Wednesday 20 December 2006

Mary Kelly, Mary Kelly, etcetera

I once told Dave Sim that these lines you see behind Gull's head are called 'etcetera lines'. You carefully put the first one down and then whizz along repeating it at microscopic intervals going etc. etc etc. The faster you do it the more chance there is of it coming out right. It's not a technique that favours the cautious or faint of heart. Whoever else might be working with me on From Hell (mainly Pete Mullins from chapter 5 on) I'd finish the page with a mad web of etcetera lines to give the distinct feeling that it all came out of the 'same inkpot.'

(If you haven't read From Hell you might want to come back to this one later.)

There's a criticism of From Hell that occasionally rears its head. And it is the criticism that Campbell can't draw women because in From Hell they all look alike. The first retort is the facetious one. What, do you mean you can't tell between the tall skinny woman (Liz Stride) and the short plump one (Annie Chapman)? No, let's be serious. It's the Mary Kelly problem, isn't it?

Okay, let's have a look at it.

First there is Mary Kelly, the East end lass who first appears in chapter 1. I had two bits of information to work with: a) she's Irish and b) There needs to be a visual connection to the Sickert painting known variously as 'Blackmail' and 'Mrs Barrett.' So far, so clear. By this third panel here from chapter 3, I had worked out a comfortable shorthand for Mary Kelly.

Secondly, Inspector Abberline walks into the Ten Bells at the end of Chapter 6 and finds himself talking to a girl who calls herself Emma. Both Fred and Emma are constructing false lives for themselves in these scenes and the reader is supposed to be feeling all the time that this is really Mary Kelly but we're not categorically stating it. How am I to draw something that remains in the fuzzy area of speculation? In the script Alan asks for a lot of camera-over-shoulder and arm-coming-in-from-off-panel, which, given that we would be dwelling on this set-up for several scenes, struck me as frustrating because Abberline would be talking to a non-existent person since they have no true presence, in effect giving the feeling of a tv program where the interviewer is never visible. There would be no possibility of reactive body language, which is the essential spirit of of my figure art. I asked Alan to let me try putting her square in the picture, albeit with her back to us, and trust the reader's intelligence to figure it out. I was happy with the results and so was Alan.

Thirdly there is Julia. It was necessary for Mary and Julia to have some slight resemblance so that we could leave the book with the possibility that it was she, and not Mary, who was murdered on that bloody bed. If I didn't show the face of the woman being mutilated, the reader would think I was coyly shrinking form the task, and we didn't want that. The reader must be as UNcertain that the person being murdered is Mary and not Julia as they are elsewhere CERtain that Emma is Mary (such as when she kisses Abberline on chapter nine page 24). Thus another likeness.

Fourth, right at the end we see a much older Mary Kelly hypothetically still living in Ireland many years later. In retrospect I think the loose way that I draw is perhaps what made me the ideal artist, if I may say so, for the depiction of so many people walking about only in the realm of hypothesis.

And we finish with
Five: chapter 11 page 12, After the murder of Mary Kelly, Abberline approaches a woman he thinks is 'Emma' from behind, but it turns out to be a stranger. Remember that we have never actually seen 'Emma' face to face anyway, so this is a strangely disorienting scene. She turns around and neither he nor we have ever seen this woman before. To make absolutely sure there was no confusion caused by the sort of 'family likeness' that you unavoidably find in all the characters drawn by a single artist, caused by such things as habitual pen technique, an artist's 'signature', I asked my art assistant through all those From Hell years, Pete Mullins (last seen in this blog yesterday as a 'cork man') to draw this woman.
And then I went in with all the etcetera lines.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I never had any bother with your ladies when I was reading From Hell. Emma's Mary, Julia's the girl who makes you go "Is that Mary? Nah." Too easy.

Also, I gotta say, I liked the way you used the etcetera lines in the pub scenes to suggest something rowdy was happening while only showing a hint of it. It's as if all those neat lines have had a few drinks themselves, got a bit wobbly on their feet and started singing songs about the old country.

20 December 2006 at 04:18:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This, I'm afraid, is one of those annoying comments that has nothing to do with the post it's attached to, and instead is just treating your blog like a pager.


Hello Eddie, it's Patrick. I sent you a package from Japan a while ago; did you get it?

20 December 2006 at 07:17:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Aaron F. Gonzalez said...

Great post, Eddie.

I would love to read more of these sort of posts in the future here or printed.

It's not often you get a "director's commentary" of sorts for comics (From Hell being a massive exception. But those were only Mr. Moore's notes, not yours).

20 December 2006 at 12:14:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Aaron White said...

I must admit that I didn't get the Mary/Julia substitution, and the surviving older Mary has confused me through more than one reading. I suspected a switcheroo but couldn't parse it... feel free to [point and laugh. I'll have to reread FH. looking forward to it!

20 December 2006 at 13:21:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What did you think of the film version of From Hell? (other than it being a great source of income for you, although imagine if it had been made after Alan got completeley cheesed off with Hollywood adaptations of his stuff and you'd gotten all of the royalty fees or whatever they pay the author/illustrator of comic book/graphic novel adaptations of their work).
After watching it I thought they could have saved themselve a lot of money by calling it "Just another Jack the Ripper film" and denying it was in any way connected with From Hell.
That would have certainly been true of LxG also which had very little to do with Alan's work. I think I only spotted one line taken from the the comic in the entire film and even that was a quote of the first line from Moby Dick

Eroom Nala

20 December 2006 at 14:11:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Andrew Hawthorn said...

Though I didn't get the Emma/Mary/Irishwoman thing the first time I read it, I generally attribute this to my own inattentiveness rather than the work.

That said, it took me forever to pick up From Hell because I couldn't get into the art at a glance. It seems much... dirtier than your other stuff somehow. Harsher. Of course now I can't picture the book any other way.

20 December 2006 at 14:34:00 GMT-5  
Blogger M. Elias Hiebert said...

Doesn't it kind of kill the magic if you explain it..?

21 December 2006 at 00:04:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

thanks to all.

m. elias, you're absolutely right. that's why director's commentaries on dvd's are so unpopular.

And here I thought i was giving readers some precious insights into some of the strategies for making a big 600 page picture story work.

Everybody let me know if you want me to stop.

21 December 2006 at 00:12:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

Just back from walking the dog

Eroom, the movie was alright... but mostly I have no time for movies and I certainly couldn't sit through it a second time (sorry, third)

M elias.

a questionnaire:
have you read:
a) the book
b) my spoiler warning near the top of my piece.
c) if you did read the book, did you read Alan's appendix, which more than puts my little essays in the shade as far as killing the magic goes...


21 December 2006 at 02:23:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Andrew Hawthorn said...

I'm a commentary junkie. Don't stop or I'll detox, thanks.

21 December 2006 at 11:45:00 GMT-5  
Blogger M. Elias Hiebert said...

I concede.

22 December 2006 at 03:46:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...


22 December 2006 at 06:35:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The magic isn't ruined for me to know Mr. Campbell is endowing Mary Jane with the secret-identity appeal of the Superman/hero and the serial killer. Aren't you empowering the victim over the killer? I hope I haven't ruined the magic for you....Ha ha....

9 May 2007 at 12:10:00 GMT-5  

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