Located in close proximity of the London docks, the district of Whitechapel drew immigrants from afar, looking for a better life from the lives they left behind. From 1888 to 1891, a cluster of brutal murders took place in the area by a shadowy figure referred to as the “Whitechapel Murderer” and “Leather Apron” at that time, but who is more commonly known as “Jack the Ripper.” Of the eleven murders, five are canonical to Jack and brought world attention to the district that was already rife with unsanitary living conditions and extreme poverty. Speculation as to the identity of Jack has alluded authorities and ripperologists since 1888, and, as such, Jack has become the subject of speculative and alternate fiction.
This month, Dark Horse Books will release the Jack the Ripper graphic novel that was written by François Debois and illustrated by Jean-Charles Poupard and originally published by Editions Soleil in two volumes, in 2012 and 2013 respectively. The 100+ page novel includes colors by Guillaume Lopez and lettering by Susie Lee. And, because the novel was originally in French, the text for this English translation was completed by Laure Dupont.
Debois weaves together facts pertaining to the investigation of Jack the Ripper as well as the fictionalization of a secret group of physicians who have abandoned their Hippocratic Oaths to engage in nefarious activities. Many real-life individuals inhabit the pages of this novel; the central character of the story revolves around Scotland Yard detective Frederick Abberline, who was one of the main investigators of the murders. In the story, however, readers’ curiosity as to the identity of Jack is revealed.
This graphic novel offers a riveting alternate story that is well developed and researched. In particular, the tensions of racial unrest and class division are explored amongst the characters, especially through Abberline who is originally from Whitechapel. He clashes with Police Commissioner Warren who none too subtly is suspicious of Abberline, because the detective has pulled himself up out of the mire of poverty. In addition, Abberline is flawed by a tragedy-ridden childhood that has left deep psychological scarring and impairs his investigation. The dire living conditions of the district are often highlighted. It is a credit to Dupont, whose translation provides a seamless French to English language story.
Poupard has to be applauded for his cover and interior art style. He adeptly captures the look and feel of the late 19th century metropolis. Each page consistently showcases Poupard’s expertise at creating a sense of depth via his manipulation of light and shadows. While he could have relegated backgrounds to incoherent shapes, instead he details buildings, limbs, leaves of trees, and textured clouds, for example. In the foreground, too, Poupard’s artistry shines: from extreme close-ups of facial expressions and eyes that convey lunacy and hysteria to delicate folds of clothing and drapery. At no time does he seem to falter from a single pane to the realization of the page.
The color palette employed by Lopez blends and accentuates Poupard’s work. Using subdued colors, Lopez provides the appropriate mood and at times, the temperature whether bright orangey-white that sears and burns or dark blues and black that exudes coldness, death, and detachment. There is a brief romantic interlude, and Lopez shifts to soft peach and rose, which sets off a dreamy state of bliss.
And, to complete the reading the experience, Lee’s lettering is sharp and efficient. Her placement works with both the readers’ eyes, as well as being mindful of the visual composition. On one page, she mirrors the composition of the subject and environment on the right side of the page to her text on the left. It is fluid and does not detract from the lush visual experience. Taken altogether, the creative team of Jack the Ripper delivers a rejuvenated and engaging fictionalized story based on real-life events that continues to intrigue and perpetuate interest for one of the modern era’s greatest unsolved crimes.