Eddie Campbell explains why he's coloring From Hell for the first time
In 1888, over the course of a few months, five women were mysteriously killed on the streets of London. The murders were never solved, but the culprit has been known to posterity ever since as Jack the Ripper. A century later, in 1988, comic writer Alan Moore and artist Eddie Campbell were so inundated by centenary retrospectives of the Ripper murders that they decided to do their own take. The result, first published in 1998, was From Hell — a magnificently gruesome comic book opus (illustrated in black and white, like a classic horror movie) that attributed the Ripper murders to Queen Victoria’s royal physician Dr. William Gull, and explored how this first infamous serial killer presaged the deathly horrors that followed in the 20th century. Now here we are in 2018, 20 years after From Hell was published, 30 years after it was conceived, 130 years after the events it depicts actually happened…and Campbell is doing something entirely new with it. He’s coloring it.
“I got a phone call from the publisher, and they wanted to fluff out From Hell and do something new with it, possibly put it out again as a serial,” Campbell tells EW. “I thought that would only work if you do something drastically new, like colorize it. At first they were like, ‘That’s not gonna work, is it? It’s always been a black-and-white book.’ I said I’d show them a couple pages, and after that they said, ‘How quickly can we get this book on the shelves?’ That was in January, and we ended up with a September release date. I’m up to chapter 5 now. I’ve been working on this solidly for the last five months, and I’m quite excited about it.”
Like the original, the new From Hell will be released in serialized installments, beginning this September The addition of color adds a whole new look to the story, but that’s not all Campbell is doing. He’s also editing and revising certain panels that have bugged him ever since. EW caught up with Campbell to discuss the new From Hell. Check that out below, along with a couple exclusive pages from the new colored edition.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What’s your process been like, as you color and update From Hell?
EDDIE CAMPBELL: I never thought it could be done before because putting colored inks on top of black-and-white artwork can only make it darker and more oppressive. If you’re just coloring something in, you can’t turn something from black into red, you can only make it a reddish-black. But with the computer, I can take what used to be black ink and make it red. I can take a cross-hatched blue sky, and make the cross-hatch blue, and then put a different blue behind it, so it’s a rich blue and not just blue with black all over it. I can get a rich palette of color on the computer. I thought I’d love to go back to From Hell and do it over again. Not redraw the whole thing, but in 30 years, there have been so many things I look at and think, “that’s a mistake.” Like what coach they’re driving. Sometimes they tend to be driving a different coach from one panel to the next. I’m never an organized person. A more organized artist would have made a little model. If he had known this would be 10 years’ work, he would’ve made a model and looked at it from different angles to get the coach consistent.
Nowadays, when we want a photo of something we Google it, but in 1988 we had to get down to the library, and if we couldn’t find it, tough. I slipped a pal 10 quid to run off a reel of photos of Cleveland Street, for instance. Then I’d have to wait two weeks for the mail, because I was living in Australia at the time. Nowadays we can Google it, and find everything on the internet. I can find photographs of buildings that no longer exist, that I couldn’t find before. So now I can fix that picture, I know what it looks like now, it doesn’t look like the stupid thing I was drawing. I can draw it properly this time. In the chapter where he goes around London, for instance, there are two panels which are completely new drawings, because I had photographic reference now that I didn’t have before.
So it’s a full update?
Yeah, the phrase we’re using is I’m revising it for “color, clarity, and continuity.” Sometimes if things aren’t clear enough, I can go in and clarify what’s going on. With 600 pages, an artist can get lazy occasionally. I mean not Dave Gibbons, he never gets lazy. Watchmen doesn’t have a single line out of place. But then his world was made up. I’m trying to draw the actual Victorian London. There were all kinds of obscurities and anomalies that I had to take into account. Like sometimes we’re saying this person could have been here, but make it so it’s deniable. Like, this woman called Emma — she could’ve been [Ripper victim] Mary Kelly, but we’ll only show her from the back, slightly out of focus, so you can’t be sure. I was trying to develop a style of deniability where we could always say, “oh no, it’s not her at all. I mean it might be, but who can say for certain?” That required a lot of foggy drawing, a lot of soft focus where things are not definitely so. If we don’t have the evidence for it, we’re only hinting at it, that it might have happened this way. I had to draw it in a way that was vague. That’s why a lot of From Hell has that look, it’s like you’re seeing the evidence from the back of a galloping horse.
How does adding color affect that vague style?
The good thing about computers is they have a million colors. I remember when we used to hand-separate colors. We would cut up zipper tones and overlay them on four separations to make the colors for our comic covers back in the ‘80s. We were stuck with a dozen or so variations of colors, because we couldn’t afford to buy every possible zipper tone, but with the computer you can get all kinds of muddy and subtle shades. It’s enjoyable. It’s Eddie Campbell coloring, it’s not regular comic book coloring. I did something for Marvel once, and there was a shine on people’s kneecaps and elbow points. They always like to put these glistening highlights on everything. But here, there’s lots of evening fading into night, where it starts in evening and colors fade until they disappear, and then suddenly we’re in the darkness and gloom, where things are only dimly glimpsed.
The thing with the color is, it gives me another layer of expression to lay over everything. Of all the layers of expression that are already in From Hell, it gives me another layer of suggestion. I can make things more suggestive than you can in black and white. In black and white I do it with the cross-hatching. The cross-hatching is still there, but now I can take it and make it gray, put a dark gray over a light gray, or vice versa. There are all these subtleties and differences, there’s a million choices for everything I’m looking at. For somebody who’s already familiar with it, it’ll be like for seeing it for the first time.
Have you been in contact with Alan Moore at all about this?
I’ve told Alan I’m doing it. I was like “Alan, if there’s anything you want to fix, you’ve gotta fix it now, this is your chance.” He hasn’t said anything so far. I might jog his memory by getting the stuff to him in the next week or two. If there’s any dialogue that’s wrong, now’s his time to fix it. He’s always talked about adding another appendix. When I spoke to him last month, he said “Eddie, maybe it’s time we do that other appendix, this is the only time we’ll be able to do it.” That’ll be a whole other dozen pages of illustration, but he wants to bring it up to date because in the last 30 years there’s been a lot of developments in Ripper-ology. Even though this was a crime that happened in 1888, every second year there’s a new book about it, where somebody’s found a new culprit. Five, six years ago, Patricia Cornwell went to huge expense buying Walter Sickert’s paintings to get DNA evidence from the paintings and compare it with DNA evidence from the murder site just to prove it was Walter Sickert. But since then somebody’s come out with another suspect. Everybody thinks they’ve got the last word on it. We did this 24-page appendix to the original From Hell called Dance of the Gull-Catchers, in which we ridiculed all the theories, including our own. It’s a grand piece of postmodernism, where you finish the book of “this is our theory, here’s why it’s right” by going “well no it isn’t, nobody’s right, it’s all baloney.” That was great fun doing that, we had a riot doing that in an almost comedic style. Alan wants to do another one where he brings it up to date. I’m not promising that, because we’ll probably have to beat him up to get it out. We’ll have to tie him to the computer and make him type it out. But we’ll see, it’s a possibility.
After working on this for 30 years, why do you think people are still so fascinated by the Ripper murders?
Whoever it was got away with it. The ledgers are incomplete, the final accounting has not been entered, because it‘s a mystery. What was it Popeye said? “I don’t like mysteries on account of I can’t understand ’em.” As long as it remains a mystery, people are gonna be writing books about it. He was the first great serial murderer, before the term was even invented. Son of Sam and all the others got caught, sent to jail, or executed. But he’s still out there!
That’s one of the things about From Hell that’s always fascinated me, the idea that this guy invented serial murder, and in doing so presaged the horrors of the 20th century.
Yeah, he’s the first of the great evil serial murderers. Before that evil men tended to be kings or emperors or generals, people in a position of power. We don’t even know who this person was! He could’ve been some scallawag who escaped from the lunatic asylum, he could’ve been a complete nobody. I think this is the reason for the conspiracy theories: They want it to be a person in a position of power. Conspiracy theories exist because we want to feel that everything that goes wrong in the world is perpetrated by the people in power. We can’t bear the thought that evil and horror are random. We want to think it’s under control, even if it’s the control of the people who are governing us. We can’t live with the idea that it’s all chaos, we want there to be a pattern to it all. That’s really what From Hell is, it’s making a pattern out of all this madness.
One of the other great British cultural elements discussed in From Hell is the monarchy and their possible role in that horror. Since the royal wedding just happened, what’s fun for you about the depiction of the royals in From Hell?
I quite like the royals, I don’t have anything against them. I even like Queen Victoria. I think we maligned her, we’ve treated her shoddily, I think she was wonderful. I think the real William Gull was wonderful too, he was probably a great man. As a doctor he wrote the paper analyzing and giving the name to anorexia nervosa. That was one of the things he achieved. He’s not just this obscure figure, he did things that are still relevant to the present age. He was the first man to understand anorexia and gave it a name, and we’ve made him into a madman. I prefer to think we’ve created a madman who just happens to have the same name as him. I think we’ve created a villain on the scale of Hannibal Lecter. When they made the film of From Hell, if they had just followed the book exactly, they could’ve had a better Hannibal Lecter. An opportunity missed.
So are there any specific scenes that really pop for you or read differently with the color now?
The last chapter I did was the tour of London, where Alan Moore discovered psycho-geography, where all these buildings and landmarks contribute complex meaning to Gull’s wondrously complicated hypothesis (which I won’t give away). He begins before the morning sun rises, and he ends as moon comes up (it’s all about the symbolism of the sun and moon). What I thoroughly enjoyed about this was recreating the different times of day, the changes of light, the changes of color. Like in early afternoon it rains and all the color drains out. The light always looks differently when it’s catching things that are wet. The morning light is different from the late evening light, we have a reddish sunset catching the buildings at the end. I thoroughly enjoyed the different colors at different times of day, I got really into it. The full-blooded color when the sun is directly overhead, or the golden hour where the light has a golden hue right before the sun goes down…I thoroughly enjoyed that. Going through the 32 pages of that chapter was a real adventure in color. I think that will be the most enjoyable chapter in the book. Other people just want to see the red blood, but I’m a sensible human being. I’m an artist!