Monday, May 9, 2022
So I Went to Chicago [VALL]
Saturday was DePaul University’s annual Pop Culture Conference, and this year’s theme was A Celebration of Sherlock Holmes. It was unlike most other Sherlockian conferences I’ve been to as the majority of the speakers here were academics that focused on Sherlock Holmes, instead of Sherlockians that took an academic approach to our hobby. It may seem like a small distinction, but it was enough of a change to make this conference feel like something different.
During most hours there were up to four talks or panels you could choose from, so you had to resolve yourself to the fact that you’d be missing out on some good stuff. I missed out on some great talks by Chicago lawyer Stephen Lee, set designer Arwel Wyn Jones, travelling Sherlockian Monica Schmidt, SherlockComics.com creator Johanna Draper Carlson, and many more. That being said, here are a few highlights from my day:
First of all, it was nice to spend time with some old friend the evening before and throughout the day, but one big plus for this conference were all of the faces that were new to me. Plenty of academics from around the country and locals interested in the talks were on hand to bring fresh insight to discussions. I was happy to connect with some people I’d only met online and get to know new folks. The talks are nice, but I’m at conferences to spend time with other Sherlockians.
The talks were separated into two styles: keynotes and panels. The panels had three speakers and each had a 10 to 15 minute presentation followed by Q&A time. My first panel grouped three guys together around the theme of the friendship between Holmes and Watson. Music professor Josh Harvey talked about how adaptations use musical scores to reinforce character qualities in their presentations. Josh had discoursed on this topic with Moriarty over on the Parallel Case of St. Louis blog last year, so you can get a taste of how his mind works. I am always amazed anytime Josh gets talking because that guy really knows his stuff! He was followed by Walter Podrazik who examined the friendship model in House, and David MacGregor took us on a whirlwind history of Holmes in media adaptations and highlighted his favorites.
My next event was Curtis Armstrong taking us through his history as a Sherlockian and an actor and how those two paths sort of crossed, but never fully. It started out with a great story of his youthful production of Baker Street Theater that he hosted each week on a local high school radio station. Curtis talked about his brushes with Sherlockiana professionally from appearing in an episode of House to a small comment in an episode of Supernatural. But he announced that his two paths had finally merged with an Audible production that would come out this summer where Curtis gets to portray Inspector Gregson in episodes of Moriarty starring Dominic Monaghan as the famous professor. And Curtis said that the writers of this show know their Canon. He promises lots of Easter eggs for us and plenty of attention to the characters in these episodes.
Ashley Polasek followed Curtis and talked about her role as managing playwright Ken Ludwig’s business as he is in the process of creating a new Sherlockian play to premiere next year, Moriarty. Ashley took us through Ken’s creative process on building a play from scratch instead of adapting one big story like he had in the past with Baskerville. This new play promises to use the professor, Mycroft, and Irene Adler along with Holmes, Watson, and plenty of new characters. It was very interesting to see how Ken worked through the Canon, picking things that would work in his story, as well as what he chose to mold, merge, and adopt in this process. Ashley didn’t give away any spoilers, but you could tell from the pictures of the marked up canonical texts that this play will have plenty of Sherlockian pieces coming together for one big event.
The last hour for me was another panel, this one collecting three topics about Sherlockian fandom. Allison Broesder talked about her work in creating foundational information for people entering the Sherlockian fandom and meme culture expert David Kocik talked about the history of the “Creepy Watson” meme from the Sherlock Holmes video game. But, hands down, my favorite talk of the whole day came from Lucy Miree. Her piece was entitled “There is No Master’s Degree in Sherlockology: Flattening the Holmes Fan Hierarchy and Recontextualizing Love of the Great Detective.” As much as she could in her ten minutes, Lucy talked about how there is very little difference between fan and scholar or pastiche and fan fiction. She cited The Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes, prolific fan fiction writers, The Baker Street Journal, and a ton more. I could have listened to her talk for a full hour on this topic and hope to see more from this Sherlockian soon.
After that, it was time to drive back south to get home. It’s always tough leaving conferences and the people you’ve been spending time with and being immersed in Sherlockiana. But this one was a little more bittersweet knowing that next year’s conference will be on to a completely different topic. I’m very glad I made the weekend trip and look forward to seeing more from these speakers in the years to come.
Rob Nunn at 8:50