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FrancisFarmer Interviews EDDIE (FROM HELL) CAMPBELL!!

Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.

Holy cow... check this bad boy out. One of our regular chatters, FrancisFarmer, contacted me recently to see if we'd be interested in an interview with Eddie Campbell. Ummmm... hell, yes. If you don't know who he is, then read this and then go sample his work. If you do know who he is, this is one great read. Either way, nice work by Francis, and a great way to spend your morning...

For those fans of the Alan Moore/Eddie Campbell From Hell, certain comments from the Hughes Bros. have been a little more than disconcerting. Example, Albert Hughes: “I’ve been looking at a lot of Hitchcock. I’ve not been a fan as much as his ’40s-’60s work, but the stuff he did in the ’30s was so bold and stylistic. We’re not going to try to go the same route as our other work, where the violence is so graphic and in-your-face. There might be moment like that but I want to shoot it more stylistically, where the audience has to imagine what’s going on more in their minds—which everybody says is more scary, which is true.” Good and well—except that the Hughes are adapting a work that is horrifically graphic in a non-exploitation way for a reason.

“There is no difference between history and fiction,” Alan Moore has said. “That history is a fiction and I believe it is actually dangerous if regarded as any more than this. The past is gone and cannot be retrieved. We have our memories of it, we have our records of it, we have all these points of information, but then we impose a pattern. For example, with From Hell, there is nothing that actually contradicts anything that was said to be true. It doesn’t actually contradict the reported sequence of events, and quite dubious events as well are also brought into that pattern. Now what that is, is that I’ve taken the available information and I’ve come up with [a] pattern that explains it all and makes it all appear to fir together logically.”

Moore and Eddie Campbell use From Hell to frighteningly elaborate on the clichéd “thin line between genius and insanity”; for Gull, the Gods open doors to higher levels of perception. “The one place Gods inarguably exist is in our minds,” says Gull, “where they are real beyond refute, in all their grandeur and monstrosity.” Attainment of God/higher perception comes when the left side of the brain (“Reason, Logic, Science; our Apollonian skills”) is conquered by the right (“Magic, Art and Madness; the Dionysian attributes”). Moore gives Gull this conceit—he accurately witnesses the future, he feels himself become a faceless icon plaguing humanity’s collective unconscious in the second before he dies in an asylum—because From Hell is about the fallibility of the perception of all reality. Moore and Campbell have taken an event that’s evocatively scarred on the human land/mindscape, taken all the means of a rational mind (i.e. anal retentively meticulous research, endlessly footnoted drama) to make truly transcendental horror: the limits of the human mind.

Most of this philosophy is taken from chapter three and the London speech between Gull and Netley. Of the speech and the film, Transmetropolitan author Warren Ellis said this: “I think we’re about to witness idiocy of conceiving From Hell as anything other than a graphic novel.… To be fair, all power to them. But if they makes the center monologue William Gull tour of London work on film, then I will take what I just said back. But I’ll put a tenner down now that says the scene will not even appear in the film.” In the Terry Hayes draft, it’s about three sentences worth.

So you can understand why I could give fuck all about the “thriller” the Hughes brothers are crafting. In the Hayes version (and supposedly, still in the movie), Gull is relegated to supporting character status. This is the rough equivalent of adapting Henry Miller and saying, “Do we need this much of an obsession with sex?,” or making Catcher in the Rye and bemoaning, “Holden sure does whine a lot, doesn’t he?” In fact, the two people who have the most to do with the comic and yet, maintain a laissez-faire attitude are—you guessed it—Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell.

After all, From Hell simply would fall to verbose strangulations if it weren’t for Eddie Campbell, who reined in all of Alan Moore’s script into reality (in From Hell: The Collected Scripts Vol. I, 70 comic pages have a script of 319 text pages). From Hell was all the more metaphysical because of Eddie Campbell’s ability to draw the grime, the painstaking historical accuracy, along with its hoity-toity aristocracy, the inhuman gore, and even its more insane denizen’s “visions.” Reining into the more accessible: is this not what the Hughes are doing? Perhaps for the fretting fanboys out there like myself, words from the co-author himself will set the mind at ease.

How involved have you been in the From Hell film so far? has had some movie scoops.

No, we’re not involved with the film. We do have a direct line to what’s going on. Occasionally we’re talking to the producer, and he lets us see some shooting stills.

Have you read any of the scripts?

I read a script—the only script I read was the first one six years ago, the one that Terry Hayes wrote. It has since been re-written by Rafael Yglesias, who scripted Death and the Maiden, with Sigourney Weaver.

And Les Misérables.

I really don’t know what’s in the script. I’m glad it was re-written—I wasn’t that very happy with the original one. The producer has told me they wanted to re-work it and get it nearer to Alan’s vision, which I take to mean the atmosphere, the pervading sense of machinery at work, the darkness.

I’ve read the Terry Hayes draft and I really, really didn’t like it.

It’s a fairly straightforward sort of thriller, wasn’t it?

Yeah, especially some of the scenes they lifted directly. When I compared it to the book, it was literally taking all subtexts out and finding a formulaic way to put it into a Hollywood movie. That and the way they took down the Gull character.

I’ve always accepted that there’s no way they’re going to get the whole book into the movie. There’s too much going on in the book; there’s too much of it, and a lot of it really isn’t very cinematic. And also, I think there’s so much money involved in a movie. The comic was always a little bit experimental, certainly for a comic. And I think, on the smaller budget that comics work on, you can take chances and get away with more, especially releasing on a periodical schedule over ten years. We had room to play around. There’s so much money involved in movies, and you have to shoot the thing in a short space of time. I accept that there isn’t room for mucking about; there’s too much at stake. So I’m certainly not expecting them to follow our self-indulgence.

Self-indulgence? [laughs] I can understand taking a 500-page book with an unwieldy structure being experimental. But the fact, though, that they built up Mary Kelly and Abberline romance to be the center of the film and cut back on Gull, and the opium concept they supposedly put in the newest drafts seem like shallow attempts at depth.

I think that what they’re doing is amalgamating Lees and Abberline into one character.

Abberline has “visions.”

They’ve amalgamated the clairvoyant and the detective—although if you’re clairvoyant and a detective, you’d be the best detective! One thing that they definitely spent a lot of effort on was creating the sets, the locations, which surprised me. Because I would’ve thought that the psychogeography, the churches, would be one of the first thing to be chucked out.

Especially with the intense research [you and Alan Moore] did.

To what extent they’ve included any of that, I don’t know. I believe they do have the spire Christ Church’s looming over the proceedings—although I’m told they only built it up to a certain height, then they’re adding in the uppermost part on computer, which they do nowadays.

Do you know if the London speech, where Gull talks to Netley, will be in the movie?

I would think not. That’s just too complicated to take in on a hearing. It’s something that has to be read, and sifted through, and mulled over it. It’s far too complicated for a cinematic speech.

I know Alan Moore is notorious for writing long scripts, and you once described your role as basically making the drawn out sequences more visually viable.

Well, Alan Moore thinks visually. Alan Moore never describes a picture that cannot be drawn. Many writers do; many have several focal points in one picture. Alan draws himself. He used to draw when he started 20 years ago. He used to draw a weekly strip in Sounds, one of the UK’s rock magazines. He had another weekly strip in his local paper, so Alan can think visually. What I find attractive about that long scene was the prospect of recreating Victorian London at different times of the day. It gave me a large canvas to work on, it gave me plenty to think about, apart from the narrative. The narrative was simple: the carriage drives around. Which meant that I could expand with it and enjoy myself using photos and locations, trying to re-create the lighting and the atmosphere of Old London. That’s the chapter I had the most freedom.


Yeah. I had to draw specific locations, but I enjoyed drawing that one.

Have you seen Dead Presidents or Menace II Society yet?

No, I haven’t seen any of the Hughes brothers’ movies.

Do you think you’ll be disappointed in the movie?

No, I…naw, I look forward to it.

’Cause I think it’s a precarious thing when you’ve made a book that presents so much historical research, but puts forward the notion: you don’t know what happened, no one knows or will ever know what happened, and that’s the basis of the story. And then you come forth with a Hollywood production—which are notorious for going away from “historical fact”—and then having their lazy interpretation when you’ve come forth and said your work was an interpretation.

I’m very interested in history. History’s one of my subjects, one of the subjects that interests me most in the world. I’ve don’t expect—I’ve never expected a movie to say anything valuable about history. I think movies are largely disposable things. You see them out there for a month, then they come out on video, then they’re in the old section of the video shop and they look a bit old fashioned, and then at some point you’ve forgot that they existed; that’s the history of a movie. And hopefully in that space and time, it’ll make its money back. There’s so much money involved in there things, I’m surprised any of them work at all. They have to make so much money back…. For every movie that succeeds, there must be 20 that fails miserably. My feeling is that the comic book already exists. I don’t feel any need for there to be a movie that follows the exact line of the comic book. Why should it? We already have the comic book. We don’t need a movie that follows the exact same pattern. By all means, let’s have a movie that’s completely different, or takes the basic elements and plays with them. Take Lolita: If you’ve written a book like Nabokov’s Lolita, the essence of that story is such a fragile and perfect thing, and it’s so easy to break it, or destroy it, or misrepresent the artist, the writer.

Yeah, because both Kubrick and Adrian Lyne, who re-made the recent version, both made essentially different things: Kubrick’s version was kind of slapsticky for comedy, and Lyne’s version was very maudlin. Because Nabokov has such a love of words and he thrives on his turns of the phrase, it’s almost a flawed endeavor to make a movie out of Lolita.

He was never happy with Kubrick’s version, was he?

He wrote the original script, and Kubrick and James Harris re-wrote it.

He had to have it explained to him that movies and books were completely different things. But I can understand him being upset because that’s one story that’s pretty damn fragile. You start moving around the pieces on that one, you’ll end up with a very opposite meaning from the book. That’s a very subtle one to tamper with. With something like our book, it’s conventionally historical story; we’ve come up with our take on it, which is very fanciful and far-fetched. They come up with a different one that’s also very fanciful and far-fetched, but in a different way. It may be out of order to be precious or possessive about it. It is almost a public domain idea. My feeling is that we were lucky to get paid for it in the first place.

What do you think the nature of an adaptation is? Have you ever adapted any literary stories? Have you ever thought about adapting a Henry Miller story?

That’s not something that would interest me. I can’t see the point in that. See, I’m not an illustrator. An illustrator is someone who takes a story and visualizes it. In a comic, the drawing is the story; it doesn’t illustrate it.

I was thinking more along the lines of taking a vision of something you’ve read and re-interpreting that vision.

Yeah, that’s not something I’ve ever thought about—it’s not the way my mind works.

Has anyone approached you about an Alec movie or a Bacchus movie?

I’ve written treatments for Bacchus so many times that I’ve kind of lost interest in it. Like if someone asks me to write a treatment for Bacchus, I can’t be bothered. I just know it’s going to be wasted. My first feeling is that it’s going to be wasted time. I’ve probably done it six or seven times.

Like for who?

I can’t remember them. Different producers.

What time span? More recent, when it was getting more collected?

Once or twice for producers, also…for somebody else…. There were a couple of people who were just shopping ideas around. I wrote a treatment for a friend who was commissioned by a studio to find half a dozen ideas from the comic domain, and write them treatments. Little situations like that. My Bacchus treatment comes out, and I kick it around a bit—change it a bit. I found it difficult to be enthusiastic. I’ve got in the habit of it not working. I suspect that I would have to change it rather radically, to make it attractive to the movie people. And I’m not ready to put the energy into debasing it. I’m not saying that I wouldn’t debase or fuck it up for the movie business. I’m not really that precious about it.

Speaking of “fucking up for the movie business,” I heard a rumor about an abridged version of the comic, to be released simultaneously for the film?

No, no. Where did you hear that?

In The Staros Report. Touchstone was talking about doing it, and you said you’d have nothing to do with it.

I don’t think that’s ever been discussed. Somebody might have asked me, and I might have deflected the question, but it’s never been discussed by any publisher or producers. Somebody was talking to me recently—I think it was somebody who was advising me on the contract, because I’ve inherited so much of this, I can’t remember what the old contract said that we had for the movie—but my foreign agent was talking to me about the novel rights: the rights for a text novel. “Do we have these? Or do the movie company have it?” And I said, “Well, if we have it, then there will never be one.” [laughs] If the movie producers have those rights, I didn’t realize we had signed those away, but we shouldn’t have. You know what? Fuck do we want a novel version? Why do we want a text novel out there? Make them read the damn comic!

I think part of my reason for being so peevish about a From Hell adaptation is that…you know, as far as I can tell, Ghost World, the Dan Clowes graphic novel: The movie adaptation that he co-wrote is coming out in early August. But aside from that (and I don’t know about Fritz the Kat or whatever else has been made), I think that that’s the first comic book adaptation made from a comic story. Every Hollywood version I can remember has made their own story. And there’s always this comic nerd insecurity that I want people to see this precious magnum opus that From Hell is, one of my three of four favorite piece of art in the world, and I want to see it in all its glory. And I know that in the end, they’ll shit on it because they dismiss the artform, and they’ll aggrandize whatever product they come up with. I guess I’m insecure about that. I’m worried that this will be a gateway for a more mainstream opening [for comics]—but I’ve also given up that comics being “accepted” in the pop mainstream, because that will invariably diminish some great works.

Some of the stills I’ve seen from Ghost World, Terry Zwigoff has gone to a lot of trouble to put the images from the comic onto screen, to make character look like drawings. They’ve gone to a lot of effort there, to completely recreate the book on-screen. There’s obviously no correlation between the screen Abberline and the comic Abberline—or the screen Mary Kelly and the comic one. You can never have taken that book and made a movie of it. My stance and Alan’s were that “This was our book, and that’s their movie.” We can stay over here with our book. We didn’t want to get involved, not because we feared the worst, but just the movie is not going to be the book. That doesn’t mean we’re not going to look forward to the movie.

But I have no illusions; they’re not going to put the whole book on there, or even part of the book. The major difference is that they’re turning it into a whodunnit. Or at least, a mystery.

It’s a thriller in the whodunit terms, but they show almost up front who-dun-it.

See, we decided to avoid all that. Our story is watching a murderer go about his work and trying to look at what was inside his head. At some point we were no longer interested in analyzing the original situation. The original situation was just a vehicle for Alan’s ideas on creating a serial murderer. So much so, that I would say that neither of us believe that Gull did it. In fact, we believe Gull didn’t do it. But we have used this historical figure as a frame, a template, a vehicle to carry this creation—the creation being a fictional serial murderer.

Frame of interpretation of the murder.

Yeah. But at a certain point we were no longer just interested in just solving a crime, solving a mystery. We used that situation to create a mythical—by mythical, I mean a serial killing on a mythic scale.

One of the descriptions I was going to used was, “a myth that occurred in an observed society, and how that affect memory and interpretations of reality.”

And we really don’t believe that serial murderers are all that colossal and interesting. As Alan said when the Hannibal movie came out—Alan doesn’t like the Hannibal book, he doesn’t like this whole idea. I can’t remember if I’m speaking for him, or whether this was one of his well-thought statements, but I remember him saying: We all know that serial murderers are not that interesting; they’re not that attractive. So this idea that idea that Hannibal has become this hero of the story, you know in Silence of the Lambs he was this evil dangerous figure off to one side, and the real villain of the piece was this horrible vicious character. In the new movie, that made Hannibal the hero of the movie—

Terry Hayes’ draft could have had Gull doubling for Hannibal.

Alan said that, “We all know that serial murderers are not like this. They’re horrible nasty little men with bad hair-cuts!” So with Gull, we’ve created this colossal figure of evil. I hope we haven’t made him attractive. I actually have much admiration for the original Dr. Gull, who was the man who wrote the paper and gave the name to anorexia nervosa. And his name still pops up if you’re reading on thyroid conditions. He wrote the original medical papers on one or two subjects that are still very relevant today.

I’m wondering if with the movie interpretation may end up with a Hannibal interpretation, because that image of Gull will invade the pop consciousness.

Well, since they’re playing it as a whodunit…. With Hannibal, you’re getting into the psychology, the personality. Whenever it’s going to be a whodunit, obviously that’s going to be in the background, otherwise you’ll be giving it away pretty early who the villain is, if you’re going to look at what makes him work. So I expect a lot of red herrings. False leads that suggest one thing and they’ll pull the carpet and lead to another. I think what we’re looking for in this movie is a sense of style. They make a Jack the Ripper movie at least every ten years. In ’78 there was Murder by Decree where they had Sherlock Holmes solve the mystery; Christopher Plummer as Sherlock Holmes and James Mason as Dr. Watson—which was one of my favorite Jack the Ripper movies. And that was the first movie that was based on the royal cover-up theory, the conspiracy theory. Then there was the one in ’88 with Michael Caine.

Where he played Abberline.

That’s right, which was also based on the royal cover-up. There was another one three or four years ago which I think went straight-to-video.

I saw that! It was called, just: The Ripper.

That’s right, with Patrick Bergin as the detective. See, it looked all wrong, and I couldn’t figure out why it looked all wrong. It was actually shot in Australia, they shot in Melbourne. And the light was all wrong. The light was kind of golden, and warm, and embracing and reassuring, where the light of old London—I was born kind of early enough to still remember when British cities were still full of smoke, and dirt, in the late ’50s/early ’60s. Nowadays Glasgow and London have been scrubbed and they look all nice and clean. I remember the first time I saw Big Ben, it was all gray and dark and filthy. But in the ’88/Michael Caine movie was shot just after they had sand-blasted Big Ben. So it was very golden and sandy colored where it should have been gray and filthy.

The post-industrial grime?

That’s right. So it made me realize what Victorian London must have been like. Nowadays it is actually clean, and we’ve forgotten how filthy it used to be. When I was a kid in Glasgow, it was gray and black and dirty. When Arthur Conan Doyle, who wrote the Sherlock Holmes stories, when he first arrived in London—he came from Edinburgh—when he first arrived in London, he was horrified at the soot and the filth in the gutters. When it rained, he said, this “disgusting black soup ran down the gutter.” London, 50 years after the introduction of the Industrial Era, the muck must have been a Gothic dark, immoral muck. At least that's the way Dore interpreted it in his social-reforming illustrations. London was a great clanking engine. I thought a beautiful evocation of this was The Elephant Man movie. Lynch’s movie, where he carried over a little bit of the Eraserhead quality of the clanking machinery.

Eraserhead has huge prevalent industrial qualities.

And there was always that annoying clanking noise in the background. There’s that sense of that also in The Elephant Man, there’s this great engine of the industrial age just clanking in the background. And poverty seems to be emphasized and exaggerated by the unforgiving machine age. And I think when you do a Ripper movie, that’s kind of what it’s about. You’re trying to recreate that sense of style.

The Hughes brothers have been quoted as saying they wanted to have a more evocative Hitchcock ’30s style, which is kind of funny because Hitchcock mainly operated in Germany and Britain in that time where the dirt still existed.

And I think Hitchcock did one of the first movies based on Ripper; I forgot the title of it.

I tried looking it up, but I couldn’t find it. But I seem to remember that too. [Murder!? Mary? Harry, c’mon! Here’s an ample opportunity for an “editor’s note”!]

I don't even have to go look this one up. It's THE LODGER. I've seen it. Not bad. - MORIARTY

I think it was way back 1930, 1929. So, the classic Ripper movie—much like the classic Dracula or Frankenstein movie has a style, and the joy of the movie is really in creating that style. And, you know, that’s what we’ve done. A lot of the meaning and a lot of the content is our own. So it becomes a classic set piece. When the movie was first posited, I felt that it was part of that cycle—there was a little cycle of movie re-creations that happened there in the early ’90s. Like Branagh did his Frankenstein, Coppola did Dracula, Nichols did the Wolf Man.

Jack Nicholson in Wolf.

Yeah, that’s the one.

Post-modern re-creations of Universal horror characters?

That’s right, these classic set pieces of the horror idiom. And I thought—because Friedkin was supposed to do [a Ripper movie].

There was a point where that was knocking From Hell off of production. Wasn’t Oliver Stone originally wanting to…?

Yeah, Oliver Stone was the first person to show an interest in this. But I don’t think it was him personally. I think it came his way as a possibility, because it was so like what he had just done with JFK.

JFK has always been the biggest equivalent I tell people when I try to describe From Hell—as the JFK that’s historically responsible.

There’s the conspiracy theory. I think that’s the reason it landed on his table: it was another version of that. But I also felt at the time that that would be Oliver Stone doing his version of one of the great horror classics. I think that’s overview of just “why” a Ripper movie’s happening now. But it’s not just another workman-like Ripper movie, it’s, as you say, the ultra-modern version, the director’s version.

I can see that parts of From Hell are about the creation of an icon from a normal person. And the Ripper creation partially came from no one knowing who did it. It’s an ultra-modern or post-modern re-take of the icon.

I don’t know whether they’re going to go that far, but I’d love to see them use rap music, and real modern music in the background. I want it to be a really strange, ultra-modern version of it. I think there’s a great opportunity here for them to do things different from what we did. And that excites me; we did a comic book, but there are movie opportunities here just to do something filmic—quite different, quite exciting.

I always described the From Hell movie to people when I was getting bad feelings about the ensuing interpretation, that it would essentially be a modern cinematic version of the Stephen Knight book [Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution, the book from which From Hell drew its basis theory]—but taking the comic’s elements and using it as license to make Jack the Ripper.

It can go different ways here. It’ll be interesting to see exactly what they do. It’s such a classic tale—it’s a mannequin on which you hang different visual ideas, and bring them together into a vision.

That’s a really healthy attitude. Other things: is the movie money helping with self-publishing?

Oh yes, of course it has.

Eddie Campbell Comics has grown graciously in the last few years, and I didn’t think Top Shelf was big enough to help you out there.

The movie money hasn’t really been the thing that’s kept me afloat. What’s really kept me going was—is the From Hell book. Getting the From Hell book back when I did at the end of ’99 saved my bacon completely, because prior to that I really didn’t know what I’d be doing. It was looking a big grim for me, From Hell was all tied up, nobody could buy copies of the old Kitchen [Sink Press] one, and Kitchen didn’t have the money to print the big collected edition.

It took me three or four years to collect it, and I ended up completing it just short of the release of the phone-book version.

Really Kitchen going out of business was—I wouldn’t wish anyone to go out of business—but it was the best thing that happened to us. Getting the rights to the book back…. It’s in its fourth printing now—it’s being printed just now. We sell two hundred copies of From Hell every week. And then there are the half dozen foreign editions that we have.

Is there any update on the From Hell ban in Australia? [In late October last year, the book was banned in Australia. Campbell told The Comics Journal, “The irony, of course, is that I can buy the book in any country except the one I've been living in for the past 14 years.” The “ban” was brief, and was cleared down in mid-November.] Who’s publishing it now?

Random House. This is a new experiment for me: This is the first time I’ve ever approached a “proper” book company. See, it’s great because my own operation is sort of running itself and I’ve got money coming in from Brazil, Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Finland—Knockabout [Press] is doing the British edition, which

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