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From Hell is a graphic novel by Alan Moore and artist Eddie Campbell and was first published over a number of dates stretching back to 1989 according to my copy. This collected edition is 572 pages long and although Moore has been responsible for the likes of Watchmen, V For Vendetta and The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, this is probably his masterpiece. From Hell is Moore's own speculation on the case of Jack the Ripper, a blending of fiction, fact and fantasy that begins with a Royal Conspiracy and weaves a complex and gripping story that involves Freemasons, time travel, prostitution, the history of London, detective work, a psychic, corruption, poverty, mystical visions, famous figures of the era and the birth of the 20th century. The book begins with the premise that Prince Albert Victor fathered an illegitimate child with a mere shop girl and married her - all while gaining a 'social education' under the care of artist Walter Sickert. Although Albert is forcibly separated from his new wife when Queen Victoria hears about it, a group of prostitutes know of this Royal secret too and attempt to use it for blackmail purposes in order to pay off their debts to a criminal gang. From this point, events gradually spiral out of control in chilling fashion...
For some reason, From Hell was the last of the famous Alan Moore volumes that I'd yet to read but now that I have I think it might be the best of all of them. This is an astounding piece of work that is full of vivid characters and fascinating ruminations on history, buildings, the East End of London in the Victorian era, the police, Freemasons, the future, class, escape, society, architecture, and, of course, Jack the Ripper. The motivation of the 'Ripper' in this tale is to enforce the male hegemony for a new century - his gruesome acts a twisted ritual scarifice to restore what he thinks represents order. The identity of Jack the Ripper is revealed fairly on in the story and one of the strengths of the book is we that get to know (and often care) much about the various prostitutes as they try to eke out enough money for their lodgings on the dark, dangerous streets of Whitechapel. Therefore we feel genuine sadness when they are murdered. The Ripper himself is an extraordinary character who is never quite what you imagine him to be.
There are some amazing chapters and moments in the book that stay with you after you've put it down. One whole chapter is taken up with a tour of London a doctor gives to his coachman as they visit various landmarks and places of interest and the doctor talks - in great detail - about the strange and often macabre history of the city and its houses, churches and monuments. This is a great section and the striking black and white art of buildings is excellent as they tour London. 'Though Wren forbade internment on Church premises, Hawksmoor declined; sank his foundations in the plague-pits here, seeking that nourishment of which the Druids spake so that his will, his personality encoded into stone might thus endure throughout the centuries. It's cheerless soul informs this spot. The Huguenots who settled Spitafields, their independence bordering on Anarchy, were massacred by soldiers barracked here, in Hawkmoor's church.' I don't think this book would have been quite so effective or atmospheric in colour and some of the murders are so gruesome that the lack of colour is a help, sort of allowing them to go further.
The police investigation that occurs is as absorbing as the mystical visions of the killer and the high level skullduggery that attempts to keep a lid on the real truth. Moore makes Inspector Frederick Abberline a great character and you can only imagine his pained expression when he heard that Abberline was to be turned into an absinthe swigging Johnny Depp in the (very different and vastly inferior) film. Abberline, much to his own relief, has escaped from the nightmarish East End beat but is annoyed to be sent back there to investigate the Ripper murders. Abberline is a fairly average portly married man in the book and has a wonderfully blunt and somewhat foul-mouthed turn of phrase as he tries to make sense of these troubling murders that is often amusing. There's a lot of slang in the book that I quite enjoyed and a great bit where Abberline is considering all the various theories about the Ripper at his desk and dismisses them all as cobblers. Abberline is a bit like a slightly more sensitive Victorian version of Inspector Regan from The Sweeney with a bit of Sergeant Cuff from The Moonstone thrown in. There is quite a touching subplot where he strikes up a platonic friendship with a prostitute and tries to help her out.
Alan Moore's combination of having an incredibly inventive mind and being quite possibly as mad as a hatter takes From Hell to some surprising places. I loved the notion of a 'fourth dimension', a theory that all of time co-exists together and only the limitations of our brain stop us from realising this. The Ripper believes key points in time are linked together and actually experiences future and past events. There is a great moment where he stops in an alley with a victim and through a window sees what appears to be a sixties living room with Eric Morecambe on the television. His travels through time include appearing in a modern office where everyone is tapping away into little hand held gadgets and he is rather dismayed by this vision of the future. 'It would seem we are to suffer an apocalypse of cockatoos. Morose barbaric children playing joylessly with their unfathomable toys.' He even catches glimpses of notorious murderers of the future like Ian Brady and Peter Sutcliffe.
There are several famous figures from the Victorian era who appear briefly in the book too. Joseph Merrick (The Elephant Man), Dr Treves (drawn to look like Anthony Hopkins), Oscar Wilde, and Aleister Crowley. It's such a huge, fascinating and gripping story that I found myself always looking forward to when I could eventually sit down and spend some more time with the book. Be warned though that this is a very adult graphic novel. There are two additional sections at the back of the book that are fascinating too. The first is an Appendix (Annotations to the Chapters) that runs for over forty pages where Moore takes you through the book in great detail and tells you the inspiration for each development, incident, scene, what was made up by him, what he read in a Ripper book or elsewhere etc. Even better is a comic strip called The Dance of the Gull Catchers which looks at Ripper theories and those who have attempted to solve the case right up to the present. This is a funny and really interesting addition to From Hell and great fun. Moore even includes himself as one of these slightly unhinged characters (drawn with butterfly nets) who have been drawn into the Ripper mystery.
From Hell is as good as comics and graphic novels can possibly get and is very, very highly recommended.
While the other reviews on this book are excellent, I do not intend to go into the same detail as they do and will try to be as concise as possible. Firstly, this is the de facto standard for the medium of graphic novels; superbly researched (though Moore himself has recognises that some of the information used in the story is not irrefutable - see the final chapter), sustaining a wonderful intrigue and tension, the story of one of the most notorious of history's crimes is immersive, thought provoking and the jigsaw unfolds one piece at a time, just as a literary novel would.
Centring around the Jack the Ripper killings in the late Victorian era, we follow the protagonists and indeed antagonists involved in the murders and the investigations that follow. However, as with all of Moore's work, it is not a simple distinction: some villains we sympathise with, some 'goodies' are flawed and invite our disdain. Alan Moore's narrative is just impressive and the book demands to be taken seriously, drawing the reader's attention, only letting go at the very conclusion. Eddie Campbell's illustrations are highly stylised, intelligently varied according to the context yet very graphic, sometimes bordering on the grotesque. This is no disservice. Indeed it is necessary to the story.
As I mentioned, the volume is referenced very well: the level of depth often strays into the world of academia, and Moore is admirably honest about his own obsessive behaviour during the construction of From Hell. For me, the narrative of the process was just as interesting as that of the story itself.
Put simply, this is one of those titles that commands respect among those who read it, a respect that is so richly deserved I envy Moore ever so slightly...
From one of the most ground-breaking comic book writers of our generation Alan Moore and Bacchus creator Eddie Campbell comes one of the darkest and deeply disturbing pieces of work ever to be written in the field. Renowned in mainstream comics for reinventing the superhero concept in Watchmen, Moore blends history and horror in a graphic novel recounting the Jack the Ripper killings in 1888 London. Delving into a conspiracy involving the royal family, Scotland Yard, and the Freemasons, Moore examines the victims' and perpetrators' lives in great detail, harshly depicting the murders and their cover-up in what is not just a masterpiece of suspense but a portrayal and indictment of the era's inequities and injustices. Mysticism ties the book's events to the dawn of the next millennium and in one of the most unsettling scenes, hints that we aren't as far removed from Jack the Ripper's cruel milieu as we may think. The meticulous research (42 detailed pages of annotation are gathered at the end of the story), which Moore carried out, is very apparent in the telling of the story and helps him evoke Victorian England convincingly. The characterization and storytelling skills are Moores’ strongest point – reflective of his writing and make the story a harrowing experience. The stories impact though would be unimaginable without Campbell's atmospheric black and white drawings - a very acquired taste, yet perfect to depict the story’s horrific portrayal of the squalid brutality - an artistic style apparent in Beardsley and the Art Nouveau scene of the time. Scratchy and blotchy, with deep black ink perfectly depicts the grime of the chimney soot and splattering of blood. Campbell’s talent is exactly what Moore needed, giving life to the horrific portrayal of the killer and victims lives and deaths. Considered by the mainstream (amazon a good example) as ‘Humour' , this says a lot about the way comics and
graphic novels are still viewed by society and not taken seriously. Indeed there is humour, yet it is the darkest and blackest there is. It is as far away from the Beano as you can get. We are taken on a dark journey to the very depths of the human psyche. It is a controversial theory of the Ripper legend to say the least but this certainly shouldn’t get in the way of the appreciation of From Hell. It is more than a story about a serial killer - for in Moore's perspective, Jack the Ripper was no serial killer. He was an agent of Queen Victoria, cleaning up a mess that would potentially disturb the Royal Family and society. Outlining an intense panorama of what it was like to live in London in the 1880’s, we are shown reasons why The Ripper was never apprehended, detailing his vision of the 1880’s as the beginning or at least a forecast of the 20th Century. It is a carefully constructed story as we are pulled into the lives and depressing depths, of the victims. But for once they are not victims as commodities - Moore and Campbell make them human beings. Towards its conclusion, even the murderer himself has become a figure of a pathetic nature – his own death as pointless as his victims. From Hell is no comic, it is by far one of the greatest pieces of graphic art there is. This is a story that redefines the medium – it is a graphic novel in every sense of the word. Once you start reading, you won't be able to put it down. Painstakingly researched and shocking - If you think comics are for children and skateborders - think again! A true classic of it’s medium which hopefully won’t be tarnished by it’s film adaptation due out this Summer starring Johnny Depp, Ian Holm and Heather Graham.
Ten years in the making, Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's graphic novel From Hell is by far and away the best comic that I've ever read. It makes an utterly convincing case for comics to be regarded as a "proper" art form in their own right. It is immensely rich in terms of language and ideas, and the artwork is more than a match for the writing. It's a dense and often challenging graphic novel, but it really repays the effort it takes to read.
Just one point: I'm not aware of this ever having been published by Knockabout. The currently available version is published by Eddie Campbell comics, and before that it was serialised by Kitchen Sink. I could be wrong, though.
It's basically the story of Jack the Ripper, or rather a possible version of Jack the Ripper. The theory that the graphic novel uses (Royal connections, deranged freemasons, massive conspiracy) isn't new by any means, and has of course been convincingly discredited by Ripperologists. In fact, if you're going to get angry that Moore and Campbell tell a story that isn't true (and some people do), then you'd probably better avoid this. It should be pointed out, though, that although the graphic novel tries to be as accurate as possible in its details (and includes extensive notes in the back, giving sources for everything), it is still presented as a work of fiction. Moore even admits that his suspect probably wasn't the Ripper. This really shouldn't get in the way of your appreciation of From Hell.
One feature that even the most puritanical of Ripperlogists should appreciate is that the appearance of all the characters is fairly true to life, except in the few cases where no photograph was available. It's also fairly scrupulous about getting the dates and names right, although it does wheel out a few well-worn myths about the crimes that are untrue.
The story is immense, containing a large number of sub-plots, but for the most part it focuses on the life and activities of the murderer and the attempts of the police to catch him. Royal surgeon Sir William Gull is the killer (I'm giving nothing away by revealing this - it's obvious from the very start. This isn't an Agatha Christie style detective story), and he is probably the best written character I've seen in a comic. Clearly insane (and Moore drops subtle hints about possible causes of his insanity without ever forcing them upon us), but always sounding completely rational, able to justify everything he does to his own satisfaction, smug and occasionally rude, he is an incredible creation. At no point does the reader feel sympathy or affection for him, but he is a million miles away from the over-the-top serial killer type so popular in films and novels.
Moore takes risks with the character, allowing him an interest in mysticism that, as far as I can tell, has no basis in historical fact. Moore was heavily influenced by the work of novelist/poet Iain Sinclair in writing From Hell, so there's a lot of psycho-geography and references to Hawksmoor churches and William Blake. Rather than cluttering things up, these references become very much a part of the story, as they provide Gull with the motivation he needs. So well written are the characters that Gull's mystical leanings are never less than convincing. Alan Moore is apparently a practising magician, so the fact that he treats this subject with great seriousness isn't surprising.
The police are led by Fred Abberline, another superb character portrait. He's the ordinary man who gets sucked into something he doesn't understand, and which comes to dominate his life, often in ways he doesn't even understand. Resolutely down to earth, his attempts to figure out what could possibly motivate the murderer are especially affecting since we, the readers, are allowed to simultaneously witness Gull's progress, so we always know just how far from the truth the police are. Also poignant is the way the ageing, embittered Abberline is shown in the prologue and epilogue: full of self-loathing and fear of death.
It would be a simplification to say that the graphic novel is just about Gull and Abberline, though. Every major character is very well written. The murder victims are all treated with respect - they all have well-rounded characters, unlike the way they're normally presented in films. Knowing what lies in store for them (if you have the requisite knowledge of the case) means that you try not to become attached to any of them, but it becomes impossible, especially with the last victim.
The artwork is superb. Campbell uses black and white drawings throughout. The level of detail in the art is extraordinary, down to what I assume are accurate advertisements on buses and labels on sweet jars. It would be interesting to know how much of the background detail is as specified by Moore and how much was improvised by Campbell (an accomplished comic book writer in his own right). The art is unflinchingly explicit, featuring sex scenes that I'm actually surprised to see available in this country, and horrifying violence in the murder scenes. Don't read this if you're offended by such things.
There's an enormous amount to admire in this work. Even the "celebrity cameos" don't seem too out of place (Oscar Wilde, WB Yeats, the Elephant Man and even a ten-year-old Aleister Crowley put in appearances). There's some interesting material about the nature of time, and the idea that Jack the Ripper hastens in the Twentieth Century (he's effectively a modern phenomenon in period costume). There's even a twist ending, of a kind.
It's not terribly light-hearted. In fact it's about as grim as you can imagine, with the odd isolated moments of humour serving only to emphasise how dark the rest of the work is. At the end of the novel, as part of the appendix, is Dance of the Gull Catchers, a comic strip version of the history of Ripperology. Some good, serious points are made in it, but it's also very funny, so helps to break the dark mood of the main work.
I've read From Hell four times now, and I'm still finding new things to admire in it. Strongly recommended to any intelligent fan of comics, and also to anyone who thinks that comics can never raise themselves above their childish roots.
Alan Moore turned his ever-incisive eye to the squalid, enigmatic world of Jack the Ripper and the Whitechapel murders of 1888. Weighing in at 576 pages, From Hell is certainly the most epic of Moore's works and remarkably and is possibly his finest effort yet in a career punctuated by such glorious highlights as Watchmen and V for Vendetta.