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Desert Solitaire
by Edward Abbey

From Hell

From Hell

Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell

The genre of the graphic novel has entirely passed me by.  As a kid, I read comic books when I could afford them, which was almost never.  I would surely have consumed more if I could have.  The format was attractive to me, as it is to most preteen boys.  I liked the artwork; I liked the fantastic tales, the bigger than life characters and the larger than life violence.  But the cover price as always too steep, so I tried to learn to draw my own.  I didn’t get too far with it.  I knew how to tell a story — or at least I thought I did — but I have never been very able to draw.  So, a few frustrated panels later, my comic book career ended, and I found other things to nerd out on.

Comic books became “graphic novels”, Maus came and went, and despite a double major in art and English, the genre passed me by, and I never really sought it out again.  Then, last year, when Bughead was purging her library, she dropped a pile of books into my lap.  I accepted them with grace, but a few of them went unread.  Due to my habit of reading books in serial instead of in parallel, it often takes some time from the moment a volume finds its way into my home until I finally get around to reading it.  Sometimes years, but I read them all eventually.

So when the immediate backlog ran dry earlier this month, I picked up From Hell.  The first couple of chapters left me skeptical.  The artwork was fine, but not unusual or extraordinary.  The story was confusing, and I almost didn’t proceed.  I admire cleverness, but not opacity, and it seemed pretty opaque.  After thirty or forty pages, I had only a dim idea of what was going on.  I knew it was the Jack the Ripper story, but the artwork only added to the opacity.  Enough of the characters were drawn enough alike that it was hard to keep them straight.  The story isn’t strictly chronological, and it was not obvious which were the same characters in the past and present.  But I’m tenacious when it comes to reading, so I finished the book.  Most of it came together OK, some of it stayed confusing, and then, as I turned the last page of the story, I came upon the endnotes.  The dozens of pages of endnotes that explained what the hell was going on.  Oh.

So apparently I was reading it wrong.  I paged through the notes, and they looked pretty historically rich.  A lot of detail there.  Of course, I was done with the story by then, and re-reading with the endnotes handy just didn’t seem worthwhile.

Editors: if you’re going to include pages of endnotes that help to make sense of your book, mention it in the preface.

Thank you.