Wednesday, 17 January 2007

FROM HELL: 4/01

I wanted to write about a book that arrived in the mail yesterday, but I've only just finished reading it so that will have to wait a little. Instead I'll dip into a file of Alan Moore's From Hell selected script pages that my daughter Erin typed out for me a few days back.

This is the first of a what makes an interesting juxtaposed pair consisting of the first page of chapter four, in which Alan Moore makes some very bold decisions, and a later one from the same chapter, which I'll show later, in which he seems to be having a crisis of confidence in the plan he sets up here at the beginning. All very revealing stuff.

I may seem to be playing fast and loose with the scene as imagined by Alan, but I had the whole thing in front of me and judged that these flashbacks at the beginning would work well as unframed and imprecise recollections with the coach thrust upfront instead of coming from afar, for a dynamic contrast as an opener. Hell, if it was going to be a challenge to hold the reader's interest, let's begin with a loud call to attention.



FROM HELL
CHAPTER FOUR: WHAT DOTH THE LORD REQUIRE OF THEE?” (36 PAGES)
PAGE 1.
PANEL 1.
HELLO, EDDIE. SORRY IT’S BEEN SO LONG IN COMING, AND I HOPE IT’S WORTH THE WAIT. BIT OF A FUNNY EPISODE ALL ROUND, THIS: IT’S THE LONGEST TO DATE, AND YET, UNLIKE THE GULL EPISODE, IT ISN’T STAGED IN A RAPID SUCCESSION OF ONE OR TWO PAGE SCENES THAT HOP ABOUT ALL OVER THE PLACE AND THUS SUSTAIN THE READERS’ INTEREST MORE EASILY. WHAT WE HAVE HERE, WITH THE EXCEPTION OF THE FIRST TWO OR THREE PAGES, IS ONE LONG CONTINUOUS SCENE THAT ALL TAKES PLACE OVER THE COURSE OF A SINGLE DAY, AND ALL REVOLVES AROUND A SINGLE CONVERSATION-CUM-LECTURE THAT IS DELIVERED TO JOHN NETLEY BY SIR WILLIAM GULL ON THE OCCASION OF THEIR COACH-JAUNT AROUND THE CITY OF LONDON. IN TERMS OF SUSTAINING A CONVERSATION OVER THIRTY ODD PAGES, I THINK YOU’LL AGREE THAT IT PRESENTS SOME POTENTIALLY SERIOUS STORYTELLING PROBLEMS. IN LIGHT OF THIS, I SPENT A LONG WHILE TRYING TO THINK OF WAYS TO TART THE STRIP UP USING CONTINUOUS BACKGROUND PANELS OR SIMILAR VISUAL DEVICES. I THOUGHT OF LIBERALLY SPRINKLING THE STORY WITH FLASHBACK PANELS TO THE ANCIENT TIMES THAT GULL IS TALKING ABOUT, SO THAT WE COULD LIVEN THINGS UP BY SHOWING BOADICEA IN THE HEAT OF BATTLE, OR HAWKSMOOR CACKLING, RUBBING HIS HANDS TOGETHER AND SACRIFICING CHICKENS AS THEY LAY THE FOUNDATIONS TO CHRISTCHURCH. THIKING ABOUT IT, HOWEVER, I THOUGHT “NAHH”. THE BEST WAY TO DO THIS STORY, I’VE CONCLUDED, IS ABSOLUTELY STRAIGHT AND WITHOUT EMBELLISHMENT; RATHER LIKE A DRY VOCAL MIX IN A RECORDING STUDIO AS OPPOSED TO LOTS OF ECHO AND REVERB AND WHATEVER. OF COURSE, THIS WILL ALSO BE THE MOST DIFFICULT WAY TO DO THE PIECE, BUT I THINK IF WE JUST HAVE CONFIDENCE IN THE NARRATIVE, WE CAN MANAGE IT.
BROOK STREET TOWARDS THE GROVESNOR SQUARE END. IT IS AROUND SIX O’CLOCK IN THE MORNING ON THE FIFTEENTH OF AUGUST, 1888, AND IT IS NOT YET LIGHT. A LOW BLANKET OF LUKEWARM MIST AND FOG ROLLS THROUGH THE STREETS, LIKE GREY AND GASEOUS TUMBLE-WEEDS, AND EVERYTHING IS STILL. THE HIGH HOUSES TO EITHER SIDE OF THE STREET ARE SILENT, AND THE ONLY SOUND IS THAT OF DISTANT HOOVES UPON COBBLES, GROWING SLOWLY CLOSER. AWAY DWON THE END OF THE STREET WE SEE THE RELATIVELY SMALL AND INDISTINCT APPARITION THAT IS JOHN NETLEY’S COACH AS IT APPROACHES THROUGH THE MURK, ITS CARRIAGE LANTERNS BURNING WITH A WEAK AND SULPHUROUS LIGHT. NETLEY HIMSELF IS ALL BUT INVISIBLE, A BLACK WART PROTRUDING FROM THE BLACK AND BOX-LIKE SHAPE OF THE CARRIAGE AS IT RATTLES THROUGH THE PRE-DAWN GLOOM TOWARDS US. THIS EPISODE’S TITLES GO, AS USUAL, IN THE WHITE SPAPCE TO THE LEFT OF THE OPENING IMAGE, WITH THE OPENING CAPTION SET IN THE FIRST PANEL ITSELF.
TITLES (IN WHITE SPACE): Chapter Four
“What Doth The Lord Require of Thee?”
CAPTION (IN FIRST PANEL): Brook Street, London. August, 1888.

PANEL 2.
THE REMAINING TWO TIERS ON THIS PAGE HAVE THREE PANELS EACH, AND CONSTITUTE THE FIRST IN OUR SEQUENCE OF THREE FLASHBACKS. THIS FIRST FLASHBACK TAKES PLACE IN A RECEEPTION ROOM, SOMEWHERE WITHIN BUCKINGHAM PALACE, AND WE SHOW THE WRETCHED AND DISTRAUGHT WALTER SICKERT AS HE SHOWS THE BLACKMAIL LETTER THAT HE HAS RECEIVED TO ALEXANDRA, THE PRINCESS OF WALES. IN THIS FIRST PANEL, RIGHT UP CLOSE IN THE FOREGROUND, WE CAN SEE THE SLIM WRIST AND HAND OF THE PRINCESS, ENTERING THE PANEL FROM OFF TO ONE SIDE AND HOLDING THE BLACKMAIL LETTER THAT WE SAW LAST EPISODE. IT NEEDN’T BE CLOSE ENOUGH FOR US TO READ IT ALL, BUT WE SHOULD AT LEAST BE ABLE TO SEE IT CLEARLY ENOUGH FOR THE READERS TO BE AWARE THAT IT IS THE SAME LATTER THAT THEY SAW AT THE CLOSE OF OUR LAST EPISODE. LOOKING BEYOND THIS, INTO THE SPACIOUS AND BEAUTIFULLY FURNISHED DEPTHS OF THE ROYAL RECEPTION ROOM, WE SEE WALTER SICKERT AS HE SITS THERE SLUMPED IN A SUMPTUOUS ARMCHAIR, HIS ELBOWS RESTING ON HIS KNEES AND HIS HEAD IN HIS HANDS, LONG FINGERS RUNNING DISTRACTEDLY THROUGH HIS SANDY HAIR. HE DOESN’T LOOK UP AT US OR AT THE OFF-PANEL PRINCESS ALEXANDRA AS HE SPEAKS, BUT SEEMS LARGELY TO BE CONDUCTING A DIALOGUE OF WRETCHEDNESS WITH HIMSELF. MORNING SUNLIGHT, PEARLY AND DIFFUSE, FALLS THROUGH THE HIGH WINDOWS INTO THE TICKING-CLOCK STILLNESS OF THE RECEPTION ROOM, WHILE FROM THE WALLS. OLD MASTERS REGARD THE SCENE DISPASSIONATELY WITH YELLOWED OIL-PAINT EYES
SICKERT: You’re the only person I can turn to, Alix. You’re Eddy’s mother..
SICKERT: You see, I just don’t have the money. They think I’m rich, but…

PANEL 3.
WE REVERSE ANGLE NOW, SO THAT SICKERT AND HIS CHAIR ARE OVER TO THE RIGHT OF THE FOREGROUND, WITH PRINCESS ALEXANDRA VISIBLE OVER TOWARDS THE LEFT OF THE BACKGROUND AS SHE STANDS THERE, HER PROFILE SLIGHTLY TURNED TOWARDS US, READING AND RE-READING MARY KELLY’S LETTER WITH AN EXPRESSION OF REGRET UPON HER CALM AND QUITE BEAUTIFUL FEATURES. IN THE FOREGROUND, SICKERT SITS UP A LITTLE, REMOVING HIS HEAD FROM HIS HANDS SO THAT HE CAN EMPLOY THEM TO MAKE VAGUE, WRETCHED GESTURES IN THE AIR BEFORE HIM AS HE SITS, PALM UPWARDS AS IF IN EXPLANATION OR SUPPLICATION. THROUGHOUT, HE KEEPS HIS HAUNTED GAZE FIXED ON THE FLOOR
IN FRONT OF HIM, HIS FACE DESPERATE AND WRTECHED WITH ANXIETY. HE CANNOT LOOK AT ALEXANDRA WHILE HE SPEAKS, AND FOR HER PART SHE CONTINUES TO READ THE LETTER AND DOES NOT LOOK AT HIM. WE CAN TELL, HOWEVER, THAT SHE IS LISTENING TO HIS PITIFUL MONOLOGUE WITH AT LEAST HALF AN EAR AS SHE CAREFULLY RE-READS THE FATEFUL MISSIVE.
SICKERT: Well, sometimes I AM, when I’ve SOLD something, but I don’t manage
money well, and…
SICKERT: Oh, it’s all my fault. You trusted Eddy to me, and I let all this happen: The
baby, the wedding…

PANEL 4.
SAME SHOT, ONLY HERE, IN THE FOREGROUND, SICKERT CLOSES HIS EYES AND LETS HIS HEAD SINK BACK INTO HIS HANDS IN A GESTURE OF COMPLETE SURRENDER TO DESPAIR AND MISERY. HIS EYES ARE
SCREWED TIGHTLY SHUT AS IF TRYING TO BLOT OUT HIS GUILT AND SELF-DISGUST, BUT TO NO AVAIL. LOOKING BEYOND HIM, WE SEE ALEXANDRA AS SHE STANDS THERE IN THE OPALESCENT LIGHT OF THE MORNING ROOM. SHE LOWERS THE LETTER THAT SHE HAS BEEN READING, BUT DOES NOT PUT IT DOWN. IT HANGS THERE IN HER HAND AS SHE TURNS HER HEAD TO CALMLY REGARD SICKERT WITH AN EXPRESSION OF DEEP SYMPATHY AND PITY. SHE IS A KINDLY WOMAN, WHO, FOR THE MOST PART, THINKS AS LITTLE OF THE FAMILY THAT SHE HAS MARRIED INTO AS THEY DO OF HER. SHE IS THEREFORE NOT UNMOVED BY SICKERT’S PLIGHT, NOR WITHOUT REGRET IN THE COURSE THAT SHE KNOWS SHE MUST ADOPT. SHE GAZES SADLY AND STEADILY AT SICKERT’S BOWED HEAD AS HE SITS THERE AND WHIMPERS, PITIFULLY.
SICKERT: Oh God, Alix..
SICKERT: What am I going to DO?

PANEL 5.
WE CHANGE ANGLES NOW, SO THAT AS WE SEE SICKERT HERE HE IS SITTING IN PROFILE TO US, FACING RIGHT, STILL WITH HIS BROW SUNK IN HIS HANDS. OUR EYE LEVEL IS ROUGHLY THE SAME AS SICKERT’S IN THIS PANEL, SO ALL WE CAN SEE OF PRINCESS ALIX AS SHE APPROACHES HIM FROM BEHIND IS A VIEW FROM, SAY, HER SHOULDERS DOWNWARDS, WITH HER HEAD AND SHOULDERS OFF PANEL UP TOWARDS THE TOP LEFT. SHE REACHES OUT WITH ONE AFFECTIONATE AND MOTHERLY HAND AND PLACES IT TENDERLY UPON SICKERT’S SHOULDER, A FRAGILE GESTURE OF CONSOLATION. IN HER OTHER HAND, SHE HOLDS THE LETTER. SICKERT, SUNK DEEP IN THE WELL OF HIS OWN MISERY, DOES NOT LOOK ROUND AT HER AS SHE SPEAKS FROM BEHIND HIM, OR RESPOND TO HER LIGHT TOUCH UPON HIS SHOULDER. HE IS INCONSOLABLE. SINCE HER HEAD AND SHOULDERS ARE OFF PANEL, ALIX’S BALLOONS ISSUE FROM OFF HERE.
ALIX (OFF): Poor Walter.
ALIX (OFF): Of course, you understand that after the trouble last time, I won’t be
able to keep this to myself?
ALIX (OFF): I’m sorry, Walter, but it’s Victoria…

PANEL 6.
NOW WE HAVE A SHOT AS IF LOOKING UP THROUGH SICKERT’S EYES AS HE LIFTS HIS HEAD AND LOOKS WEARILY AND UNCOMPREHENDINGLY UP AT THE PRINCESS, WITH SICKERT HIMSELF NOT VISIBLE HERE. WE LOOK UP INTO ALEXANDRA’S SAD AND PITYING GAZE AS SHE STARES DWON AT US WITH A WORLD OF SORROW AND REGRET IN HER EYES. SHE DOESN’T LIKE THE COURSE OF ACTION THAT SHE MUST TAKE UP, BUT IT IS THE ONLY ONE OPEN TO HER.
ALIX: Victoria will have to be told.

PANEL 7.
IN THIS LAST PANEL, WE CHANGE OUR POINT OF VIEW FROM THE LAST SHOT SO THAT WE ARE NOW LOOKING DOWN, AS IF THROUGH THE EYES OF THE PRINCESS, INTO THE UPTURNED FACE OF WALTER SICKERT AS HE SITS THERE IN THE PLUSH ARMCHAIR. WE REALLY ONLY SEE HIS HEAD AND SHOULDERS HERE, LOOKING UP AT US AND THE OFF-PANEL PRINCESS WITH A LOOK OF DULL, SICK HORROR ON HIS FACE. HAVING SEEN WHAT HAPPENED TO ANNIE CROOK FOR AN INNOCENT AND UNINTENTIONAL TRANGRESSION OF THE ROYAL WILL, SICKERT CANNOT EVEN BEGIN TO DIMLY IMAGINE WHAT MIGHT BE IN STORE FOR THOSE WHO WOULD ATTEMPT PREMEDITATED BLACKMAIL. HE LOOKS UP AT US, PUPILS DILATED BY SUDDEN COLD DREAD. HE IS IN HELL ALREADY, WAITING FOR THE REST OF OUR CAST TO JOIN HIM.
No Dialogue

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6 Comments:

Blogger HemlockMan said...

It's obvious Moore could not have made a better choice than you as his collaborator on FROM HELL.

I never have been able to get over the depth of detail in that book.

17 January 2007 4:59:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Andrew J said...

I read somewhere that you felt that there was a problem with Victoria, or that she was presented as unbelievable in the text. Other than making her accessory to multiple murders, care to elaborate?

17 January 2007 7:04:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

I just felt there ought to be a more complicated chain of command with regard to getting dirty work done. Alan couldn't find a masonic link and so made it come straight from the queen. Or at least the link that Knight had used proved to be faulty (the prime minister, whose name i forget. it all seems so long ago.

and detail? the ones I kept in or left out. As you can see from that current page alone, I'd have gone mad if i'd tried to get it all on the page.

18 January 2007 2:05:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Jack Ruttan said...

I think I see more how it works now. Maybe more of an unconscious communication, or give and take.

Collaboration's so great when it's working. Like the two hands playing on a piano. I've found good collaborating involves a certain amount of mind-reading and trust.

18 January 2007 4:57:00 pm GMT-5  
Anonymous Jérôme said...

Brilliant storytelling here - so many things that stand out !

* The decision to do away with frames for the 'flashbacks' : frames defining time in comics, this is setting the flashbacks litterally and appropriately 'out of time'.

* The difference in depth with the wheels - combines with the above to make the fashbacks 'remote'.

* The difference in tone - further makes the fashbacks almost fading.

* It's quite an important decision to completely change angles from the script. I think it works perfectly :
- because it allows for a very expressive body language (the bottom three panels are outstanding !)
- because I think the proposed narration would have somehow climaxed (and the reader would have anticipated some continuation on the next page) - when here it is quite clear that this specific 'flashback' scene is over.

These 3 pages (next two are built on the same pattern) are wonderful. They tell so much !

Ultimately by straying from the proposed sequencing, you went straight to the spirit of the chapter : "THE BEST WAY TO DO THIS STORY, (...) IS ABSOLUTELY STRAIGHT AND WITHOUT EMBELLISHMENT".

I really enjoy that storytelling - I didn't even mention the atmosphere lent to the page by the amount of text, diminishing panel after panel.
It really takes full advantage of the unique possibilities offered by the comics form - no other medium could quite work like that.
Merci !
Jérôme

21 January 2007 1:28:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

jack, jerome
Thanks for the comments.
much appreciated.
Eddie

22 January 2007 4:22:00 am GMT-5  

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