From Hell

Reviewed: February 26, 2003
By: Story by Alan Moore
Art by Eddie Campbell
Publisher: Eddie Campbell Comics
Approx 560 Pages, $52.60

If you’ve seen the movie they made from this exhaustive graphic novel about Jack the Ripper, then you might want to read this book to find out what Moore and Campbell actually wrote and drew.

Graphic Novel is a high art term for a limited run series comic book. This one ran for sixteen issues, beginning in 1989 and apparently continuing until 1996. In that time they turned out sixteen 22 page chapters in magazine format. The first collected edition of the entire work was in 1999. This fourth edition has a cover to match the poster for the film.

Moore did very extensive research for this series. You can read a lot of it in a chapter devoted to bibliographic references and footnotes. Imagine - footnotes and citations for a comic book. He’s at least as thorough as Patricia Cornwell, who latest book also attempts to explain the mystery of the Ripper.

Moore’s solution is very close to the one posited in Anne Perry’s novel The Whitechapel Conspiracy. He assumes that Queen Victoria’s grandson, Edward Albert Victor, secretly married a Catholic girl and sired a daughter by her. The Ripper murders were instigated as a result of the misdirected efforts of the royal physician, William Gull, to cover up this fact by eliminating everyone who knew anything about it.

All such theories are, of course, an attempt to impose Hercule Poirot style  logic on the acts that some people feel were carried out by the first great serial killer. If Springheel Jack were such a man, then all these theories would be invalid, but we’ll probably never know. Jack has remained an inspiration for story tellers every since.

Alan Moore, as I said, did his homework, and has crafted a complex tale in which Gull has very mad, mystical reasons for what he does. Moore and Campbell spend half the book building this convoluted framework of motive, something the film left out entirely. Moore captured the literary spirit of the times and Campbell’s compelling black and white sketches, while sometimes cramped and often very graphic, suit the story perfectly.

This is NOT a child’s comic book. It is often crude, packed with sexual references, and littered with extreme violence. This is all justified by the story Moore and Campbell had to tell, but it would definitely earn the book a PG-18 rating (if there is such a thing). It makes for good reading, and is far superior to the film script that was ripped out of it, but it is also heavy going, and you might find, as I did, that a chapter a week was enough.