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The secret comic-book origin of "Sherlock Holmes"

 Cast members Jude Law (2nd L), Rachel McAdams (2nd R), and Robert Downey Jr. (C) attend the premiere of
Cast members Jude Law (2nd L), Rachel McAdams (2nd R), and Robert Downey Jr. (C) attend the premiere of 'Sherlock Holmes' with Downey Jr.'s wife, Susan Downey (L) in New York December 17, 2009. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly
— image credit: Reuters

By Borys Kit

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Before "Sherlock Holmes" was a movie opening on Christmas Day, it was a comic.

Sort of.

Lionel Wigram, one of the film's producers, wanted to do a modern retelling of the classic detective created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. "I wanted to present Sherlock Holmes not as fuddy duddy, 'Masterpiece Theatre' guy," said the British native.

Wigram came up with a story treatment but "realized that wasn't going to be enough." He decided to give his story some comic book pizazz to convey the atmosphere and the attitude. It's one thing to write that the new Holmes has a Bohemian or rock-and-roll attitude, as Wigram was going for, but it's another to show a piece of art that embodies it.

Wigram called DC Comics executive Gregory Noveck and asked him for assistance in finding an artist, and Noveck pointed him to John Watkiss, another Brit. Watkiss is a comic artist who's drawn for "Sandman," "Deadman" and "Savage Sword of Conan." He also worked on Disney's "Tarzan" and "Treasure Planet" movies.

Wigram used his own money, $5,000 of it, to have Watkiss draw up scenes. Wigram then bound them in a comic-book form and published a small number to pitch his take.

The final product is not exactly a comic book. There are no sequential panels or word balloons but rather beautiful, moody splash pages with occasional story notes along the borders.

Wigram showed the book to Warners exec Dan Lin (who later became a producer on the movie) and then to Warners' president Jeff Robinov, who ultimately gave the movie the go-ahead.

"What he drew was what I imagined, but better," said Wigram, who is surprised that more Hollywood types don't prepare these style of pamphlets when pitching ideas. "And if you compare Guy Ritchie's screen version to the images, there's a direct connection. Watkiss deserves a lot of credit and recognition for this."

There was talk of DC making a "Holmes" comic, maybe using the images, maybe not, but the movie project found itself fast-tracked and swept away once Ritchie and then Robert Downey Jr. came on board, and Wigram never had a chance to revisit the idea.

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