Serena Blasco has produced a wonderful adaptation of Nancy Springer’s Enola Holmes series. This volume, The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets, is the third in that run of graphic novels. This series deals with a third Holmes sibling, this time depicted as a significantly younger sister named as the series title suggests. She has decided to go out on her own in a quest to find her missing mother. As a result, Enola finds herself not only searching for her mother but hiding from her brothers Sherlock and Mycroft, even as she gets embroiled in a number of different complications and adventures all her own.
At the beginning of this volume our heroine is taking time to look for any signs that her mother may have left hidden messages, and seems to actually get a little way in progress before learning that the unthinkable has happened. John Watson, her brother’s closest friend and her own ally, has gone missing. This grips the reader quickly, as anyone familiar with the Holmes series in general finds a strong tie to Dr. Watson, and concern for what has happened to him is almost a given. It also gives Enola the chance to reflect upon Watson’s helping her in the past, in the process catching the reader up on the basics of previous Enola Holmes volumes without resorting to information dumps or reminiscences. It is very good storytelling, taking up very little space to fantastic effect.
Enola visits Mrs. Mary Watson and attempts to make inquiries while in disguise, only to discover the limitations one suffers when attempting such a thing among some brilliant acquaintances. It is also at this point the girl’s familiarity with botanical matters comes into play, in her recognition of various plants and the odd symbolism they have. This is well illustrated, focusing upon each of a number of bouquets and making them visually distinct as the points are made.
After the text proper comes a short set of pages formatted as Enola’s notebook. These are very nice, serving as explanations of how she girl decoded messages and what reasons she had for her different deductions. Indeed, one can easily see the same personality in the notes that appear throughout the story, a young woman, intelligent and resourceful if just a touch naive at times. Even in that, it’s only the sort of naivete that is momentary, borne of inexperience. As Enola harbors in no small part a desire for greater experience this is quite appropriate.
There is an appropriately large feminist streak running through the book, with Enola questioning the position of women, from business to corsets. It is an enjoyable read, and the way that multiple characters have had their lives altered by societal misogyny is reflected upon without feeling out of place from a narrative point of view. Enola’s fear of her own brother stems partly from her desire for a more free and open life, and her mother seems to have been aware of similar limitations placed upon herself.
The Jack the Ripper murders and the problem of early asylums and lobotomies are brought up as well. Each is a horrifying fact, and both remind the reader of the risks faced by a young woman in the nineteenth century. Both are mentioned in passing during the story, and detailed again with more of their implications in the “Enola’s secret notebook” section. It gives a certain in character educational value to the material which will be excellent for the younger set reading the book. Similarly, a few final questions about the plot are finally settled in that section, making it all the more a must read.
The original Enola Holmes books were prose, and perhaps something of a forerunner to the simpler side of YA or the more complex side of middle grade fiction. The adaptation by Blasco is very readable, with a clear yet stylistic presentation that draws in the reader, while also serving to make the volume less intimidating for one who might be ready but hesitant.
Truth be told, this is the kind of volume one worries will go without translation, making it all the more laudable that IDW’s EuroComics sub label would release it. Indeed, the original French edition would be a likely lure for the devoted fan of Springer or the avid Sherlockian, yet a translation is by far the better option for those who lack the language the book was first printed in. Yet the translation not only makes the book more accessible to Nancy Springer’s audience, it is also very artfully rendered. Jeremy Melloul and Dean Mullaney have made the new text feel fluent and appropriate, while Mullaney and art director Lorraine Turner have done a top-flight job incorporating the text into the book, ensuring every font and every word seems appropriate and as if it belonged in the volume from the beginning.
Blasco’s art is eminently adaptable, able to show whimsy and the sinister as well. The story holds strong and the character of Enola shines through. The EuroComics presentation is excellent, with the preservation of the large album-sized art and the use of sewn binding. A spread of Enola falling through glass provides an excellent use of blue to illustrate space, and is far from the only clever use of color. Really, the chance to see this gorgeous art in as large and lavish a manner as possible is appreciated, and the cover design is if anything superior to some of the other releases as it reflects the interior art quite well.
This volume is easy to recommend to most readers of graphic fiction and sequential art, but especially for youngsters looking for an adventurous bit of mystery storytelling. With most titles on American shelves seeming to be dark and grotesque takes on the superhero, something that feels simultaneously fresh and related to the classics is quite nice. The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets works well enough as an introduction, though interested parties may very well want to pick up the first couple of adventures.
(IDW EuroComics 2020)