Dovetailing with the prior post about Julia Wertz’s TENEMENTS, TOWERS & TRASH, here’s Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell’s vastly detailed exploration of late-19th century London through the eyes of detectives, prostitutes, and one serial killer.
I’m not going to lie: I have been to Whitechapel. I’ve attended one of the many Ripper tours. I’m really not into that sort of thing — true crime doesn’t hold much of an allure for me — but I’ve found off-beat tours are often the best ways to discover the delights of an unfamiliar land. (If you’re ever in New Orleans, definitely indulge yourself in one of their many tours, especially those that feature cemeteries!)
FROM HELL is an astounding achievement. As Alan Moore often does, he manages to intertwine the personal with the political, the social, and the spiritual. While FROM HELL is, at the heart of it, a tale of a disturbed person who murdered more than a few prostitutes and also about those tasked to attempt to bring him to justice, it’s mostly about London itself.
I first read FROM HELL while in London — I still have a copy of the map I picked up at the Imperial War Museum that I used as a bookmark — and I cannot recommend a better guidebook to the city apart from an A-to-Zed map. It made me understand and see and pay attention to the city so much more than I would have without it. It imbues so much with Campbell’s visual details and focus on landmarks, often without calling it out in the text itself.
One major example is their detailing of Cleopatra’s Needle, which plays a bit of a role in the book, and whose significance would have mostly been lost on me if I hadn’t read this graphic novel.
Like I said with TENEMENTS, TOWERS & TRASH, illustrated works are astounding guiding compasses when you’re on unknown soil or concrete. Rick Steves is great and all, but if you’re a misfit, if you bristle at being called a tourist, these are the roadmaps you’re looking for.
I’ll note that there is a FROM HELL COMPANION, which is a deep dive into, well, FROM HELL, from both Moore and Campbell. It’s informative, but it is mostly text and copies of scripts and I find the original work to be a better guide; the companion sketches more into it, but will not help you navigate the city.
(Lastly: skip the film.)