The View from Sherlock Peoria (88)
February 8, 2004
"I hear of Sherlock everywhere . . ."
By Brad Keefauver
When I woke up this morning, I found Sherlock Holmes on the front page of the Sunday funnies. Bill Keane had done one of his single-panel editions of "The Family Circus" featuring a dotted-line rendition of young Billy's rambling trail all over the neighborhood. (That's Billy, the eldest son in "Family Circus," not Billy, Holmes's page, for you extreme Sherlockians.)
The Billy trail has been a staple of Keane's Sunday cartoons for decades. And it's never involved Sherlock Holmes before. Yet for some reason, this week Bill Keane decided to have Billy wandering a housing development called "Award Winning Sherlock Homes" and actually show Sherlock Holmes on all fours at the beginning of Billy's trail, staring at the dotted line with a magnifying glass.
"I deduce that Billy, from the Sunday comics, has visited us! I detect that he has left a very pecuiar trail. Quite an active lad! And I can even identify his school! It's elementary, my dear Watson," Holmes says. Watson looks on fairly unimpressed.
Like many a "Family Circus," the meanings of it all are somewhat mystical. Holmes recognizes that Billy is a fictional character from the Sunday comics. Holmes and Watson seem somehow involved in this subdivision venture that makes a play on Holmes's name. In it's way, it's a mystery even more puzzling than Bob Weber Jr.'s "Slylock Fox" mystery from the back page of the Sunday comics, our weekly Sherlockian staple.
But there's another puzzle that comes to me as I look at Bill Keane's Holmes tribute. Will this unexpected appearance of the Master Detective stir the blood of many an old Sherlockian warhorse as it once did? Sure, it's just a simple Sunday comic. But if you've been around long enough, you'll remember the time a Holmes character appeared in the "Funky Winkerbean" daily comic strips . . . and how Sherlockians were practically lining up at the newspaper boxes and copy machines, getting more copies of the strip to pass on to their Sherlockian friends. It even appeared in a number of Sherlockian newsletters produced by fans whose enthusiasm overcame their concern for copyright violations. But that's the way Sherlockiana used to be.
Wait a minute, did I just say "used to be"? Yep. I guess I did.
I remember back when that bigger-than-life Sherlockian John Bennett Shaw used to do his wonderful workshops back in the eighties, one of the themes was always the pervasiveness of Sherlock Holmes in our culture. Shaw was an omnivorous collector of Sherlock Holmes items, quite literally seeming the Hans Sloane of Sherlockiana, and a legion of Sherlockian collectors built their collections upon that model : If it had a deerstalker and a calabash pipe attached to it, they added it to the pile. Every addition to the collection was one more validation that, yes, Sherlock Holmes was alive and well, and this was a great hobby to be in.
Was it Ben Wood that collected every headline he found with the names "Holmes," "Watson," or "Moriarty" in them? My memory fails me and my filing system is no help. Thanks to my neighbor's repository, I do know that Arnold Korotkin published a newsletter that gathered photocopies of Holmes items in print for at least fourteen years.
I can't quite put my finger on why I seem to think that omnivorous Sherlockian collecting is going by the wayside. I know that John Bennett Shaw's great rival, Peter Blau, is still going strong, publishing Scuttlebutt from the Spermaceti Press every month and reporting news on everything Sherlock-related that Peter hears about. But I don't seem to know as many individual Sherlockians who delight in every little Sherlockian thing the way we used to. We've all gotten older, a little less exuberant, perhaps, and now a common phrase in Sherlock circles is "I only collect this or that." The sheer volume and cost of Sherlockian collecting has worn away at us, and it seems as if our edge has been dulled by our very success.
Maybe it's just time that's got to us. We still hear of Sherlock everywhere, but we're just a little more blase about it. "Oh, yeah, Holmes was in 'Family Circus' this week. I hope somebody mentions it to Peter or the on-line forums." As a little test, I decided to wait a few hours in mentioning it to the WelcomeHolmes list and see if it turned up.
But even as I typed this very column, Carl Heifetz, a most notable member of the Pleasant Places of Florida, came through with the goods on WelcomeHolmes. Apparently there is some life left in us old Sherlockian warhorses. Now the question becomes, when we use that most handy of all Mycroft Holmes's quotations, "I hear of Sherlock everywhere . . ." will the next generation of Sherlockians beam, or just look up dull-eyed and say "So?"
Your humble correspondent,