Great Graphic Novels: From Hell, by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell

GreatgraphicnovelsLast month I asked my friends to write about books they loved (you can read all the essays here). This month, I invited them to write about their favorite graphic novels, and they selected some excellent titles. I hope you enjoy them! (Read all the Great Graphic Novel essays here.) -- Mark

From Hell, by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell

From hellIt only took me about five seconds to settle upon the graphic novel that has most successfully blown me away: From Hell by Alan Moore (writer) and Eddie Campbell (artist).

Clocking in at close to 600 pages, this is not a one-evening read, as too many graphic novels are. It is also not the world's loveliest artistic feast. The art is stark black and white scratchy pen-work and I have to say that Eddie Campbell's style is an acquired taste. But it perfectly suits Alan Moore's complex script about the Jack the Ripper killings in London in the 1880s.

There is plenty of blood spilled as the killings proceed, and the fact that it is all in black ink -- not red - helps maintain a certain aesthetic distance from the dirty deeds being done. I think of the book as being drawn in soot, which certainly defined late-Victorian London, where the famous fog was actually smog.

Long story short: Moore immersed himself in the various conspiracy theories about who Jack the Ripper really was and settled on an amalgamated premise that Jack was really the Queen's physician, William Gull, and the murders were part of a monstrous occult Masonic ritual. The truth was ostensibly covered-up by Masons in positions of power and justice was never rendered.

This is, I think, a preposterous premise, but it is an engrossing one, nevertheless, and if one just suspends disbelief and allows Moore to sweep one along on his dark horse-drawn carriage ride, there are hours of finely-nuanced entertainment to be had.

The movie version of From Hell, starring Johnny Depp and Heather Graham, was a telegraphed and watered down version of the story that Moore spins. It had its moments, particularly in capturing the spooky atmosphere of late nights in the East End, but if you even half-way enjoyed the movie, you owe it to yourself to read the original graphic novel.

(Various disclaimers: I became a Mason around the time that From Hell was first published, my wife was Matron of Honour at Alan Moore's and Melinda Gebbie's wedding in Northampton, UK, and we all remain friends. That said, I'd still stand by From Hell as a graphic novel masterpiece, even if I were not a Mason and didn't know Alan Moore from Joe Blow.)

From Hell, by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell