Friday, October 23, 2015

OCTOBER COMICS (2015): From Hell by Moore & Campbell

From Hell, written by Alan Moore, art & lettering by Eddie Campbell.

Warren Ellis called From Hell the best graphic novel ever published.  I think he may be right.  The story of Jack the Ripper as told by these two masters of the medium, From Hell is an incredible read. 

Moore & Campbell’s approach to this story was novel.  Most Ripper yarns start with the perspective that the identity of Jack the Ripper, over a century later, is still unknown and thus, a mystery.  These authors, through their works, treat the material as a whodunit, working to enhance the suspense of their narratives by keeping the face of the killer in the dark, teasing out the clues that ultimately reveal the truth of who was behind the ghastly murders haunting Victorian London in that year of 1888.  Moore & Campbell, on the other hand, chose not to keep the Ripper’s identity a secret, instead following Jack (Sir William Gull, royal physician to Queen Victoria) on his rapid descent into horror and debasement.  As Moore stated in interviews, From Hell is a “wha’happen” rather than the typical “whodunit,” and this elevates it above most Ripper fiction. 

Although a fiction—and both Moore and Campbell have stated they do not necessarily hold that Dr. Gull was indeed Jack the Ripper—From Hell is incredibly well researched.  Copious notes can be found at the end of the book, explicating scenes and offering theories that have been put forth by other Ripperologists, and the narrative connections that Moore threads within this horror enrich and enliven the story, even as the facts may turn your stomach.  From Hell is a wildly ambitious narrative that expands across the whole of London—incorporating the freemasons, the architecture of Nicholas Hawksmoor, John Merrick, the Elephant Man, the royal machinations of Queen Victoria and her family, the inspectors of Scotland Yard, and the dregs of humanity left to founder by an uncaring aristocracy in the East End of London—while also keeping it personal by revealing the narrative through the eyes of its characters, including Mary Kelly, Inspector Abberline, and Sir William Gull. 

Of course, as engaging and complex as the story is, it benefits greatly from the masterful artwork of Eddie Campbell.  The frenetic, scratchiness of his linework and heavy use of blacks add so much to the reading experience.  This London is dark, is dirty, is a place where one can see how a serial killer could make his way easily through the blackened night and get away with these horrors.  I cannot imagine this book being drawn by anyone else.  The cartooning adds so much to the feeling of the narrative while also drawing readers in with its more naturalistic and less rigid line.  If you’re looking for a great book to read on these dark, October nights that will chill your heart and tingle your spine, this is the one book you need. 


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