The Eddie Campbell Interview (part four of four)

Posted by on June 25th, 2010 at 12:11 AM

The following interview originally appeared in The Comics Journal #273 [January 2006].

Part One   ♦   Part Two   ♦   Part Three   ♦   Part Four


(Click image to read longer excerpt.) From From Hell, ©1989, 1999 Eddie Campbell.


To Hell with From Hell

DEPPEY: On a related note, I don’t think I’ve actually asked you this: What did you think of the film From Hell?

CAMPBELL: [Laughs.] Yeah, I’ve wondered why you haven’t asked that already.

DEPPEY: I’ve spent most of this interview just trying to keep up with you. I figured I’d get around to the other questions eventually.

CAMPBELL: [Laughs.] It’s a film. It’s not our film, I know Alan didn’t like it. I don’t care. We sold so many books. I wouldn’t want to have to stand up and explain it. And I knew they were going to have to throw a lot of stuff out, but it seemed to me that they threw out the meaning.

DEPPEY: Well, yes.

CAMPBELL: And we’re left with the dressing. Anything that meant anything was ditched. Like, the first thing we decided was that we don’t want this to be a whodunit.

DEPPEY: That’s of course the first thing they turned it back into.

CAMPBELL: In fact, they put it to me almost at though it was a good idea. I remember they said, “Eddie, look, we’ve got this great idea.” They said, “Look, you don’t know who the Ripper is until right at the end!” [Deppey laughs.] That was the first thing we kicked out, because Alan absolutely detested the idea of turning murder into a parlor game. What’s that movie, Ten Little Indians, based on the Agatha Christie thing, where they actually freeze the whole thing for a minute while the audience —

DEPPEY: — tries to figure out who did it.

CAMPBELL: An interesting gambit. It was a crap movie, of course. [Laughs.] But this is murder. Can murder, human catastrophe, be treated so lightly? One person’s murdered another. Let’s make a guessing game out of it. That woman in Murder She Wrote witnessed a human destruction every week. Big, manly, hardened detectives would have lost their minds from it all.

DEPPEY: From Hell, the book, is very much the exception to the rule. I mean, the only other artistic work that I can think of that didn’t treat it the same way was the Coen Brothers film, Blood Simple. Did you ever see that?


DEPPEY: Basically, you knew in advance what was happening; you saw the murderers committing the murders and whatnot. On that level, there wasn’t so much as an ounce of suspense, in the traditional Hollywood sense of the term.

CAMPBELL: Something I actually dislike is suspense. The whole audience manipulation. I’m off on another subject here, this is…

DEPPEY: That’s fine.

CAMPBELL: The manipulation of an audience; you don’t know this and I’m not going to tell you. At that point, I think, “Well, fuck that, I’m going home, then.” [Laughter.] I’m turning off. I’m going to go have a beer. To me, there’s something, there’s a kind of deceit. I mean that in the worst way: I’m going to deceive you for the purposes of giving you a thrill. Now, if I’m getting involved with a book or a movie, I want to be reading at a much higher level than that. Otherwise, I’ll go and have sex or something. I’ll go see what my wife’s doing, rouse her from her reading of the advertising brochures. I just can’t be bothered with the whole… I see it as a very primitive sort of art where I’m going to deceive you for the purposes of thrilling you. I don’t need that. Those screamer movies. I can’t sit through Texas Chainsaw Massacre or whatever. I just don’t care. Honestly, I don’t care enough to sit through it.


(Click image to read longer excerpt.) From From Hell, ©1989, 1999 Eddie Campbell.


DEPPEY: I was of two minds about the film version of From Hell. I saw it with our News Editor, Michael Dean. Driving back, we were discussing the film, and we basically came to the conclusion that it wasn’t in any way close to the quality of the book, but on the other hand, if you were somebody who had never read the book and had no interest in it, and you just went to it expecting a slasher film, then you probably got something a little more high-minded than you were expecting. Does that make any sense?

CAMPBELL: Yeah, I would agree with that. And that’s what I was expecting. They did a fine job at that level.

DEPPEY: It was a couple of steps up above Freddy Krueger, and I suppose —

CAMPBELL: Which is not something I would ever watch in a drunken fit. In fact, when I started drawing From Hell, I thought I had no interest in drawing it either. I’d much rather be doing the other book Alan had at that time, Big Numbers. That was probably technically beyond my abilities at that time, however.

Looking back at From Hell, I’m not even sure I was technically up to the challenge on that one until we hit chapter — I’d gotten control of it at the beginning of chapter three; I’m pleased with the first couple of pages of chapter three. By chapter four I’m completely at home with it, I’m completely happy with it, because I was just scanning it recently with a critical eye. Chapter 10 is a magnificent spectacle; 38 pages of someone being cut up. That is nauseating and yet captivating. There’s absolutely no attempt to make this thrilling or exciting. The whole thing is done in medium shot, just moving bits of a body around.

There’s a funny anecdote on that which I’m kind of sick of telling, but I don’t know if you’ve heard it.

DEPPEY: That would be the one where Moore realizes —

CAMPBELL: Yeah, you’ve heard it. He realized he’d put one of the breasts in the wrong place, but because he was feeding me the pages one at a time and I was drawing them, I couldn’t go back and insert this without breaking the sequence up. The timing, the pace was going to be all wrong, because I’d have to go insert nine panels instead of just the two that were necessary. So he came up with this solution: The breast on the bedside table should have been between the woman’s legs. Gull looks at it thoughtfully, rubs his chin and moves it. An excellent solution to the problem.

DEPPEY: And all of that was just totally bowdlerized for the film. From the moment that I heard that Johnny Depp was going to be a psychic detective…

CAMPBELL: [Sighs.] Yeah. You know, there was an earlier version of this script, where he escapes, he goes into Special Branch and he steals a file, or he looks at the file, gets the information he needs. Then he hears somebody coming along the corridor. And there’s no way he can get out that room and out the building without being caught. So he turns and he sees a window open, and it’s overlooking a railroad track. [Deppey laughs.] He quietly climbs out of the window onto the ledge, jumps onto a train that’s passing below, lands on the roof. [Laughter.] At the time, we first read this ’95, ’96. I’m trying to picture our Abberline jumping onto a moving train. Our fat guy. [Laughs.] So they’d obviously changed that by the time the movie got made. I didn’t like the original script. The script was certainly improved, I will say that.

DEPPEY: I suspect most of that, in terms of film work, the prime motivator is justifying the 80 million dollars it will take to make the film.

CAMPBELL: I’m sure that’s the way they look at scripts. Oh, yeah, this’ll give our star, whoever it is, lots of things to do. Oh, here he can be tough, here he could be romantic, oh, his mother died, here he can be sentimental. He cries, the “chicks” love it. There doesn’t have to be a rigorous logic linking all of this. And I think a reader demands more of the logic than a film viewer. Anyhoo, it’s all over, we get three different endings and they all follow each other. He gets to lose the girl, he gets to keep the girl. And then the baddie turns up again he gets to kill the baddie a second time. [Laughs.] Maybe I’ll try writing one myself.


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