Sherlock Holmes Gets a Steampunk Makeover

By Lauren Berkley
Contributing Writer, [GAS]

The iconic character of Sherlock Holmes first graced England magazine pages in 1887. For many steampunk enthusiasts, Holmes’ creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is just as synonymous with the aesthetic as science-fiction pioneers Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.

One such enthusiast is Richard Monson-Haefel, and he believes Holmes and steampunk fit together seamlessly, like mechanical hand-in-glove. After seeing the 2009 film Sherlock Holmes, starring Robert Downey, Jr., Monson-Haefel’s love of Doyle’s “consulting detective” was reignited, and he wanted to use his experience of developing interactive eBooks as a means of bringing the beloved character to life in a whole new way for readers.

Geeks Are Sexy spoke to Monson-Haefel, producer of Steampunk Holmes: Legend of the Nautilus, about just what got his gears grinding for his latest interactive project.

1) Your project is authorized by the Conan Doyle Estate. Can you briefly explain how that happened?
Well, most of the Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are in the public domain. I thought I was in the clear until about two months ago, when someone told me that although the stories are in the public domain, the name Sherlock Holmes is trademarked. I contacted the Conan Doyle Estate, apologized for using the Holmes name without permission, and asked for a license. The Conan Doyle Estate is actually very protective of their trademarks, but once they had reviewed the manuscript and we had discussed the project (including the seven other books planned), they decided that the quality was high enough to grant a license. I’m extremely grateful to the Conan Doyle Estate. They could have completely shut me down and that would have been the end of Steampunk Holmes.

2) How did the idea for Steampunk Holmes arise?
It was a series of events, all starting with the movie Sherlock Holmes from 2009 [starring Robert Downey, Jr.]. I saw the movie, loved it, and rediscovered Sherlock Holmes. The steampunk part came in after I re-read The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. It seemed natural to combine two newly rediscovered loves.

3) How did you find your group of “players,” so to speak? (Author, illustrator, voice actors, etc.)
I knew, from having developed three other interactive books for the iPad, that I needed some serious talent to pull it all off. Having done this before, I simply started searching in all the right places and found exactly the right artist, author, voice actors, and other talent. I guess I make it sound easy, but it’s not. For example, I went through two authors before settling on P.C. Martin and I reviewed thousands of portfolios before finding [illustrator] Daniel Cortes. I must have auditioned well over 100 people for the five characters and narrator for the audiobook.

Artist Daniel Cortes created all the sketches and illustrations for Richard Monson-Haefel's 'Steampunk Holmes' project.

4) How did you go about adapting Holmes?
I’m a big fan of early science-fiction authors like H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is considered quintessential steampunk and Doyle had written a Holmes story about the theft of a submarine in 1912 entitled, The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans, so it seemed natural to do a mash-up of the two stories. Subsequent [Steampunk Holmes] stories include story lines by H.G. Wells and Mary Shelley.

5) What sort of research did you partake in, for both steampunk & era accuracy?
I focused on the Sherlock Holmes canon and early works by H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, and others. I also re-read The Difference Engine a couple of times – that story influences Steampunk Holmes more than any other steampunk influence.

6) What do you hope to accomplish with Steampunk Holmes?
The short-term goal is to publish a wonderful story across media channels. It started out as an iPad book, but it has become much bigger than that. We now have an eBook (no interactions or art, just text), a dramatized audiobook, a web book, an iPad book full of interactions, and a printed edition. Our motto is “leave no reader behind.” No matter how you like to read, Steampunk Holmes will be there. In the long term, I hope to develop a sustainable world and set of characters across seven books. If I can make money at it, all the better, but quality comes first.

7) You also hope to partner Steampunk Holmes with a steampunk catalog, correct?
The steampunk catalog is probably one of the more innovative aspects of this project. Basically, we are offering a built-in merchandising platform within the book. We have partners who are going to offer music, like the band Abney Park, along with clothes, jewelry, even a steampunk motorcycle. The catalog itself is totally unobtrusive, which is fundamental. The reader can push a button to open the catalog at any time while reading, but they have to push the button. The advertising uses vintage Victorian styling, coupled with some cool interactions that have never been done before. For example, the motorcycle is shown using a vintage Victorian ad, but once you touch it, you get a 360°-rotatable view.

8) Your Kickstarter campaign is winding down. If you do not meet your goal, what’s next for Steampunk Holmes?
We really hope that the Kickstarter campaign is successful, but if it’s not, we will continue on. It will take us a lot longer to get things done – probably a year longer – but we started this without the expectation of outside funds and we’ll keep at until it’s done and in everyone’s reading platform of choice. If we make our Kickstarter goal, we will focus on finishing development of the web book and iPad book, as well as the audiobook and print editions. The eBook is already out on and soon will be on,, and other online stores. We are already researching the second book, Steampunk Holmes: The Island of Doctor Moreau, which picks up a couple of months after the first book, Steampunk Holmes: Legacy of the Nautilus, ends. That, and five other books, are all tied together in a super-arc.

9) Anything else you would like to tell your potential readers?
I guess the most important thing to me and the rest of the Steampunk Holmes team is that the final product is the best: The best writing, the best artwork, the best web and iPad applications. We have never settled for less, and people can see that in everything we’ve done.

For more on the Steampunk Holmes endeavor, go here. You can also watch a nifty trailer for the project below.  To donate to the Steampunk Holmes Kickstarter campaign, click here.