), in his office (darkened, 3.5m x 3.5m, sterile white colour motif), writing something (presumably paperwork related to his medical practice). We view him from his left side in a semi-profiling medium shot: the whole left side of his face is visible and illuminated by the light of a small ceiling fan (only about 7.5 feet off the ground due to the office's low, cramped ceiling). A small fraction of the right side of his face is visible, but is basked in shadow. The tired and morose-looking DOBSON is writing with a pencil. The surface of DOBSON's desk (placed against the room's Western wall, assuming the door faces North, as we shall do from now on for the purposes of description) is mostly visible, but its left edge is hidden off panel ('under' the panel). On the rightmost edge of this surface is an intercom (to communicate with the secretary, DEIDRE) the papers DOBSON is writing on are in the middle of the desk. On the left-hand side of the room's Northern wall (furthest from the reader, facing him/her) is a sturdy wooden door (hinged on its right) which has been bolted on its left side (despite the fact that it leads to his private practice's reception area), keeping the outside world where it is. A caption (black text on pale blue background- indicating that Dobson is thinking) is placed against the top-left corner of the panel.

(DOBSON): Well here we are again. Just a few more prescriptions, then home, then tea and...

Similar to Panel 1, but looking at DOBSON from his right side. The lighting on DOBSON's face has swapped sides (now illuminating the right side of his face because he has turned his chair slightly clockwise, making his right side face the ceiling-light. Mirroring panel 1, his face's left side is partially visible, but covered in shadow.). DOBSON (HOLMES), distracted from his work, is leaning back in his chair and examining his pencil with deep, contemptuous scrutiny, as if trying to deduct its entire life story from its every scratch and blemish (any alternative to dull paperwork, which HOLMES strongly resents having to sit through). On the Southern wall (where the North wall was in the last panel) to the left is a curtain presumably covering a window (the curtain is crimson with maroon lining, framing the view of the outside world with passionate colours that are in stark contrast to the rest of the room). To the curtain's right is an analog clock that shows that it is 11:00PM. The left edge of the desk is now visible, on which a tobacco-pipe lies. A caption (black text on pale orange background, indicating Holmes is thinking) is placed against the right edge of the panel (under the clock, above the desk, to DOBSON's right).

(HOLMES): ...and another irrecoverable day is tossed onto the ever-growing shit-pile that is James Dobson's wasted life. Surely there's something else worth doing out there?

Profiling close-up of the left-side of DOBSON's face, illuminated again as in Panel 1. He looks like he is sternly concentrating on his work (off panel, to the bottom left, to which his head is pointing). The left edge of the office door (specifically its bolt) is visible on the right side on the panel. A DOBSON-caption lies against the top-left corner, as in panel 1.

(DOBSON): No. No there isn't because I have to get this done, I want to make it home today without aggravating all of bloody London, and Iwon't get mixed up in anyone's private affairs for the sake of some deranged whim.

Like Panel 2, but DOBSON is now looking at the clock (which now reads 11:05PM), stretching (arching his back , arms raised and bent, clenched fists) and letting out an audible yawn. There is a Holmes caption as there was is panel 2.

(HOLMES): Though I can't imagine there are any decent affairs to be had at this hour. Not that that's ever stopped me before. No power in existence can keep James Jonah Dobson from getting what he wants eh?

A medium profiling shot of DOBSON's left side. He looks strained and angry. His eyes are squeezed shut. His teeth are clenched, as are his fists which are pressed hard on the edge of his desk closest to him. The visible left side of his face is less illuminated than usual, shadow having crept westwards from the back of his head to his cheek. A DOBSON-caption fills the top of the panel.

(DOBSON): No. I don't want this. I never want to wade arse-deep into London's filthy bloody underbelly to puzzle out the horror with you. I don't want to track down every soulless monster this city can squeeze out. I can't bear to take one glance at a kindly old woman and deduce she's drinking herself half to death every night, just because I can. I'm not you, thank God.

Close up profile shot of DOBSON's face (right side), looking up at the ceiling (and, incidentally, the top-right panel in which Dobson's face's left side is looking down). His eyes are half open and his mouth is smirking lightly, giving him an expression of serene smugness in stark contrast to his strained frustration in the previous panel. A HOLMES-caption is above him.

(HOLMES): Ha! It never ceases to amaze me how dramatic you can get while defending your right to be boring. Besides, I'm quite certain God hasn't any say on who James Dobson happens to be. I do though. And I'm in a mood for adventure that I'm sure you'll come to share soon enough.

Medium shot facing DOBSON's front directly. DOBSON has swiveled his chair 180 degrees and is now facing away from his desk. He is seemingly in actual mental pain now. His face is stretched into a tense grimace, his eyes are jammed shut and his left hand is pressed firmly into his left temple. His right hand is still on his desk, beginning to take hold of his pipe. Shadow has all but consumed the left side of DOBSON's face, while light seems to gradually be filling the right side. A DOBSON-caption is placed against the upper-left corner of the panel, and a HOLMES-caption is placed to its right, as low as possible without overlapping with DOBSON's head.

(DOBSON): Stop, just... I won't let you alright? Not again. I refuse to play a puppet for a fucking voice in my head!

(HOLMES): Voice in your...? Ah now Dobson, my lad; let's not regress to petty insults. How many times have I told you...

Extreme close up of DOBSON's head, which takes up all of the panel's vertical space, and about 2/3 of its horizontal space (placed in the middle). DOBSON's head is bowed forward, facing the reader directly, the left side of his face (to the reader's right) is completely bathed in shadow, as is the background. His illuminated right-side of his face holds an expression of smug, cruel vindication. His smile is wide and thin, and his eyes look straight at the reader. DOBSON's right hand is visible in the left of the panel, holding his pipe and pressing it into the right corner of DOBSON's mouth (once again, to the reader's left). A small HOLMES-caption is placed against the top edge of the panel, in the middle.

(HOLMES): ...To call me Holmes?

Page 2 - 7 Panels. 3x3 grid, Panels 1 and 3 double width.

Frontal medium wide shot of Dobson sitting behind his desk (torso+arms and most of desk's surface visible). He is almost fully illuminated now (his face completely so). He looks surprised by the sudden transmission emanating loudly from the intercom on his desk. His arms are near to their prior position, but jolted slightly out of place. He has dropped his pipe which is seen hanging in mid-air, just outside his grasp and on its way to the floor.


(Jagged balloon - tinny intercom sound)


Medium shot of Dobson on the floor who is fumbling for his pipe on the the underside of his desk. His torso is facing downwards (parallel with floor), his right arm is on the floor, supporting him. His left arm and head are turned towards his pipe which is deep under the desk (face turned away from the reader and not visible). There is a Holmes caption and a Dobson one in the upper left and bottom right corners of the panel respectively.

(Dobson): Oh bloody hell, the carpet! Can you not manage being in control for one instant without destroying something?

(HOLMES): As I'm fairly fucking sure you'llagree, Dobson mate, all evidence points to Deidre on the damnable intercom being the culprit here, whom I'll get to as soon as these worthless bones of yours can manage.


(Jagged Balloon)

James? Hello?

Same as Panel 2, but DOBSON (now possessed by HOLMES) is holding up his recovered pipe with both hands, carefully inspecting its hole for leftover tobacco. His brow is furrowed thoughtfully (as it most often is when HOLMES is in control) and his mouth is pouting slightly in an expression of disappointed contemplation. There is a Dobson and Holmes pair of captions as in Panel 2.

(DOBSON): Wait! Listen Holmes, just let me handle her alright? You know you'll probably say something...uncharacteristic of me, and you know what will happen if she catches on to us.

(HOLMES): I'm well aware of the stakes at hand here, Dobson, they're what makes this fun.


(Jagged Balloon)

Dr. Dobson, answer me please.

Close up of HOLMES' hand pressing the intercom's button. A small DOBSON caption in in the top left and a HOLMES one is in the bottom right.

(DOBSON): No! Just...


Um, Yes Deidre? Did you want me- I mean, did you need something?


Ah, at last. Come down to reception please, Doctor. We've an emergency.


Oh dear me. I'll come as quickly as possible.

Full body shot of HOLMES in the process of getting up from his desk and picking his waistcoat from the chair. His whole face is visible, and holds an expression of Holmesy smugness. A Holmes caption is in the bottom right.

(HOLMES): Oh aren't you proud Mummy? I answered the 'com all by myself! A spot on impression of you as well I dare say. I'm particularly proud of how I managed to capture that pathetically repressed sexual undertone of yours.

As in Panel 5, but HOLMES (now wearing his waistcoat) is now standing and beginning to turn towards the door. He is putting his pipe in his waistcoat's inner pocket. He looks a bit annoyed. A Dobson/Holmes caption pair (as in panels 2&3) is visible.

(DOBSON): Yes. Fine. Well done. Now please let me handle the rest. A quick chat through the intercom is one thing, but do you honestly think you've the civility to manage looking in the eye for one minute without telling her how you've deduced her entire sexual history from a single wayward eyelash?

(HOLMES): In all honesty, no. How those wild, lustful lashes do wander...

Medium close up of the back of the left 2/3 of HOLMES' torso (including head)up against the office door. HOLMES has his right hand on the doorknob (bottom left of the panel) and seems to be leaning against it: waiting to act until his mental conflict is resolved. HOLMES' head is turned slightly to the left and what is visible of his face is cast in shadow. Four captions (Dobson-Holmes-Dobson-Holmes)begin at the top middle of the panel, going down and to the right as space allows.

(DOBSON): I'm sure. Listen, be honest with yourself. Best case scenario: she sues for invasion of privacy or harassment or...

(HOLMES): And what kind of harassment would I...

(DOBSON): You'll find one. Now worst case scenario: she catches on to all this double-minded lunacy and we'll be shipped off to the asylum to be lobotomized or whatever they do these days. Either way, it'll be your head as much as mine when you're through being you. Now give. me. back.

(HOLMES): Fair points I suppose. I still swear I'll have my fun before the day is out, but for now my dear Dobson...

Page 3 - 8 panels, 3x3 grid. Second panel double width.

Frontal body shot of DOBSON emerging from the other side of the aforesaid door, entering a very short passageway. He is still holding the door handle and has put his left foot carefully forward. He holds an expression of weary apprehension. His whole face is illuminated (as it will be from now on unless otherwise stated). He is talking to the unseen DEIDRE. On the wall to the right of the doorway, some Doctor's certificates are hung (DOBSON puts them there to build clients' confidence in him, though he can't bear to look at them himself). A Holmes caption is placed on the upper right side of the panel, next to Dobson's head.

(HOLMES): You're all yours.


(To DEIDRE) Yes fina- needed me for something Deidre?

Long shot of the reception area of DOBSON's practice from his current perspective. Opposite the reader is the room's 'northern' wall, which has a door, a window and a coat rack holding a coat placed against it. The room has the slightly warmer motif than the office, as it has wooden flooring and off-white walls. Its windows (with a view of the street) are barred and draped with white curtains. The only other colour in the room (people aside) comes from a small collection of potted flowers arranged neatly on the reception desk (partly visible on panel left - its left border is against the western wall and its back is near the southern wall, of which we see the corner on the far left). The left edge of the door of the practice is visible in the background (panel right). A table topped with magazines is in the centre of the room, in front of six soft-looking felt chairs. These chairs are lined along the western wall. DEIDRE and KATE Whitney are sitting on the 4th and 5th chairs from the left respectively. DEIDRE is dressed in a floral dress and woman's vest. Her hair is held back by a blue Alice-band and some reading spectacles hang from a string around her neck. Her outfit gives the impression that while she holds some regard towards workplace formality, DOBSON lets her get away with as much casualness as she wants. DEIDRE is looking at DOBSON and talking to him. Her head is slightly tilted to the right and her expression both displays and evokes sympathy. Her hand is placed tentatively on the hunched shoulder of KATE, who is sitting bent over with grief in the chair to DEIDRE's left (panel right). KATE is dressed in a long black overcoat that looks recently rained-on, and she wears a black bonnet. Her hands cover her face as she weeps into them.


Dr. Dobson, at last! She burst in a few minutes ago, crying something about her husband. I haven't made out much since then.

Medium frontal shot of (from left to right) DOBSON (busy taking a seat and talking to DEIDRE), DEIDRE (talking to DOBSON with her hand on KATE's shoulder and handing her a tissue) and KATE (still crying).


to DEIDRE: I see.

to KATE: Might I ask your name, Madame?


Kuh, *sniff* K, kuht...


This is Kate Whitney, James. Surely you remember her? She and her husband come in for checkups every month.

Like Panel 3, except DOBSON is settled in his chair with his hands folded in his lap, listening intently. DEIDRE is looking down at the hunched KATE sympathetically. KATE, whose modest touch of mascara is running for all its worth, has turned her head out of her hands to look at DOBSON. There is a Holmes caption in the top left of the panel.

That's always the way with her, eh Dobson? Deidre attracts humanity's most miserable specimens like birds to a lighthouse. I'm starting to see why you like her.


Ah yes, your husband, uh...




Isa Whitney of course. Um, how is the old chap?

Close up of KATE from her left side. She is staring wide-eyed at DOBSON with an expression of mingled shock, grief and disbelief at his insensitivity.



Frontal close-up of Dobson, who gapes stupidly, looking greatly taken aback by KATE's statement. Holmes caption, bottom left. A bubble from DEIDRE is visible to the caption's right

(HOLMES): Haha yes! A stunning bungle by the civil James Dobson, and over a sudden tragic death too? I daresay this night is turning out to be as interesting as I'd hoped.


Dead? I-I'm sorry I...


Oh, Kate! Really?

Like panel 4,except DOBSON and DEIDRE look shocked and surprised, and KATE is blowing her nose. Her speech is separated into three speech bubbles.


...or living in a drug den.


T-take your pick.

Like Panel 4, but DEIDRE and DOBSON seem a bit relieved, although still concerned. DOBSON is leaning forward towards KATE, questioning her. DEIDRE is getting another tissue for KATE. Holmes caption top left and bottom right. KATE's head is turned angrily towards DOBSON. She looks hurt and angry, and is clenching her old tissue to her chest.

(HOLMES) I'll pick mysterious every time, thank you. Nevertheless, tracking down his addled arse could be fun. Does she know what den he's fallen into specifically or is there an adventure in this?


Well, uh, I don't suppose you have any idea where Isa might be? I mean, assuming he's ali- assuming he is in a drug den anyway.


Of course I know!

(HOLMES): Shit.

Page 4 - 7 panels, 3x3 grid (4th and 6th panel double width)

Medium shot of KATE and DOBSON. KATE is standing now. She is leaning aggressively towards DOBSON, who is sitting back in fear with his hands held open palmed by his chest, facing her. KATE is shouting in rage, her mouth is wide open and she is glaring daggers at DOBSON. DEIDRE is leaning to the right, out of KATE's way (her head is visible between KATE's back and the panel's right edge). Holmes caption bottom right.


Listen, you pathetic worm, do you think that if I knew my husband was associating himself with such vagrant, jobless, lowlifes as inhabit a fucking drug den, I wouldn't make sure I knew every possible detail? What kind of wife do you think I am?


Now then Kate...

(HOLMES): The kind who likes her divorce lawyers heavily armed, I'd wager.

Close up of KATE, still standing and facing to the left, away from the wall and chairs, on which DEIDRE and DOBSON (centre and upper right of the panel respectively) are still sitting.
Her head (on the right side of the panel) is tilted away from the reader and slightly shadowed. She is dabbing her right eye with the new tissue. DOBSON, recovering from his scolding, has his fist held up against his chin, and his head is tilted down and to the left in an expression of sheepish embarrassment. DEIDRE has one arm on her knee and the holds the other (bent slightly) out in front of her in a questioning manner. She is talking sympathetically to KATE.


Please Kate, try to relax. It was very sweet of you to come to us. I'll get you some water and you can tell us all about it - Would you prefer it if James left?

Medium frontal shot of KATE, who is sitting again. She is hunched forward, her elbows rest on her knees, which are about 30cm apart, and her forearms hang defeatedly downwards in the space between her legs, angling towards each other. KATE seems of the verge of tears again, her eyes lightly clenched shut and her mouth opened in a small, forlorn grimace. Holmes caption bottom right.


No, no, I'm sorry Doctor, please stay. I'm just...I've no one else to turn to. The police would just arrest him and if people...It's just he's been gone for days with no word and I just can't stand to think of him in that place with those people and no way for me to know what he's doing! All I know is that I last saw him at the-

Medium shot of KATE and DOBSON, facing away from the western wall and out into the rest of the room. In the background, from the panel's top middle to centre right, are the Eastern wall, on which is the door to the bathroom which DEIDRE has emerged from, carrying a glass of water), the short passage to DOBSON's office and the reception desk. DOBSON (right) has his head turned towards KATE so that only the left side of his head is visible. He looks angry, and is saying "no" loudly and sternly, with a speech bubble coloured like a Holmes caption. KATE and DEIDRE look somewhat shocked at this brief outburst.


(Holmes balloon)


Close up of DOBSON, whose head is turned slightly towards the right. He looks nervous and horrified at himself. His left eye is half-squinting and his mouth is half open in a stammering gape. There are four captions and two speech balloons arranged from top to bottom in this order: Dobson caption (DC) speech balloon (SB), Holmes caption (HC), DC, HC.

D: How d- Why the fuck did you do that!?


Uh, I mean, um...

H: She was just going to tell us where he is. I can't have that.

D: No. No I refuse to believe to would be sodense as to risk everything for the sake of a puzzle. Listen you-

H: No you listen, you little fucking nitwit. You have kept me cooped up and unstimulated in this woefully puny skull of yours for nearly a week. Now I am going to deduce the location of Mr. Isa Whitney so you'd best stall for time while I do so because if you value your precious little life, by God, you will let me have this.

Like panel 4, except DEIDRE is now standing in front of KATE, handing her the glass of water. DEIDRE is staring at DOBSON quizzically and somewhat sternly. KATE seems a bit annoyed, but she seems to have calmed down a bit. She is wiping away her running mascara with her right hand while she accepts DEIDRE's water with her left. DOBSON is trying desperately to seem friendly after his outburst. He is smiling unconvincingly and his hands are held up towards KATE as if imploring her to speak. HC bottom right.


I just think it would be best if you told us the whole story.


Yes...perhaps you should, Kate dear.

H: There's a good boy.

Medium shot of KATE from DOBSON's perspective (i.e. her right). She is sitting and looking forlornly into her glass. HC centre left, DC bottom right.


A-alright. I suppose it began when...

H: Right, here we go. Now do pay attention, Dobson, I do like to think our little chats are educational for you.

D: Oh I'm quite sure they are, Holmes. I'm actually looking forward to it.

Page 5 - 7 panels, 3x3 grid. First panel double width.

Like the previous panel, but zoomed out a bit to show KATE's whole body, calm and a bit more relaxed now, is now looking upwards, seemingly in thought. The background, its reality completely forgotten, appears as a dark, cloudy, reddish vortex. One HC next to and partially overlapping the first SB (not covering any significant info but giving the impression that there is only space in DOBSON's mind for the bare bones of the monologue once HOLMES' powers of deduction begin) and one on the bottom right (after the last SB).


(balloon partially covered by HC)

Well It's been months that I've known something strange was going on. I mean his behaviour was a, you know? A bit elusive, a bit closed. I mean at first I put it down to his little theatre fantasies not working out and him quitting his job at the paper, but even after he got taken on by this out-of-town consulting firm he was acting odd. I mean, you can imagine the things I suspected. Though I'd never have dreamed it was drugs until I followed him on one of his "errands" and found him at that abominable drug den. When he stopped there I-

H: Okay what do we know? Housewife, middle aged, whiny, inquisitive (admirable but undesirable as spouse), the kind who's only friend in a crisis is doctor who doesn't even remember her. Husband disappearance probably voluntary. Therefore drug den hideout of convenience: Near to house. House where though? Pungent smell off of wet clothes. Fine when dry but emergent when damp. Urine? The Thames. Probably lives near-


Sorry, but where was that exactly?

H: Wait, I-!

Long shot of DOBSON, DEIDRE and KATE. DOBSON is on the left, an open chair is between him and KATE (who is looking up at DOBSON, slightly bemused at the interruption to the left of whom is DEIDRE. DOBSON is leaning back, his head turned towards the women so that only its right side is visible. He looks uncommonly smug, considering HOLMES isn't in control. HC under the SBs, and a DC to the bottom right of that.


Oh, uh, it was "The Bar of Gold": nasty little 'bar' on Upper Swandam Lane, by the river just North-East of London Bridge, but I'm getting to that.


I see.


So, where was-? Oh yes...

H: Dobson, you...

D: Haha! Save it, Holmes. You'll get your mystery soon enough, but stop and listen for once, would you?

(flashback) A long shot of KATE (Dressed in a stodgy black dress and matching large, identity-hiding sunhat) emerging cautiously from a London cab. Both are facing a building off panel (behind the reader's perspective, slightly to the left). The street stretches behind her, bustling with workers hauling goods into their truck, beggars sitting against buildings with their hands held out, and a staggered group of stoned people (many of whom are brightly-clothed hippie youngsters) moving dazedly away from the aforesaid building and into the harsh sunlight. The area seems to emanate poverty and the damp of the Thames. A caption occupies the top of the panel (it is simple black text on a white background, unlike DCs and HCs). A small HC is in the bottom right.

(KATE): I waited a bit after he went in so I'd be able to catch him 'in the act', so to speak. I just wanted to be sure, you know?

H: Dobson...

Close up of KATE (still in the flashback), looking from behind her head, which occupies the bottom left quarter of the panel and is turned upwards and to the right (enough for her to be recognizable). The street in front of her is much the same as the previously described street behind her, except that a dilapidated double story building dominates the right side of the panel. The building, painted a sickly yellow with a rusty sign proclaiming it to be "The Bar of Gold" over the door, has a large, open window on its second story, through which a man (ISA Whitney) is leaning, having just noticed KATE. KATE is glaring angrily at ISA, who looks very shocked to see her. His Shirt is unbuttoned down to his lower sternum, and his hair is ruffled. He is waving one hand frantically at her. A KATE caption takes up the top of the panel, as before. Another HC is in the bottom right.

(KATE): It was just as I was getting out the cab that I heard this cry from up above me. I looked up and was struck cold by the sight of Isa. He Looked a state: half undressed and probably blitzed out of his mind. I think he was trying to tell me something, but he disappeared before I could make it out.

H: Answer me Dobson!

Medium frontal shot of the three people in the same position as in panel 2, but centered around KATE. DOBSON and DEIDRE are mostly off-panel. KATE's arms are folded on her chest. Her head is tilted to the right and she is looking down into her lap with an expression of concerned despair.


I got back into the cab and left. I knew he was still in there but I just couldn't bear the idea of going in there to drag him away from all the whores and beggars and filthy bloody addicts. I just assumed he would come home that night with his tail tucked, but that was daysago!


Do you suppose he's still in there?


Maybe. It's just that I've been thinking about how he disappeared from that window. I was certain at the time he had just ducked away to hide, but I've just been thinking and thinking about it for days, and the more I do, the more certain I am that he was pulled.

Medium profiling shot of DOBSON's right side as he stands up from his chair and adjusts his tie . KATE and DEIDRE are still sitting on the chairs to his left (panel left centre and top), looking at him. The reception room's northern wall is visible in the background. There is an HC in the top left of the panel, and a DC in the bottom right.

...Dobson what are you doing?


Mrs. Whitney, if what you say is true, I feel that as my patient and Deidre's friend, you deserve nothing less than my most sincerely offered help.


James, you're...?

D: Precisely what you've been whining at me to do all night. This woman has a problem that you will never cease to torment me over, and that being the case there is of course but one way out of it: We solve it.

Like panel 6, but DOBSON is standing next to the coat rack by the north wall, in the process of putting on his coat. DEIDRE and KATE are looking at each other. We canto see KATE's expression but she has her fists held up to her chest hopefully. DEIDRE, who looks at KATE with a hurt expression is beginning to stand up out of her chair. HC top left. DC bottom right.

Listen Dobson, I don't quite know what small measure of spine you found to pull that spiteful little joke of yours out of, but I'd be a fool to assume it's been sucked dry. What possible reason...


Well I'd hardly say the receptionist and I arefriends but...


Oh. Well I'm still a doctor and doctors are supposed to help people past writing up their appointments. I'll have Mr. Whitney back in two hours at the most. Fetch my keys, would you DEIDRE?


But what if he's been...?


I'm certain that he's perfectly fine, Madame. Two hours, I swear.

Medium shot of DOBSON (from the same perspective as in panel 7, but closer) now wearing his coat and ironing out some of its creases with his hands. He is looking at DEIDRE with warmth. DEIDRE approaches from panel left, holding out DOBSON's keys. She is smiling faintly, her eyes squinting with wry perception. HC under the 2nd SB. and a DC under that.




Are you sure you'll be alright fighting your way through the slums to save the illustrious Isa Whitney and resist the clutches of the evil paperwork?


Well I...heh.

H: Ah. That.


Relax, this is a decent thing you're doing. Besides, since when wasn't paperwork my job?

Page 6 - 3 triple width panels.

Long shot overlooking the front door of DOBSON's practice and the street in front of it, on which DOBSON's Ford is parked. It is dark, with only a pair of streetlamps on either side of the panel and the opened door of Dobson's practice providing radiating light (the moon is likely smothered by London's smog), giving the street a darkly smoldering orange ambiance. DOBSON and DEIDRE are seen silhouetted in the doorway. Four captions in this order: HC, DC, HC, DC


Good luck, James.

H: Now, I'm not discounting Sex's titanic powers of motivation, Dobson lad, but even you aren't so repressed as to push past your insufferable weakness just to get into Deidre's good graces. What is this really about?

D: Would you cut down on the over-analysing for a bit? You'll do my head in. The job is just less trouble than it's worth, alright?

Like Panel 1, but DOBSON is standing next to his car, has the door open and is about to get in. His left side is partially illuminated by the streetlight. DEIDRE is still standing silhouetted in the doorway, watching him. HC top left. DC bottom right.

H: Oh, and you being so brilliant at dealing with trouble? I suppose I'll just have to take your word for it seeing as your old army buddies aren't in any condition to remind me just how wonderfully you perform under pressure.

D: Not another bloody word, Holmes. I said I'd do this and I'll shall do it. Without you.

H: Oh I'm sure you'll be just fine, Dobson. I know this because I am utterly certain that the very instant anything serious needs doing, you'll run straight to me to sort everything else. That's how it is, how it's been and how things are going to go from her on out. Shite, Dobson, you actually consider dragging this probably-comatose gentleman back from his new personal hell as a job. If his old one hadn't so thoroughly struck me as an irrational harpy I might have held out some hope for that little murder theory of hers, but no. I fear your expedition will prove as pointless as-

D: -your 'lesson' in deduction? Tell you what,mate: This field trip can be my way of thanking you for that little smidgeon of education.

Like the last two panels, but DOBSON, unseen is now inside the car, which is driving off-panel to the right (its front half is already off panel). DEIDRE has turned her head to watch the car go. All we see of DOBSON is an HC (top left) and a DC over the car's rear window.

H: Forgive me if I've leaped clean past whatever semblance of logic you scraped together to form that statement, but I got the distinct impression that the very instant I tried to broaden your little mind you shot me down. What could you have possibly learned from that?

D: That I could.

Page 7 - 5 panels, 3x3 grid. First panel triple width, 4th panel double width. 5th panel triple width.

Long crane shot of DOBSON's car as it parks outside "The Golden Bar". Three police cars are parked nearest the building, into which a handful of policemen are desperately pushing as many captured clients of the Bar as possible. Other clients are streaming out of the Bar like blood from a diseased wound, those who manage to evade the hopelessly understaffed police force stagger away as quickly as their wobbly muscles allow. Uncolored caption top left, DC in centre left, HC bottom right.

Later, at the docks...

D: Oh of all the bloody times the police could have chosen to act halfway competent... Do you suppose Isa is still in there?

H: Well, although running the risk that this will be turned against me somehow, I shall say that regardless of whether Isa in in there or not, the police presence may make this whole thing worth my time. Consider Dobson, if you even have the capacity for consideration, whether this long-overdue raid on what is possibly the least subtle drug den in London, and the minimally suspected demise of one Mr. Isa Whitney are too closely matched to consider coincidence as the culprit.

Medium shot of DOBSON approaching a police officer while trying to seem authoritative, but not fooling anybody. His left arm is holding his head, which seems to be paining him, his other is waving at The OFFICER (police uniform, 6 foot), who holds a heavily sedated a client of The Bar in his grasp, held against the police car as he is handcuffed. The OFFICER is looking at DOBSON and responding to him, seeming quite pleased to see him. There are HCs and DCs between the SBs as indicated.

H: It's never quite enough just expecting that I'm right though. Alright, Dobson, you've had your fun but I'm sure this devlopment is enough indication that this is the big-boys' game now.My turn.

D: No-Urgh...No, Holmes! Not this time.

H: Eh? No! Let m-


Excuse me? Yes, Hello. I don't know if you recognise me, my name is Do- uh, 'Holmes'. You may remember I advised the Force on-

H: Listen Dobson, earlier was one thing but you can't actually imagine you can handle this yourself. If you won't let me take a shot at Deidre then you can't...

Medium shot of DOBSON (left) and OFFICER (right) standing and talking face to face. They both seem friendly. The top of the police car (in which the prisoner is visible through the windows) occupies the bottom of the panle. There are HCs and DCs between the SBs as indicated.


Well fuck me if it in't mister Sherlock Holmes hisself?

H: I suppose you're fucked then, MacNeil, old boy.


Suren' yeh did nae think I'd forget the man who cracked the Baker Street Burglaries? I've yeh tae thank for gettin' considered for Captain!


Ah yes, that. No need to go on about it, uh, MacNeil right? You could say it was...simply elementary.

H: It-what? What in blazes is that supposed to-

D: Oh I don't know. Seemed like something you would say.


Elemen-? Uh, right well I don't suppose Yeh've been called in just tae help convict this sorry lot, so I suspect yeh're here about the murder, aye?

H: Oh thank you ye Gods, yes! Something worthdoing at last.


Murder? I uh, yes of course. Could you just tell me what you know of it?

H: Smooth.

Medium shot from behind DOBSON, facing the OFFICER, who has successfully herded his dazed prisoner into the police vehicle (on the right). The OFFICER is leaning on his car with his left side and looking off to the left, where a section of the The Gold Bar is visible.


Well we've been meanin' tae blast these fockers for ages but wi'out a reasonable reason tae investigate it was only today that we got the chance. We got a noise complaint about a pair a' blokes screamin' at eachother on the second floor; still goin' at it when we got here even. Not hard to spot the smack once we're in aye? Thing is, tho', when we finally get tae the second floor, there's just this homeless bloke, Boone, and signs of struggle. Everyone fit tae talk confirms there's a prim bloke that goes up there regular, like, but he's nowhere, no body, nil. We've arrested Boone, but we haven't much to pin anything on 'im.

H: A Prim bloke eh? Dobson I'm going to hazard a guess here, but I believe you might have come up at some trouble.

Long shot of the street, with DOBSON and OFFICER standing in the centre, both facing The Gold Bar with their backs to the reader. The officer is looing up at The Bar's second floor window and Dobson has his head in his left hand. Captions interspersing the dialogue as indicated.


Oh God...This prim gentleman, his name wouldn't be Isa Whitney would it?

H: Level with me here, Dobson, I think you know what has to happen now.


Yeh know I do believe it was, but how'd yeh...?


Call it a hunch.


Fair enough, I've learned the sense not tae question yeh. Yut do yeh think yeh can find him? We've been scourin' the place for ages and we figure that with the evidence we've got, findin' him is looking pretty fockin' impossible.

Alright Holmes. Alright...


My dear McNeil...

Page 8 - 1 full-page panel

Full page Frontal Full Body shot of DOBSON (Now with HOLMES in control). He has taken his pipe out of his waistcoat pocket and has placed it in his mouth, holding it with his right hand. The left side f his face is cast in shadow as his head is turned slightly to the right and downwards. He holds an expression of smug vindication and self confidance. The darkened, smoldering street, police cars, onlookers and buildings stretching far behind him. A small white caption is in the bottom right corner.


I wouldn't say it's impossible

To be continued...