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From Hell collected edition
|Date||1999 (collected edition)|
|No. of issues||10|
|Page count||572 pages|
Eddie Campbell Comics
Top Shelf Productions
|Date of publication||1989–1996|
Set during the Whitechapel murders of the late Victorian era, the novel speculates upon the identity and motives of Jack the Ripper. The novel depicts several true events surrounding the murders, although portions have been fictionalised, particularly the identity of the killer and the precise nature and circumstances of the murders.
The title is taken from the first words of the "From Hell" letter, which some authorities believe was an authentic message sent from the killer in 1888. The collected edition is 572 pages long. The 2000 and later editions are the most common prints. The comic was loosely adapted into a film, released in 2001. In 2000, the graphic novel was banned in Australia for several weeks after customs officers seized copies of the seventh issue from a shipment intended for Quality Comics.
From Hell was originally serialized as one of several features in Taboo, an anthology comic book published by Steve Bissette's Spiderbaby Grafix. After running in Taboo #2–7 (1989–1992), Moore and Campbell moved the project to its own series, published first by Tundra Publishing, then by Kitchen Sink Press. The series was published in ten volumes between 1991 and 1996, and an appendix, From Hell: The Dance of the Gull-catchers, was published in 1998. The entire series was collected in a trade paperback and published by Eddie Campbell Comics in 1999; trade paperback and hardcover versions are now published by Top Shelf Productions in the United States and Knockabout Comics in the UK. A fully colorized Master Edition was serialized starting in September 2018.
From Hell takes as its premise Stephen Knight's theory that the Jack the Ripper murders were part of a conspiracy to conceal the birth of an illegitimate royal baby fathered by Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence, slightly modified: the involvement of Walter Sickert is reduced, and Knight's allegation that the child's mother was a Catholic has been dropped. Knight's theories have been described as "a good fictional read" whose "conclusions have been disproved numerous times". In an appendix added to the collected From Hell, Moore writes that he did not accept Knight's theory at face value (echoing the then-growing consensus that such claims were likely hoaxes), but considered it an interesting starting point for his own fictional examination of the Ripper murders, their era and impact. However, in the serialised publication of Dance of the Gull-Catchers Moore included an "author's statement" which consisted of a blown-up panel from the prologue, depicting the psychic Robert James Lees confessing that although his visions were fraudulent, they were accurate: "I made it all up, and it all came true anyway. That's the funny part."
Moore and Campbell conducted significant research to ensure plausibility and verisimilitude. The collected From Hell features over forty pages of page-by-page notes and references, indicating which scenes are based wholly on Moore's own imagination and which are based upon specific named sources. Moore's opinions on the reliability of those references are also indicated. The annotations are followed by an epilogue in comics format, The Dance of the Gull-Catchers, in which Moore and Campbell expand on the various theories of the Ripper crimes and the likelihood—or rather, the near-impossibility—of the true identity of the culprit ever being established.
Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence, also known as Prince Eddy, marries and fathers a child with Annie Crook, a shop girl in London's East End. Prince Eddy had visited the area under an assumed name and Annie is unaware of her husband's royal position. Queen Victoria becomes aware of the marriage and has Albert separated forcibly from his wife, whom she places in an asylum. Victoria then instructs her royal physician Sir William Gull to impair Annie's sanity, which he does by damaging or impairing her thyroid gland. The prince's daughter is taken to Annie's parents by the artist Walter Sickert, a friend of Eddy's who had accompanied him on his trips to the East End. Annie's father believes the child to be his through an incestuous relationship with his daughter. Sickert reluctantly leaves the child with Annie's parents.
The potentially scandalous matter is resolved, until a group of prostitutes — Annie's friends Mary Kelly, Polly Nichols, Anne Chapman, and Liz Stride — who are aware of the illegitimate child and its royal connections, attempt to blackmail Sickert to pay off a gang of thugs who are threatening them. After Queen Victoria learns of the blackmail attempt, Gull is once again enlisted, this time to silence the group of women who are threatening the crown. The police are complicit in the crimes — they are granted prior knowledge of Gull's intentions, and are adjured not to interfere until the plot is completed.
Gull, a high-ranking Freemason, begins a campaign of violence against the four women in Whitechapel, brutally murdering them with the aid of a carriage driver, John Netley. While he justifies the murders by claiming they are a Masonic warning to an apparent Illuminati threat to the throne, the killings are, in Gull's mind, part of an elaborate mystical ritual to ensure male societal dominance over women. While targeting Kelly, Gull also kills Catherine Eddowes, who was using Kelly's name as an alias. As the killings progress, Gull becomes more and more psychologically unhinged, until he finally has a full psychic vision of the future while murdering a woman he believes to be Kelly.
The story also serves as an in-depth character study of Gull; exploring his personal philosophy and motivation, and making sense of his dual role as royal assassin and serial killer. Though rooted in factual biographical details of Gull's life, Moore admitted taking substantial fictional license: for example, the real-life Gull suffered a stroke; Moore fictionalises this event as a theophany, with Gull seeing "Jahbulon", a masonic figure, fundamentally altering Gull's world view and indirectly leading to the murders.
Gull takes Netley on a tour of London landmarks (including Cleopatra's Needle and Nicholas Hawksmoor's churches), expounding on their hidden mystical significance, which is lost to the modern world. Later, Gull forces the semi-literate Netley to write the infamous From Hell letter which lends the work its title. Following this, several people write letters to the police claiming to be the murderer, and the nickname "Jack the Ripper" becomes a household name. Gull has a number of transcendent experiences in the course of the murders, culminating with a vivid vision of what London will be like a century after the last murder. It is implied that, through his grisly activities, male dominance over femininity is assured, and the 20th century is thus given its dominant form, though Gull finds it disgusting nevertheless.
Inspector Frederick Abberline, who once patrolled Whitechapel as a police officer, investigates the Ripper crimes without success. He meets Robert James Lees, a fraudulent psychic who acts as a spiritual advisor to Queen Victoria. Lees, acting on a personal grudge, contacts Abberline and identifies Gull as the murderer. Abberline and Lees confront Gull, who instantly confesses. Abberline reports the confession to his superiors at Scotland Yard, who cover up the discovery. The police inform both Abberline and Lees that Gull was operating alone, and was gripped by insanity. Abberline later discovers through chance Gull's actual intentions to cover up the matter of the royal "bastard" fathered by the Duke of Clarence. He resigns from the Metropolitan Police in protest of the official cover-up of the murders, and contemplates leaving England to join the Pinkertons.
Gull is tried by a secret Masonic council, which determines he is insane. Gull refuses to submit to the council, informing them that because of his accomplishments and his visions, no man amongst them may be counted as his peer and cannot judge the "mighty work" he has wrought. A phony funeral is staged, and Gull is imprisoned under a pseudonym "Thomas Mason." The Freemasons frame boarding school teacher Montague Druitt as a suspect, killing him and making his death look like suicide. Years later, and moments before his death, Gull has an extended mystical experience, where his spirit travels through time, observing the crimes of the London Monster, instigating or inspiring a number of other killers (Peter Sutcliffe, Ian Brady), causing Netley's death, as well as serving as the inspiration for both Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and William Blake's painting "The Ghost of a Flea". The last experience his spirit undergoes before it "becomes God" is visiting a woman living in Ireland who, in the novel's appendices, is implied to be Mary Kelly. The woman has four children who are named after the women murdered by Gull in Whitechapel. She is apparently able to see Gull's spirit, and abjures him to begone "back to Hell."
Interpretations and themes
From Hell was partly inspired by the title of Douglas Adams' novel Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, in that it explores the notion that to solve a crime holistically, one would need to solve the entire society in which it occurred.
From Hell also explores Moore's ideas on the nature of time. Early on, Gull's friend James Hinton discusses his son Howard's theory of the "fourth dimension", which proposes that time is a spatial dimension. All time co-exists, and it is only the limits of our perception that make it appear to progress. Sequences of related events can be seen as shapes in the fourth dimension: history can "be said to have an architecture", as Gull puts it. Gull's experiences seem to confirm this: he has visions of the 20th century during the murders, and as he is dying he experiences, and appears to influence, past and future events. Moore had earlier explored similar ideas in Watchmen, where Doctor Manhattan perceives past, present and future simultaneously, and describes himself as "a puppet who can see the strings".
Critic Gary Groth says the most elaborate theme in From Hell stems from Moore's statement that "the Ripper murders — happening when they did and where they did — were almost like an apocalyptic summary of... that entire Victorian age. Also, they prefigure a lot of the horrors of the 20th century." In Moore's reading of the works of contemporary artists including Émile Zola and the post-impressionist painters, the prostitute had become an icon of the working lives of the impoverished and disenfranchised. He notes that the 1880s saw the Mahdi uprisings, the first time the Western world had to face militant Islamic fundamentalism; physicists were beginning to make discoveries that would pave the way to the atomic bomb; and the growth of both Zionism and anti-Semitism. The period of the killings coincides with the conception of Adolf Hitler and the final scene alludes to the outbreak of World War II. After the final murder, during which Gull has an extended vision of 1990s England, Gull says, "It is beginning, Netley. Only just beginning. For better or worse, the twentieth century. I have delivered it."
The comic series was a top vote getter for the Comics Buyer's Guide Fan Award for "Favorite Limited Series" for 1997, and the collected edition won their Award for Favorite Reprint Graphic Album in 2000.
A film, loosely based on the series, was made by the Hughes brothers in 2001, starring Johnny Depp, Heather Graham and Ian Holm. It received mixed reviews from critics, with a rating of 57% on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes.
- Holub, Christian (May 31, 2018). "Eddie Campbell explains why he's coloring From Hell for the first time". Entertainment Weekly.
- "Jack The Ripper: The Final Solution". Casebook: Jack the Ripper. Retrieved September 25, 2019.
- Dave Windett, Jenni Scott & Guy Lawley, "Writer From Hell: the Alan Moore Experience" (interview), Comics Forum 4, p. 46, 1993
- Moore & Campbell, From Hell chapter 2, page 15, panel 4
- Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons, Watchmen issue 9, page 5, panel 4
- Groth, Gary (February 1991). "Last Big Words — Alan Moore on 'Marvelman', 'From Hell', 'A Small Killing,' and being published." The Comics Journal 140.
- Moore, Campbell, From Hell chapter 10, page 33, panel 2
- 1993 Will Eisner Comic Industry Award Nominees and Winners, Comic Book Awards Almanac
- 1995 Will Eisner Comic Industry Award Nominees and Winners, Comic Book Awards Almanac
- 1996 Will Eisner Comic Industry Award Nominees and Winners, Comic Book Awards Almanac
- 1997 Will Eisner Comic Industry Award Nominees and Winners, Comic Book Awards Almanac
- 2000 Will Eisner Comic Industry Award Nominees and Winners, Comic Book Awards Almanac
- Prix de la Critique 2001, ACBD
- IHG Award Recipients, International Horror Guild.
- From Hell – Rotten Tomatoes
- Andreeva, Nellie (18 November 2014). "'From Hell' Drama Based On Jack The Ripper Graphic Novel In Works At FX". Deadline. Retrieved 30 August 2015.