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From Hell
Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell
Eddie Campbell Comics, 1999 paperback �24.99

review by Patrick Hudson

This fat volume collects Moore and Campbell's exhaustive, and exhausting, study of the Jack the Ripper murders, published in various venues between 1990 and 1999. Moore postulates a royal conspiracy to kill several prostitutes connected with the birth of a child fathered by the Prince of Wales to a shop-girl. This is an old saw, popularised in numerous 'non-fiction' exposés of varying degrees of crankiness, and the film Murder By Decree, which also brought Sherlock Holmes into the picture. Moore works hard to make the theory fit the available facts, and his novel is in many ways a forensic examination of the crimes as thorough as any of the nonfiction.
   However, the intent is more than mere criminal history, and Moore ties the murders to Freemasonry, psychogeography and the architecture of London to examine how the murders fit into the history and fabric of the city. This book's closest relations are the works of Ian Sinclair or Peter Ackroyd, rather than Siegle and Schuster or Bob Kane. This is one of the few graphic novels I've read that truly deserves the second part of the classification. And, as a warning to sensitive readers, it deserves the first as well, as the murders are depicted in gruesome detail.
   Perhaps Moore's greatest strength as a comics practitioner is in his choice of collaborators. With Eddie Campbell, he has once again found an artist more than up to the challenge of his intense writing style. Campbell captures the darkness and threat of Victorian London, the looming power of a Hawksmoor church and the world of seedy back alleys and pubs that the doomed women inhabit. The art slips easily between the representational and symbolic demands of the story creating a mood of stark surrealism. The characters are individuals but, when necessary, Campbell can drape them in light and shadow to reveal the universal that lies just beneath the particular.
   From Hell is backed up by extensive notes detailing Moore's research, points where he has had to conjecture to fill in the gaps, or tweak the facts to suit the story. On the whole, he appears to have recreated the weeks leading up to the crimes in exacting detail by studying all the available sources, of which there are many. Here we get a glimpse of Moore as deeply immured in the minutiae of the case as the cast of his novel. These notes are more than just an illuminating afterthought; they are an intellectual journal of research and discovery intrinsic to the work at hand. Moore details coincidences and chance meetings along the way of his research that indicate something of the deeper structure that Moore's senses in the killings.
   This dark, unsettling work is a sober meditation on mysticism, politics and our morbid fascination with the Whitechapel murders, and Moore does not shy away from including the author and the reader in this circle of complicity. From Hell is mature and serious work from two artists at the peak of their creative ability.

Related item:
tZ  From Hell - review of the film
From Hell
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