There is something strange happening in the streets of London. All the statues have gone missing, and the top detective Sherlock Holmes is too busy to investigate. Instead Holmes enlists the youthful sleuths The Baker Street Peculiars to look into it.
With the series wrapping up this month in The Baker Street Peculiars #4, we took some time to speak to the creators– author Roger Langridge and artist Andy Hirsch.
BiC: I was wondering where the idea for The Baker Street Peculiars came from? It seems like a really interesting idea. I detected some Scooby-Doo, except the characters are far more capable and the monsters are actually real.
Roger: For my part, it came from a conversation with BOOM! editor Bryce Carlson saying they were looking for something in the “kid detective” genre. Those two words in close proximity immediately made me think of Sherlock Holmes’ Baker Street Irregulars; the challenge then was to come up with a twist or two on that basic idea that might play well with a modern audience—hence the supernatural angle: I thought that could be the Baker Street Peculiars’ particular schtick (and the source of their name, of course—they investigate the peculiar and uncanny). I’m really not much of a Scooby-Doo fan, so it was a bit deliberately anti-Scooby in that regard (I know, I know, burn the heretic!). Anyway, it sort of grew from that.
BiC: Art wise it was very interesting to look at as well. Looking at this comic I kept thinking how I’d love to see this animated and on the television screen. Having worked on animation-related projects in the past (Garfield, Adventure Time, Regular Show) do you find yourself looking for inspiration in animation rather than comics, or is it a bit of both?
Andy: I don’t really watch a ton of animation these days—not from lack of interest, mind you—but that’s certainly something I grew up with. Having spent as much time as I have translating animation-style art to comics, it’s hard to avoid bringing stylistic tics along from project to project. The stuff that got me into comics isn’t animation so much as newspaper comic strips, though both value clarity and organization. Of course, Garfield fits in both of those camps, so there’s that.
BiC: Perhaps, for me at least, the most interesting aspect of this comic was the fact that Sherlock Holmes is really a woman in disguise. Part of the reasoning given is that Mrs. Hudson had wanted to be a detective but knew that society wouldn’t accept a woman in that role. Molly also seems to be facing the same prejudices as well. When creating these characters were you trying to provide some sort of social commentary or was it just a fun idea and I’m reading too much into it?
Roger: It’s a fun idea, sure, but the serious side was inevitable, really. By making the story a period piece, and having strong female characters with careers or career aspirations, how exactly they can achieve those goals in that era immediately becomes this giant elephant in the room. You have to address it, or you risk shattering the readers’ suspension of disbelief. And it opened up the story to some fun ideas—dressing up, pretending to be somebody else, is a natural thing for Sherlock Holmes to do in any case, so we were just taking that one step further.
BiC: Each of the Baker Street Peculiars seem to have their own personality, and all come from different economic classes. I was wondering for both of you if you identify with certain characters within the story and why?
Roger: I identify a little bit with all of them, I suppose—I shared Molly’s single-minded pursuit of a particular career in the face of parental disapproval, and Rajani’s freedom is something I always craved as a kid—but Humphrey’s school experiences most closely resemble my own life. I wasn’t sent away to boarding school like Humphrey, but it was an all-male environment like his St. Baskerville’s, and I hated every testosterone-soaked second of it. I longed to escape. So Humphrey’s nocturnal adventures with the girls are a bit of wish fulfilment for me.
Andy: Molly’s will to prove herself and follow a path that she knows will be difficult resonates with me, as does Rajani’s reluctance to get invested in the group. Humphrey’s the one who gets to hang out with the dog, though, and that’s always my top priority.
BiC: I imagine when creating a comic the project is more fluid than other forms of written media. I was wondering as the writer and as the artist how you influenced one another on this project, what changed and what stayed the same?
Roger: Andy worked up the character designs from my initial descriptions, so I had his visual interpretations to work from, which in turn influenced how I “heard” the characters: I imagine it’s a bit like when a screenwriter knows what actors they’re writing for—it definitely helps flesh the characters out more. And it was Andy’s idea to make Rajani a girl. She was originally a boy called Ravi. That skewed the whole series for the better, I think. It gave Humphrey more urgency to overcome his prejudices, and it brought out the female-empowerment themes more strongly.
Andy: Most of our back and forth came while we were coming up with the pitch for the book and synopses for individual issues. We batted around the balance of traits among the group, interesting ways for them to approach their problems, possible recurring bits, that sorts of thing. Once things got rolling, though, we just trusted each other to handle our own responsibilities to make the best book we could.
BiC: As an artist yourself Roger, do you write with a mind on how things will look on the page and give instructions on how things should be laid out; or do you give Andy the reigns and let him experiment and figure things out for himself?
Roger: It’s always a balancing act. My guiding principle is usually to try and give an artist everything they need to do their job—describe what needs to be there for the story to make sense, but not be proscriptive about how to present it (although I’ll sometimes make suggestions, I try to take pains to say that this is only one way to do it, and I’m open to improvements). Occasionally I’ll have an idea for a visual set-piece, like the aerial shot in issue 1, so I threw that in; but that’s really the exception. And I tried to meet Andy halfway on the research end of things as, being based in London, it was a lot easier for me to get my hands on reference here.
BiC: Andy what was the most rewarding and the most challenging part of this project? Did you have to do a lot of research to fit the period of the comic?
Andy: Yes, lots and lots of research. That actually turned out to be both the most rewarding and challenging part of the project. London is very old, especially by U.S. standards, but on account of the Blitz it’s changed so much between when our story is set and now. I had to be very diligent while hunting down reference—one misdated photo could throw off a whole area. It’s a bit of a scavenger hunt. Thankfully, there’s plenty of documentation if you know what to look for, and Roger, being in the area, was a big help throughout. Oh, and I did get a pleasant surprise when I discovered how much fun it is to draw those ’30s cars. How far we’ve fallen.
BiC: I was wondering if both of you could give a little background on who you are, years in the industry, and past work people may know you from.
Roger: I started making comics professionally in 1990, after having worked on minicomics and ’zines and university newspaper strips for a couple of years in the late ’80s. I grew up in New Zealand, where there is no comic industry, so I moved to London in 1990 to pursue my lifelong dream of becoming a cartoonist, and got lucky: the British comics industry was going through its last great boom period, so there was quite a bit of work to go around, and I broke in relatively easily (after a few shaky months!). I’ve done a lot of stuff in the intervening quarter-century, but these days I’m probably best known for The Muppet Show Comic Book, Thor: The Mighty Avenger (with Chris Samnee), Snarked!, and my self-published series Fred the Clown. (If I had to pick four, kind of thing.)
Andy: My first published work was The Royal Historian of Oz with Tommy Kovac back in 2010, which I started working on during my last quarter in the SCAD Sequential Art program. Before (and after) that I did my fair share of minicomics and self-publishing (including the series that would become my upcoming book Varmints). Roger’s actually the one who introduced me to BOOM! in 2012, and in the years since I’ve worked on all sorts of licensed titles for them, most prominently as the regular artist on Garfield and cover artist for Regular Show.
BiC: Have you two worked together on anything in the past?
Roger: Not quite, but we had a weird almost-collaboration on an issue of Garfield, where I drew a story, and Andy drew a framing sequence around it. But this is our first actual, for-real collaboration.
Andy: That arc was so fun. Yeah, this our first real collaboration, but hopefully not our last.
BiC: What is it you admire the most about one another’s work?
Roger: Andy’s got a beautiful, accessible, clean style, and I think he’s especially good at getting his characters to “act” convincingly. It all flows and feels natural. And he’s great at incorporating period reference—both here and in his other work, like Varmints—without wearing it on his sleeve, which is something I struggle with. It all becomes a seamless part of the art, not appearing pasted-in or forced; organic, that’s the word. It’s an organic part of the whole.
Andy: In addition to being tremendously funny, Roger has the ability to write earnest, heartfelt stories that aren’t cloying or manipulative. I really admire his sincerity. His range really shines throughout Peculiars—there’s jokes and action, but not at the expense of emotional depth. And don’t get me started on his cartooning! The bonus strips on the back of each issue are a treat.
BiC: After reading this I felt like this wasn’t the end for these characters. Can we expect more Baker Street Peculiar stories and if so can you give us a hint of things to come?
Roger: I’d love it if we could have another round with the Peculiars; we certainly left that door open narratively, deliberately so. But, at the risk of stating the obvious, the only way that will happen is if this series sells enough to make that viable. (On which note, I’ve noticed that the collected edition is up on Amazon available for preorder, hint hint!)
Andy: Why, I think I’ll preorder it today!