In Neil Gaiman's brilliant The View from the Cheap Seats there is a speech he gave in 1993 (Good Comics and Tulips) in which he talks about a feature he was commissioned to write by Sunday Times Magazine about comics. When Gaiman turned in the piece, the person who commissioned it disliked the tone because "These comics [...] you seem to think they're a good thing".
Sometimes, when people talking about comics there is a certain level of justification- similarly to being a horror fan, you have to justify why you enjoy these things. With horror, it's the question of enjoying something repulsive and full of blood and murder and monsters. With comics, it's about enjoying a medium of storytelling which is for children (which is complete nonsense).
So with horror comics, I suppose we've got to justify why we like a medium of storytelling designed for children which revels in blood and gore.
Again, nonsense (and that's without even getting into the question of children's literature- a topic which Mr Gaiman has some interesting views on, as well).
The horror comic we're going to be looking at this week shows just how nonsensical this attitude is.
Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's- yes, I'm going to use it again- masterpiece.
From Hell is about Jack the Ripper, except it's also about London and architecture and morality and so many other things that it would take more than a short piece to cover them all. You would need something the size of a doorstop- which is exactly what From Hell is. It is truly a graphic novel, a comic that has all the complexity of a novel, but told primarily through the amazing artwork of Eddie Campbell.
From Hell was published in serial form in just under a decade and the collected volume is a mighty tome.
Similarly to Uzumaki, the film adaptation of From Hell doesn't manage to pull of the feat of adapting such a complex comic- even with a cast including Heather Graham, Johnny Depp and the late Ian Holm- and, similarly, there is a series adaptation in the works. I hope the serial nature of the original source material translates better in these adaptations because from Uzumaki and From Hell deserve more.
What Moore and Campbell are able to do with From Hell is explore themes like time existing as a spatial dimension- all time existing simultaneously and it is human perception which imposes chronology.
At the start of From Hell, Alan Moore references Charles Fort- a pioneer in Anomalistics (using sceintific methods to investigate phenomena that lie outside current understanding):
"One measures a circle, beginning anywhere"
Not only is this important in terms of the structure of the comic and the story, the source of the quotation feeds into the subject matter itself: Jack the Ripper.
Jack the Ripper easily falls in the bracket of phenomena lying outside current understanding. A killer who has transformed from very real horror into an almost mythical monster.
The complexity and density of From Hell makes it difficult to talk about briefly- you could write essays on individual themes and the artwork and the storytelling. The appendices at the back of the complete volume speak of the vast, in depth research undertaken in the writing.
So...horror comics...gory picture books, right?
Next up we're going to be looking at a fairly recent horror comic which I picked up from Chaos City Comics.
And, as always, remember to support your local comic book store and if you have any suggestions of horror comics for us to look at (past or present), get in touch.