Writer Alan Moore
- Artist Eddie Campbell
Ediz. Magic Press
hard to understand why Jack the Ripper has become the most famous
serial murderer of all time, since more horrible crimes were committed
after his. Perhaps, the main reason for his fame is due to the fact
that he was the first murderer who obtained the attention of the media.
The facts: five prostitutes were ferociously murdered and mutilated
in the London area of Whitechapel in the autumn of 1888. The police
received a number of letters, possibly written by fame seekers with
the exception of one. That letter was attached to a package, which
contained a kidney of one of the victims and was signed "From
hell Jack the Ripper". The hunt lasted for months without
any luck, because the murderer was never found. However, Jack the
Ripper continued to be mentioned in the pages of newspapers, books
and his story was re-adapted by the new media. In 1988, one century
after the Whitechapel killings, Jack the Ripper became the protagonist
of a comics series called FROM HELL, which was published in 1989.
The stories were written by Alan Moore with drawings by Eddie Campbell.
Moore, born in Northampton (UK) in 1953, became famous early in the
1980s with a series called "Swamp Thing", published by DC
Comics. He also wrote "Watchmen", a sort of milestone (and
perhaps a tomb stone!) of the super-hero genre, resulting in a comics
story of 400 pages. Since then, Moore has equally devoted his time
between his brilliant and original "mainstream" comics and
other more unusual (with regard to genre, format and content) stories.
FROM HELL belongs to the latter category. The series consists of 11
books in black and white, co-published by Kitchen Sink and Mad Love,
the publishing company created by Moore at the end of the 1980s, and
suggests a different version of the Jack the Ripper story.
FROM HELL is like a novel: it is introduced by a preface and is divided
up into chapters each of them of a different length. Its end links
to the beginning of the story and closes the circle. The novel has
a main plot, which is the story of the murderer and his pursuer Inspector
Abberline, as well as a number of different sub-plots, which are the
micro-stories of all the characters, who are involved in the main
plot in one way or another. The scenes are re-created in a very detailed
way and its hard to think of any other comics story whose Victorian
style is equally vivid.
Readers should not simply "check out" the story but rather
read at least one chapter to enjoy it. Campbells art (black
and white "scratching style" drawings, and almost every
page divided into nine illustrations of the same size) is very peculiar
and is not exactly attractive at a first sight. After the first chapter,
its hard to imagine this story drawn in a style similar to traditional
FROM HELL is not at all a "traditional" comic. Its
a work that cant properly be classified into a single genre.
Perhaps it may be regarded as a mix of different genres, where the
sum of the parts has more of an impact than the individual parts.
The investigation is described meticulously with the help of photos
taken at the time; however, the story is not a real mystery story
as the identity of the presumed murderer is already clear in the first
few chapters. It could then be regarded as a sort of "noir",
in which a serial killer murders women to free himself from his ghosts.
Certainly, the killers cold-blooded rituals, which had already
been reported by the press at that time, are described in detail.
However, theres a fantasy element, which I will not reveal here
because I dont want to give away the end of the story. The only
thing I will say, though, is that Moore and Campbell have made the
concept of time and space relativity memorable in a spectacular and
disturbing way. Theres also the idea of conspiracy introduced
by Moores detailed description of all the political intrigue
and cover-ups. Besides, FROM HELL can be easily compared to Dickens
(or perhaps Zolas) novels for its detailed description of the
troubled beings who populated Whitechapel at that time. Without being
pathetic or oversimplified, Moore describes the life of the Ripper
victims who, despite their squalor and misery, are able to be sympathetic
and generous to each other. For the first time ever, Moore has created
a whole range of female characters whose compassion makes their killer
an even more horrible murderer and its for this reason that
Moore dedicates his work to them: "You and your demise: of these
things alone we are certain. Good night, ladies". All the other
characters such as Inspector Abberline - are also equally human;
Abberline, for instance is a quiet and typical middle-class man who
is suddenly involved (because of his profession) in a case which the
upper class people at that time regarded as horrendous. Besides the
inspector, we are introduced to a range of other characters: Robert
Lees, a psychic who is called to help by Scotland Yard, the pathetic
Prince Eddy, who according to Alan Moore was indirectly
responsible for the killings of Whitechapel.
Many other minor characters such as John Merrick known as the
Elephant Man or the sinister magician Alister Crowley and even
Adolf Hitlers parents (read it if you dont believe it!)
are also somehow included in the story. Jack the Ripper dominates
them all and his role becomes more of a metaphorical one, a sort of
Charon who drags mankind to a new century, almost as an anticipation
of all the blood shed during the world wars of the 20th century.
Alan Moore agrees with most of the reconstruction made by Stephen
Knight in his book "Jack the Ripper: the Final Solution".
According to Knight, Jack the Ripper in reality was a doctor, Sir
William Whitey Gull. Obviously, theres no evidence supporting
such a theory, which is as good as any other, or perhaps even better
from a more "fiction" point of view. Moore himself explains
in the introduction that he wrote in 1989: "Theoretically, the
events detailed in From Hell could have unfolded in just the way we
described them... But it isn't history. It's fiction."
Not history (as in real events of the past), but fiction, that is,
one of the many possible stories. According to Moore, "It is
a story that concerns itself with politics, architecture, love, art,
history and God. And, regrettably, with violence of a most extreme
nature." Moore says: "Perhaps it's worth remembering that
all history is to some degree a fiction; that truth can no longer
properly be spoken once the bodies have grown cold."
Whats left to be said? Id rather leave something for the
reader, who will enjoy the writers ability to tell this story,
with its flashbacks and structure. For those who would like to know
more about the facts, the author has provided with a massive appendix
of notes. Moore also devotes the last issue to all the theories regarding
Jack the Rippers identity and to the latest findings.
Comics lovers should also take a look at another book, called "From
Hell" the Complete Scripts", which was published
by Borderland Press and Spiderbaby Grafix in 1994. The book includes
the scripts of the first four chapters of the saga. Its a good
way to get to know the style of this British writer, whose accurate
descriptions have become legendary. Id finally like to devote
a few words to the Italian version of FROM HELL, which has been published
by Magic Press and is currently sold in specialised bookshops. While
the original work consists of 11 episodes (plus the appendix) which
are published in paperback, Magic Press has wisely decided to publish
each episode in big hardcover books. At the moment, only the first
volume which includes the first four US issues - is available
in Italian. Enjoy reading it and remember: FROM HELL is not designed
for children or people with weak stomachs.