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Monday, October 31, 2011

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

Posted By on Mon, Oct 31, 2011 at 12:30 PM

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.

  • Jack Cole

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.

  • Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell

Whereas From Hell is a thoroughly researched blend of invention and history, the fictional realms of Mike Mignola and Eric Powell began more or less as larks, although each has since laid claim to significant territory in the realm of horror comics.

Hellboy with the B.P.R.D. crew - GUY DAVIS
  • Guy Davis
  • Hellboy with the B.P.R.D. crew

Through his interlocking Hellboy/B.P.R.D./Witchfinder constellation of stories, Mike Mignola is responsible for one of the largest and most successful ongoing bodies work in comics. Although it cribs from pulp horror and the "weird fiction" of H.P. Lovecraft, the larger Mignola universe reflects his own point of view, full of humor and an abiding interest in the deeper lives of his characters.

  • Mike Mignola

Hellboy (who first appeared in 1993 and who has been described as "a well-meaning demon") isn't tough because he's a muscled block of supernatural demon-flesh; he's tough because he doesn't give a shit and will stand up for what's right no matter what anyone else says or does to dissuade him. He wades into hazardous situations because he intends to kick ass, not because he's a symbol of justice or a self-aware hero concerned with abstractions like "duty." Some superhero comics get bogged down in their own mythology, but Hellboy's stories never do because he has humility on his side.

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Casey Burchby


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