Writer/Artist: David Hitchcock
Publisher: Black Boar Press
Publishing a work on a topic that an acknowledged masterpiece of your chosen medium has recently tackled is an unwise decision commercially, even more unwise when you’re working in the small press.
Doing so is likely to get you overlooked or lost in the critical wake spreading out behind the S.S. Masterpiece.
That’s the unfortunate fate that befell Black Boar Press’ Whitechapel Freak, released in 2001, within the long shadow cast by the trade paperback release of Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s From Hell. That’s why, unless you’re really into small press comics or the English indie comics scene, you’ve likely never even heard of Whitechapel Freak.
And it’s a shame, because Whitechapel Freak is a very good comic.
Whitechapel Freak is a retelling of the story of Jack the Ripper. But unlike From Hell, which posits a possible theory of those crimes and a real-life identity for the Ripper, Whitechapel Freak takes the Ripper murders as it basis and weaves an unexpected and unusual tale all its own.
Of course, the comic isn’t likely to satisfy hardcore Ripperologists, as it quickly eschews fact for entertainment, as writer/artist Hitchcock mentions in his note on the first page. This is likely all the better for the story, though, as there are only so many ways to tell a fact-based story in this case, and the shadow of From Hell looms large.
In Hitchcock’s tale, the focus is not placed on the murderer or his victims, but rather on a group of traveling circus freaks who have set up camp in London during the murders and are trying to make their livings. With the grisly murders happening while the freaks are in town, Londoners naturally grow fearful of the freaks’ distorted bodies and threaten, persecute, and even try to kill them.
To tell much more about the plot would be to give away too much to maintain the surprise ending to this 40-page tale. Suffice it to say, you haven’t seen Jack the Ripper done this way.
Hitchcock’s art is a bit stronger than his writing, but the writing is solid as well. His London is atmospherically fog-shrouded and his people appropriately grizzled and dirty.
The comic is printed like oversized and presented like a newspaper, with its front cover even laid out with images and text, just like a paper. This unusual format is appealing and the space that the page size gives his art to breathe is terrific.
Unfortunately, I believe Whitechapel Freak is currently out of print, so it will be hard to find. If you do manage to track a copy down, though, snatch it up. The good art and strong story, along with the unusual — for a comic, at least — format, combine to make Whitechapel Freak a terrific little horror comic.