Death Panels, Part III: Jack the Ripper in From Hell Leads Comics Whose Stories Go Epic

October calls for scares, and despite the very scary state of the world, there is still a desire for entertainment that frightens us. Here we look at the broad, deep legacy of horror comics in a series that delves into the genre's many variations and highlights from the 1940s to the present.

The expansive visual format of comic books, along with the fact that they are published serially, encourages sprawling, epic stories with dozens of characters and webs of subplots. The possibility of epic storytelling in comics has served the horror genre particularly well. Several key horror epics have sold well, but, more importantly, stand as lasting contributions to the genre as a whole.

With the 1888 Jack the Ripper killings as its basis, Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's From Hell (1991-96) firmly broke from mainstream horror such as Tales from the Crypt and The Tomb of Dracula by taking a serious, historical approach to its subject. Moore's text is tight, literate, and deeply couched in English social history. Campbell's impressionistic black-and-white art evokes the London fog, the shadowy halls of ritual and power, and the inherent creepiness of the British royal family.

From Hell ravenously chews up and reassembles facets of the Jack the Ripper story — many true, some famous speculation, and others invented. Moore and Campbell make familiar material compelling by creating characters who feel real, as opposed to just being types. And From Hell is nothing if not a series of miniature, detailed biographies, all of which interlock in ways that will seem surprising, even to those familiar with the Ripper story.

 

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