Review by Matthew Nielsen
From Hell, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Eddie Campbell, is one of the longest single-volume graphic novels I’ve read. With an average of 8-9 panels across 520 or so of those pages, the book features roughly 4400 illustrations, all meticulously researched with technical detail and history accuracy.
This is the story of Jack the Ripper, one of the most infamous serial killers of all time. It is also a story of the victims of the Ripper murders and of Victorian London itself. There are absolutely hundreds of different theories as to who Jack the Ripper was, and while we can’t say with definite certainty which one is true, From Hell is a powerful “maybe this?” story. For further historical accuracy, the graphic novel includes an appendix where Moore goes into incredible detail about his research across 42 pages of text: what parts have been invented, what things have been sourced, the books he’s read, his opinions on some of those books, and the locations he’s been to. For those new to the world of “Ripperology” (myself included), Moore provides an eye-opening introduction into the enormity of it all. Campbell’s artwork is also just as meticulously researched, and the pair have collaborated marvellously.
The book is dark, black, and rough. Campbell’s artwork captures all the details needed, but there is also a sense of corruption and speed to the way it’s all been drawn. This is the ideal art style for the gritty events depicted and the wet and miserable British autumn weather. At the same time, the beauty of Victorian London’s buildings and typography all remains clear and strong. The lives and deaths of the Whitechapel victims are shown in brutally honest detail. The murders are depicted with such intensity that they make far more impact than the kind you’d likely see in your average manga or superhero comic, but that’s all up to you, this is just my experience.
Now, there are some pretty jarring moments in the book that don’t seem to fit with the rest of it. For example, in the first part of the book, there are about three pages of an Austrian couple having sex, when one of them receives a nightmarish vision. They only speak in German with no translation, so the only context given is that it is Braunau, Austria, 1888. I couldn’t add the pieces together at the time, but in the appendix Moore explains that this scene is the conception of Adolf Hitler. A baffling part until you discover that Moore is linking historical events and coincidences together. There are many other moments in this book like this, when only prior knowledge of said event or reading the appendix explains what’s going on. This can easily lead to a confusing experience for the reader.
However, this is still an incredibly powerful graphic novel. If you’re ready for a long, violent and, at times, confusing journey into the world of Jack the Ripper, then take a dive into From Hell.