Q&A: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Sports Icon, Novelist, Comics Creator

Photo by Dan Winters

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, NBA superstar and Sherlock Holmes aficionado for most of his life, has described applying Holmes-style deduction techniques to his own game strategy. Intrigued by the notion of creating Victorian sleuthing adventures himself, he’s focused two new books on Sherlock’s older and lesser-known brother, Mycroft. His debut novel, Mycroft Holmes (Titan; LJ 8/15), coauthored with Anna Waterhouse, was released last year to wide acclaim, and this September, with writer Raymond Obstfeld and artist Joshua Cassara, he published his first graphic novel, Mycroft Holmes and the Apocalypse Handbook, Vol. 1 (Titan Comics; LJ 6/1/17), which features a very different take on the character.

LJ: How fascinating that you’ve created two different versions of Mycroft: the love-besotted, neophyte civil servant of your novel, and now the bed-hopping rogue of the graphic novel. Are you planning to disclose any further adventures of these characters?
KAJ:
I’ve recently completed the second Mycroft novel, which I’m very excited about. And I have plans for a second volume of the graphic novel. Because he’s a relatively unknown character, I have a lot of possibilities to explore.

In the graphic novel, the repartee between Mycroft and Sherlock adds plenty of comedy. Do you see the brothers working together in a sequel?
At the end of the graphic novel, Mycroft hints that he intends to bring in Sherlock to help with some of his adventures for the British government. I agree that having the two of them work together would be a lot of fun, especially given Sherlock’s prudish attitude toward Mycroft’s roguish behavior. But there’s also something deeper going on regarding Mycroft’s guilt, that he was unable to look out for his younger brother better.

Mycroft reveals that the name Moriarty is an Anglicized version of the Irish O’Muircheartaigh, a wonderful detail. What led you to dig out that etymology?
Part of what I wanted to do in the graphic novel was to have fun with the Holmes mythology. Having one of the characters related to Moriarty was part of that. The other was the character related to Irene Adler, though this story doesn’t yet explain how. I’m saving that for the next volume.

Karl Bollers and others’ graphic novel Watson and Holmes: A Study in Black recasts the duo as black residents of Harlem, NY. Did the possibility of varying setting or character ethnicities ever come up among you and your collaborators?
Not really. I had read Watson and Holmes and didn’t think we needed to follow in that same track. I decided to make the story more diverse through the character of Lark Adler, who is half black, half Indian. Her background plays an important part of the story in how it affects and changes Mycroft.

Indeed, Lark Adler is too engaging a character to be confined to one story! Might you star her in a new series, with Mycroft as sidekick?
That’s a good idea, though she doesn’t need Mycroft. She’s highly capable on her own. But I would love to see her on more adventures. She’s tough, smart, and funny.

You’ve done several prose books for kids, including the “Streetball Crew” series. Are you interested in writing graphic novels for younger readers?
I love writing for kids and young adults. They are so open to retellings. Right now, some of the best writing is going on in young adult fiction because the stakes are so high and the emotions so deep.

You told Publishers Weekly that comics were like “portable movies.” Have you thought of putting Mycroft into a screenplay?
Absolutely. The story and characters [in the graphic novel] lend themselves to a pretty exciting movie in the vein of [the British Kingsman films] and Deadpool. The portrayals of Queen Victoria, Jesse James, and even Sherlock are a lot of fun, plus we have a very nasty villain.

In the novel, Mycroft finds Sherlock in the library. If Mycroft and Sherlock were living today, both would probably be library regulars as well as champion web searchers. Did you hang out at the library when you were young?
I’ve always been a voracious reader, just like my father. He used to buy books by the pound at the local used bookstore, and when he was done, he’d return them and come back with more. I love how reading can change a person, not just by giving them information they didn’t know, but by giving them insights into themselves and the rest of the world. Very few things have that kind of transformative power.

If a library wanted to create a program around your Mycroft stories, what might you suggest? A deductive game through the stacks? Trivia? A challenge to apply Holmes-style deduction techniques to daily life?
I love everything on your list. That’s one of the amazing things about the Holmes stories: there are so many aspects to them that one can create games and programs for all ages and interests. My preference would be simple deductive exercises from clues. Perhaps a set of hidden clues in which each leads to the location of the other, like a Holmesian Easter-egg hunt.

Are there any questions I didn’t ask that you’d like to address? Anything else you’d like to tell readers?
I’ve been interviewed a lot over the past 50 years, so there’s not much that hasn’t been asked. I loved writing this graphic novel because it gave me a chance to be as wild and imaginative as I wanted to be. I was able to add a Frankenstein-type monster, a bunch of steampunk weapons, a train robbery, a romance, and lots of other things people wouldn’t expect from me. That’s what made this such a grand adventure for me as a writer and what I hope will be the same for readers.—Martha Cornog, Philadelphia

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Martha Cornog About Martha Cornog

Martha Cornog is a longtime reviewer for LJ and, with Timothy Perper, edited Graphic Novels Beyond the Basics: Insights and Issues for Libraries (Libraries Unlimited, 2009).

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