Review: The From Hell Companion

Published On April 30, 2013 | By Richard Bruton | Comics, Previews, Upcoming

The From Hell Companion

By Eddie Campbell and Alan Moore

Knockabout / Top Shelf

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Top Shelf Productions and Knockabout Comics present THE FROM HELL COMPANION, an astonishing selection of Alan Moore’s original scripts and sketches for the landmark graphic novel, with copious annotations, commentary, and illustrations by Eddie Campbell. Here for the first time are a set of pages, including some of Moore’s greatest writing, which have never been seen by anyone except his collaborator. Joining them are Campbell’s first-hand accounts of the project’s decade-long development, complete with photos, anecdotes, disagreements, and wry confessions. Arranged in narrative order, these perspectives form a fascinating mosaic, an opportunity to read FROM HELL with fresh eyes, and a tour inside the minds of two giants of their field.

That’s the press blurb for it, and the first thing to acknowledge is that this really is a book for the fans. Seriously, who would just casually pick up a 100,000 word book, nearly 300 pages, about a book they’d never read before or didn’t especially enjoy?

So bearing that in mind, I really shouldn’t need to spend more than a moment reminding you that Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s From Hell is a masterpiece, taking the events of the Ripper murders in Victoria’s London and creating a huge, sprawling, and quite brilliant story, drawing upon all available sources, weaving conspiracy theory after conspiracy theory into the factual record, mixing fiction with fact, blurring, mixing until a narrative comes forth, brilliant and brutal, visceral, intense, stunning.

It is my favourite of Moore’s works, and so much of my enjoyment of it comes from Eddie Campbell’s frankly herculean task of bringing Moore’s voluminous script to the comic page. I have great pleasure in reading it, in its entirety, detailed appendix and all, usually once a year, a treat just for me.

And similarly, the idea of a big book talking about From Hell was always gong to be a must buy for me. And if, just like me, you’re a fan of Moore and Campbell’s From Hell, this will be something you will enjoy. If you’re not a fan, probably not. If, for some strange reason, you’ve read this far about a companion volume to a graphic novel you’ve never read, may I respectfully suggest you go and read it first, wait a little while, read it again, and THEN come back and get this companion volume.

Here it is…. The From Hell Companion:

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However, this From Hell Companion certainly isn’t just Alan Moore’s complete scripts, certainly not, that would probably take up 10-20 times the number of pages, prop up seriously heavy doors, and kill small animals when dropped. Hell, it would more than likely stun a horse.

No, this is a carefully curated selection, pulled from the archives and organised by Campbell. I can’t honestly even imagine many picking this up will be unaware of the scale of an Alan Moore script, but here again we have a lovely, and plentiful reminder. Wordy? Oh yes, gloriously so, but it’s a pleasurable experience to read his words, practically luxuriating in the language, created a squalid vista of London, all shit and noise, brutality as daily existence, the people and those who rule them a virtual world apart. .

Equally pleasurable, equally luxurious is Campbell’s commentary that supports and explains the script. Each section of the Companion has a theme (granted, a loose theme at times) as Campbell details the comings and goings, the many problems, the artistry involved, the sheer bloody work, the laughs, the fallings out. All here, in a voice that is equal parts informed, artistic, relaxed, but most of all readable. Campbell’s a comfortable talker, a confident writer, and has a style that is simple easy to read.

It’s Campbell’s commentary that fleshes out the book, gives it context, and paints a prose picture of the creation of one of the finest pieces of comic work I’ve ever read.

Here, just to set the scene, is the first page of Campbell’s introduction, complete with the first line that set a smile on my face and set me reading, a very pleasurable Sunday spent in the company of Mssrs Campbell and Moore as they detail a shocking series of events happening in Victoria’s London, and fictions become reality, reality becomes fiction…

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See, how can you possibly not love a book where the author’s introduction begins with the line “I was having a problem drawing the alligator.“?

In some ways this is Campbell having his say, belatedly providing the artist’s viewpoint to go along with Moore’s copious writer’s viewpoint delivered in the appendix pieces that were included with the original publications and subsequent collections. It provides an alternative view, a complimentary view, and in its own artistic way, is every bit as essential.

One slight surprise; it’s visually a little bland, with very few design flourishes about the place, concentrating instead on the power of the text and the ideas to deliver the experience. (Although the reasons may also be covered by Campbell’s words about Moore’s prose appendix: “A big 43,000 word wedge of text so goes against the verbal-visual balance beloved of comics theorists, and they’re always worth upsetting.”.

But hey, I’m no comics theorist, and frankly the lack of flourish is a minor, minor thing. It didn’t prevent any enjoyment, didn’t get in the way of reading, and certainly wont put any fan of From Hell off picking up this From Hell Companion. I’m reviewing this from an advance digital copy, but I’ve already got a space next to From Hell for the print version. (And anyone who knows my objections to reading such meaty stuff on screen can gleen much from my easy enjoyment and lack of complaint – told you it was eminently readable).

By a few pages in, I wanted to spend time with this Companion and the parent volume, side by side, comparing the two, gleaning all that extra meaning, gathering every bit of extra information I could. And by the end of this From Hell Companion, I simply reached up to the shelf, grabbed down a well read copy of From Hell, and settled back, ready to be chilled and thrilled by possibly my favourite of Moore’s works, my enjoyment made all the better by the informed, entertaining afternoon spent in the company of Eddie Campbell’s companion piece.

The From Hell Companion is released from Knockabout and Top Shelf on 20th May 2013.

We’ll leave you with a little look inside the book: starting with a typical text spread:

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Part of just one of the pictorial interludes punctuating the book, full of photographs and artwork:

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Two new (and very lovely) watercolours from Campbell created for this Companion:

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Author and artist relaxing:

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And finally the fate of the artist; haunted by his artistic creations – Eddie Campbell draws, Sir William Gull looks on, unamused:

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About The Author

Richard Bruton
- Started in comics retail aged 16 at Nostalgia & Comics, Birmingham. Now located in Yorkshire, he's written for the Forbidden Planet International Blog since 2007. Specialising in UK Comics and All-Ages comics, Richard's day job in a primary school allowed him to build the best children's graphic novel library in the country.

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