I didn’t even know this book existed until they made a movie “based” on it in 2001 starring Johnny Depp, but to be honest, I feel like a lot of people went through this experience. It’s been on my “to read” list for quite some time, so I figure waiting almost ten years from the movie being released was as good as any. I think I might have also subconsciously made a connection to Alan Moore hating this book, because he seems like a bitter and angry old hermit, chastising any work he has ever done. I know this isn’t entirely true, he just hates people taking his works and turning them into something completely different than what was intended. It’s not so much his own work that he hates, it’s just the money-making machine of Hollywood who will rape and pillage any interesting idea, especially if it involves conspiracies, murders, and prostitute. So I expect them to make a movie out of my autobiography any day now.
The masons always had the coolest handshakes, and I would know…
Speaking of murder, conspiracy, and prostitution, let me jump into the plot of this book. In case anyone has seen the movie, or planned on it, you might consider some of this stuff spoilers, but in the context of the book, there aren’t really many surprises. An heir to the throne has an illegitimate child with a “woman of the night”, but only the two of them know about it. Well, that is, until it is revealed that there are four other women of the night that also know this secret, and they wish to blackmail the royal family to make some extra money. The Queen then orders her best surgeon to take care of all these women, and the time frame coincides with the time frame and violence of Jack the Ripper.
Try saying THAT shit ten times fast! Or even once…I got distracted before finishing.
Let’s just get out of the way that Alan Moore is insane. Obviously I mean he is insane in the best way possible, being responsible for some of the best works of graphic fiction ever, but insane nonetheless. I wouldn’t be surprised if he actually believes he time traveled to the 19th century, and his dialogue is pretty convincing. Not like I was alive back then, but still. He really just seems to have a lot of respect for what happened and trying to make things as accurate as possible. With both the geography of London, to the severity of the murders, to even bringing in the Elephant Man, he doesn’t seem to be glamorizing the murders, but rather posing the question “What if?”. The combination of the politics and inclusion of the occult and freemasons, everything was tied together seamlessly and this “history” seems entirely possible.
Who would be gardening at night? Oh, that psycho freak the Elephant Man.
Moore’s contribution is only half of it. The art, done by Eddie Campbell, was what really tied this book together. Granted, his strong suit might not have been clearly defining differences between most of his male characters in his black and white sketches, but the dialogue helped keep everything flowing smoothly. And if I am mentioning dialogue, it should be mentioned that the dialogue was written by hand, whereas most comics just do all of that in post production. Not only was all the dialogue by hand, but he would sometimes change his own handwriting depending on which character was speaking, with how much intensity, and with what emotions. It really wasn’t until I started seeing his architectural sketches that I could truly appreciate his work. You might be flipping page after page of characters having sex or killing people, but as soon as you see one of his buildings, you can’t help but stop for a minute and take in every line of his work.
Lesson learned? Never trust a man in a top hat.
In retrospect, I am glad I waited this long to read this book, as it is quite a heavy piece of fiction. I mostly mean it’s actually heavy, because it’s big. Had I seen the movie starring Johnny Depp and ran out and read this, I would have been cranky. I also would have been like 15 years old and listening to Limp Bizkit or something, but that’s besides the point. The depictions of violence in black and white made the whole ordeal seem more gruesome as it looked sometimes as if even Campbell got caught up in the brutality and scribbled on the paper harder and harder. The sex scenes also seemed to be dirtier than if they were in full color, because seeing them in a sketch format, it seemed as though some old pervert was locked in his basement drawing these images and, well, I’ll let you fill in what he might be doing while thinking of those images. Moore uses the vernacular of the time to great effect, so you tend to forget that this story was taking place over a hundred years before blogs even existed. I wouldn’t recommend everyone run out and get this, but if you are willing to commit to it, it’s a wonderful piece of crime noir.
Wolfman Moon Scale