Monday, June 5, 2023

In case I didn't mention it, there was this book . . .

 Let me just say this: I am really horrible at self-promotion. 

It's mostly intentional, and sometimes I forget to even tell friends about things. For example, tonight I had at email asking about a book that got a mention in Sherlock Holmes Magazine. So, in answering friend Joe, I figured I might as well explain it to anyone who might bump into that reference. Here's the book:

Sometime last year, a couple of my passions collided. I love 221B Con, as anyone who has read this blog for a while knows, and have been blogging about it since year one. Another, less public dream of mine, came from hearing of some famed BSI dinner long past where each of the attendees were given copies of a book or three. I loved the idea of someone just handing you a book as a party favor. (And there are a conference or two that have do just that.) So for the tenth anniversary of 221B Con, I decided to gather up all of my blog posts in a book with a few other notes and publish the thing to just hand out to all the lovely folk at the con. Even got a dealer's table . . .

We were selling back issues of The Watsonian (which is why you see Beth Gallego as my fellow bookseller) and other books by myself and special guest Paul Thomas Miller. But The 221B Con Decade? That book was getting handed out to every single person who cast a glance our way.

Two hundred and twenty-one signed and numbered copies, all in paperback except for twenty-five hardcover copies especially for the people who put on and worked at 221B Con. With a few rare exceptions, any remaining copies (a few unsigned and numbered beyond the 221, I was surprised to find) stayed with the 221B Con crew.

So at this point, I sure don't have any extras to dispense, as it was 221B Con's book all along. They even have the rights to it, if that ever becomes useful or worth reprinting decades from now. And that was kind of the point -- lately, with publish-on-demand and Amazon, some books will never become collectable or a challenge to find. Some books will just be there, and not be something that marks a special moment in time, which is, truly, each and every 221B Con.

So, yep, I came out with another book this spring and really didn't promote it outside of waving it in the face of every person I could in the dealer's room at con. (Including walking the whole dealer's room and giving one to each of the dealers, because they might not be likely to leave their tables.)

And really, that's about as much promotional energy as I've ever had. Except to now say, copies are out there, and I'm sure someone has dumped one on their local used bookseller already. Keep your eyes open. 

Friday, June 2, 2023

The Sherlock Holmes Canon-Event

There's a concept that the new movie Spider-man:Across the Spider-verse uses that is very Sherlock-Holmes-relatable. A little surprised we didn't get there first, but Sherlock has always been solidly rooted in the mystery genre, despite notable ventures into fantasy or science fiction, however, so there's a great excuse. And there are other reasons as well.

Sherlockians have long been into the Canon of Sherlock Holmes, no doubt about that. We work out the lives of our favorite characters building upon Canonical detail, try to expand the Canon from our own interpretations, etc., etc. But what we tended to hold fast to was the idea that, even in our pastiche-worlds, there is just the one Canonical Sherlock-verse. When BBC Sherlock blew out the walls of Canon and we started to see Sherlock and John as tennis players, mermen, or whatever variant a Sherlockian enjoyed creating, an up and coming generation of Sherlockians started seeing the potential for a Sherlock Holmes multiverse, but it wasn't immediately embraced by our more traditional venues.

In decades past, it was even fashionable in Sherlockian publications to pooh-pooh new Sherlock Holmes stories that ventured too far from Canon, and folks liked to publish rules for pastiche. No celebrities. No bringing in Moriarty, Mycroft, or Irene. Emulating the original model as much as humanly possible was the way to go. But BBC Sherlock changed all that from square one, and it used the "Canon-event."

Sherlock Holmes was suddenly in the modern day, using a cell phone. And things were happening to him that were Canon, but not Canon. He didn't have to go to Switzerland to face Moriarty in a high place. Irene Adler didn't have to sing opera. And yet we all saw the old Holmes Canon reflected in these new Sherlock Holmes stories. And we even saw a second sort of fanon lock itself in that made a lot of folks unhappy with the way those tales turned out.

Comic book writers, handed characters that existed in World War Two with newer versions created comics had a fall and rise, started playing with the concept of a multiverse in the 1960s. Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse, the first in the animated trilogy we're now seeing part two of, took that concept and ran with it. Spider-man did not have to be a story told just one way. He could be noir, he could be cartoony, he could be a totally different character . . . or could he?

That''s where the Canon-event comes in.

Spider-man:Across the Spider-verse goes meta without breaking the fourth wall in ways that make one reflect upon our own fandom and the tales we tell of Sherlock Holmes. What are Sherlock's "Canon-events," those parts of his story that we would definitely retell despite changing time, place, or other Canonical background details? With a comic book character, it's easy -- plant a spider on their chest and give them webs and you've pretty much got a Spider-man. Sherlock Holmes is a little more nuanced.

And while some might just go "stick exactly to the Canon," it's in those new variations that characters evolve and survive through generations. It's in those variations where we truly see what makes Sherlock Holmes what he truly is. If you can rip him out of London, change his gender, and still give the audience a feeling of "Yes, this is Sherlock Holmes," it adds so much more to our culture than a word-for-word retelling of The Hound of the Baskervilles.

On a deeper level, the exploration of Canon in tales like Spider-man:Across the Spider-verse is saying something about seeing the connections between other people and ourselves. We actually love talking about our Canon-events as Sherlockians, those moments in our own origin stories where we came to love Sherlock Holmes. Sherlockians are as different as varieties of spider-based superheroes, yet there is a literal Canon event in each of our pasts that put Sherlock Holmes on our t-shirt or bow-tie. 

For a movie with no Sherlock Holmes trappings, references, or anything else, I sure saw a lot of Sherlockianly relevant work in the tale told by Spider-man:Across the Spider-verse.

And I'll be thinking about it for a while.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Moriarty in the Middle

Once upon a time, Sherlock Holmes had a series finale.

Of course, this was in December 1893, when the word "series" didn't mean television, baseball, or even a definition of what was happening in The Strand Magazine at the time.

"The Final Problem" was, however, for all intents and purposes, the series finale to the Sherlock Holmes series of stories, and it was a pretty cool one. Sherlock Holmes, master detective, faced his evil opposite, Professor Moriarty, master criminal. And like a true positive and negative charge, they cancelled each other out, both gone forever in a tale that just might have been a little too short for all that it truly deserved.

But then the series got rebooted. 

Like everything else where popularity and potential cash flow lure everyone back to the table, Sherlock Holmes came back for a second series. We don't think of it that way now, at our current distance from the thing, but our predecessors and those alive at the time, often saw pre-Reichenbach and post-Reichenbach Sherlocks as two different entities. And there is a distinct difference in the level of the tales if one divides them at that point. Sequel serieses are never quite the same.

In the middle of all that, we find Professor James Moriarty, the criminal genius who never fully got to live up to his full criminal superstar potential. Killed almost as soon as we met him, his absence mourned in later tales, but never truly facing off with Sherlock Holmes, even when he supposedly took Holmes down with him. Instead of being a rising threat throughout a series, culminating in a fantastic climax, poor Moriarty gets to be the ghost story told at the campfire in many ways, always seen through someone else's telling of his tale.

No one suffers from pasticheurs unable to recreate the original Canon magic as much as Moriarty. The market is there for him. Every creator that decides to attempt to jump the Reichenbach canyon like an old-time motorcycle daredevil sees the potential in him. And yet he remains, Moriarty the Unfulfilled, Moriarty the Over-Used, inspiring cats in musicals and latter villains of all stripes. Simply because he came along in the middle, for a creator that saw him as an escape hatch.

The irony of how we're missing "more" in Moriarty is palpable. 

Moran, Mormons, Morgan, Morecroft, moors . . . it's almost like his creator wanted Mor-ish darkness to pervade the series. (Let us raise questions about Morstan and Mortimer and the evil they bring!) But Moriarty himself just never gets what he truly deserved.

Too bad, Moriarty. Too bad.

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Sherlo-Eurovision 2023

 Our Sherlockian ties lead us down so many paths we might not have otherwise wandered. This weekend it was the Eurovision 2023 finals, thanks to a certain other Will Ferrell movie besides Holmes and Watson and my friend Paul Thomas Miller's hearty endorsement. And why not?

The twenty-six finalists led off with Austria's "Who the Hell is Edgar?" a song about Edgar Allen Poe, of all people. Since Poe and Austria are both Canonical, I could see I was going to have to favor the songs of Canonically Sherlockian countries. So Austria got points, but not full marks as it appears in "Austrian" in Watson's writings instead of just the country.

Portugual didn't fair much better as Watson's "Portuguese" gets them on the board, but their song just didn't inspire me to give them any extra points for being the "Xango de Baker Street" country.

Switzerland got full Watson name points, and being mentioned by Watson in the same sentence as missing Eurovision favorite Luxembourg helps, but . . . just not charmed by that song.

Awww, Poland isn't Canonical? Pity, I liked the classic pop star vibe on that one.

Serbia gets a partial Watson point for Belgrade being in the Canon, but I've forgotten their song already as I try to catch up. Ditto for France, despite its heavy Watson mentions.

Aw, damn, Cyprus? Why are the non-Watson countries my preferred songs?

Spain is coming on strong, with full Watson points and a strong performance, but I will admit a slight bias toward the English-lyrics songs, so probably not in my top three. Who is already in my top three from the semi-finals? 

Australia! As Canonical as hell, a song that sounded like it was direct from the top forty of some decade past, and then non-prettiest act in the whole show. (Hate to be superficial, but got to give them credit for not being pretty young things in this show.) They haven't been up yet, so I'm eagerly awaiting their return.

Sweden is creeping out the good Carter with her finger-talons, looking like a Swedish were-beastie, and "Swedish" is as close at Watson comes to mentioning Sweden. Kind of a shame, as she's putting on a show.

Okay, side note: Which Canonical character would Hannah Waddingham be best cast as? I can't say Irene Adler, because the idea of Hannah pretending to be a boy seems nigh impossible watching this show. Violet de Merville, maybe? "A wonder-woman in every way." And she could do the ice-cold face-off with Kitty Winter, to be sure.

Poor Albania. Strong performance, no Watson-points.

Okay, Italy is definitely coming off as a "three continents Watson" act. His voice is a little over-whelmed by the volume of the music and back-ups, though, which a notice happens sometimes with these acts.

Estonia suffers the no-Watson points fail, which is sad for a truly class act.

The "Finns" as their Watson qualifications name them, have a truly wacky performance "Cha Cha Cha" that's a real ear-worm. Points to Finland!

Czechia make it into the Canonical competition thanks to Prague's multiple Canonical mentions, and their long-braid sisterhood anthem (I think!) seems to come across despite not being in English. 

Ooo! Australia time! I was hoping their band name "Voyager" might be Canonical, but no luck. They just get me rocking out every time. And I like the "promise me it's gonna be all right" lyric.

"And Belgium?" "Yes, and Belgium, too."  Gustaph and his big hat deserve the full Canonical country reference from "His Last Bow."  So many of my favorite songs in this competition take me back decades, like Belgium's entry, which makes me wonder what the target demographic for Eurovision is.

Armenia falls prey to Watson non-mention, but I have a feeling Watson would like her performance. Would he like Moldova and it's cult-like ritual of a song? I think Watson might feel like Moldova needed Holmes to investigate just what was going on there. And Ukraine, sorry Ukraine. You didn't overcome the Watson mention.

Norway, though. Memorable Canonical mention and a grand epic of a song "Queen of the Kings," which could be Irene Adler's title if you think about it. So solid points to Norway.

With six countries left, I am again amazed, as I was at the semi-finals, just how fast this show moves!

Germany? YIKES! Oh, they're Germany all right. Scary as hell, Canonical as hell, and whose face is tattooed on their singer's one bare leg? Yeah, Germany puts on a show.

And Lithuania . . . trying so hard for a non-Canonical country! And Israel? C'mon, Watson! Nothing in Holmes's cases from Jerusalem or something?  I think Watson would like their entry, dancing and all. 

Slovenia, the good Carter's favorite, get snubbed by Watson too, as far as I can see. I think Sherlock needed to get John more trips around the Continent. Their band name "Joker Out" gets a small nod from "See here, my joker," in VALL.

Croatia has to get an non-Canonical honorable mention for being the weirdest damn thing in a weird night. Hairy military Village People who wind up in their underwear? Real crowd-pleasers in any case. One more song, and who is it? WHO IS IT?


Mae Muller starts off inside her own head, which is kind of a Sherlock thing to do. And "the notorious Muller" is Canonical! Britain is giving their Canonical all! 

Paul Thomas Miller is giving it to Germany though, with Finland in second. I honestly don't know who should win. My musical taste stand up to no critical review, as it's mostly based on movie sountracks. If I can't picture a scene in a movie to a song, it just doesn't do it.

Well, the results are a ways off -- going to fix some party food, but posting this now!

POST SHOW UPDATE: Well, Sweden won. But Paul Thomas Miller predicted Finland would rise with the audience vote and they did almost take the crown, being the only act to cross 300 points in audience popularity, so his Eurovision savvy is pretty solid. But at least a Canonical qualifier made it to the top, even though we were hoping for a little closer race in the jury voting. Overall, though, it was a great time and I look forward to next year.

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

221B Con 2023: Afterthoughts

So tonight I had a nice little reminder that "Oh, yes, I had one more blog post about 221B Con that I hadn't tied a bow on and published!" and after a workday whose anger-producing moments weren't leaving my head, I had remembered that doing something for those you love can clear away that frustration sometimes. So I took some pumpkin chili over to one family member, piled up some special books for another kinfolk, and then got a nice note that brought me back to all my Sherlockian con-cousins.

So back to that blog post, already in progress . . .  

There's nothing like getting the most out of your time off work, and this year's little spring break down to Atlanta for 221B Con, has really felt like I did get the most out of it. Still catching up on sleep, but doing well at it. So what was this year like?

First, as anxious as I was about road issues with a fully packed rental car leading up to the trip, I found that final drive from Nashville to Atlanta something akin to inner peace. The spring greenery that we hadn't quite gotten in Illinois yet combined with the certain knowledge that that interstates 24 and 75 had only ever taken me to that Sherlockian Shangri-La which only appears for three days each year . . . well that combination seemed to just set my mind at ease. No worries, no thoughts of the job or daily chores. Just a beautiful trail to a special place, kinda magical in its way, for interstate.

Second, going the vendor route this year and missing most of the programming proved one point that I'd always suspected: I don't go to Sherlockian weekends for the programs. Sure, I enjoy a good panel discussion, a good talk, learning new things. But I wouldn't travel twelve hours, eight hours, or even three, just for that. It's the chance to hang with Sherlockians enjoying themselves. And we do enjoy ourselves at 221B Con, even if you spend your whole day at a vendor's table just people-watching and chatting up passersby.

Third, Paul Thomas Miller is real, and just the pleasant company you thought he was, even when being abused by a podcast microphone.

Fourth, I think Sherlockian karaoke is the trend of the 2020s. Sure, 221B Con has had it for years, but after Dayton and Atlanta both had good shows with some surprise Sherlockians at the mike for such very different weekends, it seems to be on the rise.

Fifth, 221B Con has existed for ten years and has, at this point, definitely built a community. A community with its own customs, lore, and personality. You can ask what "floor bacon" has to do with Sherlock Holmes, but you'd basically be asking what the song "We Always Mention Aunt Clara" has to do with Sherlock Holmes in earlier times. We can certainly justify it as a stone memorial to Altamont who was "bringing home the bacon" in "His Last Bow," just as Aunt Clara was justified as being Irene Adler way back when, but really it's just another part of the lore of a specific Sherlockian community. And the con is a specific Sherlockian community.

I usually get a few more blog posts in about the content of the con each year, but I got a little sidetracked this time around as I decided to experience a different side of 221B Con in the vendors room. I hear they always need volunteers, so I may go that route at a future con to try that side as well. Did you ever just enjoy being a part of something so much that you wanted to sample all the parts? If not, I hope you get there one day. I hear there's a loneliness epidemic out there, and for a few days a year, it's good to get a booster shot against it. 2024 can't come soon enough!

Monday, May 1, 2023

The Conan Doyle PR Echo Chamber

 With a recent story of the Pinkertons going after a Magic: The Gathering player because he got some wrong cards sent to him,  one can't help but reflect upon Conan Doyle's very different treatment of the Pinkerton Agency and the Mormon Church in his two split-story novels.

In A Study in Scarlet, the church members are definitely the baddies, even though a serial killer is stalking and murdering them. In The Valley of Fear, the private "detective" agency is shown to be practically an official police force, working on the same side as Sherlock Holmes, Scotland Yard, and good folks everywhere, with Professor Moriarty stalking and killing their agent. Both entities have had their good and bad days, though one has shown some improvement as the years past, while the other . . . well, recently sent by a corporation to intimidate a card game fan.

One of the great parts of the Sherlock Holmes stories has always been how they are interwoven with historical detail. It gives them a sense of reality, and has sent legions of Holmes fans to the history books to find out more about a great many things. Yet, at the same time, Conan Doyle was definitely not an objective news source or place to learn accurate historical detail. His defense against being called "the Fox News of the Victorian era," as one might be tempted to do, was that he was writing fiction, pure and simple. His name was attached. to each story and not that of John H. Watson, his narrator. (And the guy who actually wrote the stories. Yes, I have to add that complete conspiracy theory -- it's my Sherlockian "brand" as the kids like to say.)

The lone agent of The Valley of Fear, Birdy Edwards, a.k.a. John McMurdo (Spoiler!), a.k.a. John Douglas (Spoiler again!) acting as an anti-terrorist James Bond is definitely an extremely one-sided portrayal of the Pinkerton's history of union infiltration on behalf of corporate entities, even though it is based on James McParland's infiltration of the violent Molly Maguires -- Conan Doyle definitely didn't come back to write a second novel based on the 1892 "Battle of Homestead" where the Pinkertons just sent in a larger force to break a strike.

It's interesting to compare Sherlock Holmes's work as a British private agency, who did work for the government or the rich when he felt the cause was good, with the American Pinkerton's work as a private agency with a bit more strictly profitable agenda. Holmes definitely comes out looking better.

Of course, Sherlock Holmes always had Conan Doyle writing on his side of any matter, so even there we might want to question Watson's literary agent's biases in reporting the Holmes-front news.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

221B Con 2023: The Saturday and Sunday Morning Report

 There is a grand irony to publishing my 221B Con blog reports for the past ten years and then distributing the resulting book stops me from doing a decent report on all the goings-on at this years con. What happened yesterday?

Well, I spent a considerable amount of time in the dealer's room. Selling books, handing out free books, and . . . eventually . . . spending a little cash at the tables of the other vendors. So, really, the one thing I can truly report on is being a dealer in the dealer's room at 221B Con. So let's get into that.

There are six rows of vendors at the con, five vendors max per row, with a few doubling up. Outside of the rows at the ends of the dealer's room are the long racks of the seamstress who sells period piece clothing, and on the other side, author Liese Sherwood Fabre, whose table was sometimes manned by Steve Mason.

I'm in what's either the fifth row or the second row, depending upon which door you come in. There's a constant hum of conversation in the room, mainly shoppers on Friday and Saturday morning, but as we get to Sunday morning, it's mostly dealers chatting. My view is pretty great from my table, as Fox Estacado has her prints displayed across the aisle, and Fox has been my favorite artist at con (and one of the steady mainstays as many artists who specialized in BBC Sherlock drifted away over the years). Most of the t-shirts I wear at con are Fox's art. Next to Fox is a woodcrafter booth with cutting boards featuring a variety of fan topics, including Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Who, and a kraken that you could claim was from "Sherlock Holmes and Dinosaurs." 

The lower numbers of fandom artist dealers seems to have been replaced by jewelry artists, and my neighbors are Junkyard Energy and Double K Designs, both of whom have some lovely stuff which I picked up for folks in my life. Kyndall Potts is one door down, dealing fan art and fiction, and I picked up a great Watson quote-and-art print from her. 

So many things I'm not mentioning . . . the Füd Truck was really good this year. I went through chicken tacos with beans and rice, a brisket sandwich with tots, and a grilled chicken Caesar salad and enjoyed them all. I did make parts and pieces of a few random panels, thanks to my table co-worker, Beth Gallego. Ten Years of 221B Con, John Wick universe, ASMR, and the always-enjoyable Three Patch Podcast team, who came up with a BBC Sherlock shipping Jeopardy game that was delightful. Missed a lot of substantial Sherlock Holmes stuff, to be sure, stuck at the old vendor table. But I did constantly get to quiz passersby on what they were enjoying, which helped fill the void a little bit. 

Honestly, this one has been one big blur. Staying up until 2:21 on Saturday night did not help at all, and did I need to eat a jalapeno pickled quail egg after a shot of single malt scotch after figuring out what muscles I have that can't do a box step for very long at all? No. What does all that have to do with Sherlock Holmes? Actually, a lot. Sherlock Holmes will lead you down many a road, alley, or passage in life if you let him, going places you never thought you'd go or meeting people you never thought you'd meet. 

The highlight of this con has been, and was certain to be, getting to hang out with Paul Thomas Miller, the living proof that England is an actual place that really exists outside of the Holmes Canon, and that boarding a plane for "Heathrow" isn't just flying into a fog bank off the East Coast never to be seen again. 

Ah well. Time to post this one and let the recovery and wrap up continue!