Violence in “From Hell” by Moore and “The Four Stages of Cruelty” by Hogarth Essay

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: Sep 26th, 2020

Research Proposal

There is no doubt that those whose professional activity is related to creativity and art do their best to find sources of inspiration from things that may seem usual and ordinary. Indeed, in searching for an inspirational topic, many writers and artists prefer to exceed the scope of more common themes that are known to cause positive emotions in people and, instead, use topics that could be considered shocking, unpleasant, or disgusting. With particular regard to the latter, it is interesting to pay focused attention to the use of graphic or verbal means to represent the worst aspects of human nature, such as a propensity towards violence.

In the proposed paper, I plan to analyze the means used for the representation of violence in one of the famous graphic novels of the twentieth century – From Hell. The book was written by Alan Moore, and the illustrations were drawn by his colleague, Eddie Campbell. To better understand the range of means that help an artist illuminate a written story through producing detailed images, this paper aims to compare and contrast From Hell with another work by William Hogarth, The Four Stages of Cruelty. This work is from the eighteenth century and presents four engravings devoted to the life of a fictional character who gradually becomes a criminal.

The initial question that will serve as the basis for this literary analysis asks how violence is represented in these two works created in different centuries. Specific aspects that will be analyzed include the use of color and color contrast, shape, the ways characters are depicted, both physically and emotionally, and the landscape. The secondary sources used to strengthen the analysis include Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud and Hogarth’s Art of Animal Cruelty by Piers Beirne.

Literary Analysis

There is a range of human emotions that can be used as sources of inspiration by people whose professional activity is related to art and creativity. When it comes to representations of emotion and feelings that characters demonstrate, it is possible to divide most artists into two categories based on how they present human feelings in their works. There are those artists who focus more on the positive and those focusing on the negative feelings of their characters based on their mindset. As such, some artists tend to think in positive terms and pay more attention to positive aspects of a situation, whereas others focus on the negative aspects, which is reflected in their works.

Even though harming people and animals is deemed unacceptable within many cultures, aggression that results in violent actions such as torture, rape, murder, or assault, have always accompanied the development of human society. Images depicting aggression and violence can be found in all cultures. Still, the specific way such actions are presented differs according to the significant differences associated with accepted systems of taboos and drawing techniques in use. To better understand the nature of violence and view it through the prism of historical progress and the development of painting, it is important to compare the representation of violence in works created in different periods.

The first work to be analyzed in this paper is From Hell which is a graphic novel, created at the end of the twentieth century, and devoted to the crimes committed by ‘Jack the Ripper’ whose real name has not been identified yet (5). The other main work analyzed is the series of engravings by Hogarth called The Four Stages of Cruelty, depicting crime and retaliation in the life of the primary character (par.2).

The work was created in the middle of the eighteenth century, making it an interesting comparison with the first work. Even though both depict violence, From Hell seems to utilize a more explicit approach. In contrast, Hogarth’s engravings present very good drawing techniques, combined with attempts to maintain its aesthetic appeal.

An Overview: Topics

The work by Moore and Campbell touches upon the range of topics related to the criminal activity of Jack the Ripper, one of the most famous serial killers in England. Interestingly, the author uses real facts and invented details to tell a story about the crimes committed by this character and his possible motives. The primary character kills citizens in London and is depicted as a man who hates women; this feeling serves as a basis for all his crimes. The book aims to tell the life of the criminal, explain his view of the world, and the previous events that could have shaped it.

The series of images in the earlier book by Hogarth includes four engravings created in the middle of the eighteenth century. The four parts are devoted to the different stages in the life of a character invented by the artist, called Tom Nero. Each engraving depicts a certain stage of his life in a very detailed way. This work describes how Nero becomes a criminal, illustrating the principle that violence always starts small but can escalate.

The character starts committing minor violent actions as a child and, as a young man, progresses to torturing animals. Violence towards animals becomes common for Tom, and, trying to satisfy his lust for blood, which is constantly growing, he decides to commit a real crime and kills his pregnant girlfriend. The fourth and final stage from this series is aimed at providing moral instruction, and warning, to its audience; it depicts the fate that follows the appalling actions committed by Tom.

Expressive Means and Violence

The two works that have been chosen for this analysis demonstrate a wide range of graphic means used to depict scenes of violence and the attitude of the characters towards the situation. Considering that the works were created in very different periods, similar expressive means are used in different ways by the two artists; these differences become even more obvious when it comes to the authors’ unique style.

According to McCloud, who explains the nature of comics, and the elements that need to be considered while analyzing them, the use of color and contrast belongs to several important expressive means (187). When it comes to the use of color and its connection with the representation of violence, it must be noted both authors use only black, white, and various shades of grey. Analyzing the role of color in comics, McCloud claims that bright colors can hurt understanding the general message of the piece of art. In his opinion, brightness can shift the audience’s focus from the very idea of a picture to the particular details included to express it.

The use of color in these two works is not the same. The engravings by Hogarth depict the events in a very detailed way. In contrast, the pictures from the book by Moore and Campbell are numerous, and each of them focuses on a limited number of details due to the peculiarities of the genre. The color contrast is stronger in the illustrations from the novel – some elements that can be noticed are black.

On the one hand, such an approach to drawing is time-consuming, and it is extremely important to take into account the great number of pictures that are needed to be completed. On the other hand, the use of totally black elements paired with the white ones can be regarded as one of the expressive means attracting the attention of the audience to the particular details, such as blood in scenes of violence, or the silhouettes of gentlemen in the second chapter. The use of strong contrast draws more attention to specific details that the artist wants to enhance and helps him create an atmosphere of mystery and terror.

At the same time, Hogarth depicts violent actions of his characters using smoother color transitions – even though his work can be fully understood only by those people who have seen all the engravings, each part of his work can also be presented as a self-contained individual piece of art telling a detailed story. Taking this into account, the artist does his best to provide the audience with an opportunity to distinguish the tiniest details in the engravings and provide an idea of the numerous faces of violence surrounding the character in everyday life. Unlike Moore and Campbell, the artist does not try to leave something unsaid.

The authors of these two books use different techniques and shapes to depict the violent actions committed by the characters, their consequences, and the reaction of other people. Speaking about the engravings created by Hogarth, it needs to be said that the artist utilizes the set of methods allowing him to find the balance between beautiful and disgusting. In general, all engravings from the series depict people, objects, and the landscape in a very detailed way – for instance, the third engraving, showing Tom after the murder, depicts bodies of people in a very detailed way; the shadows are picked up, and facial features of the characters are traced which makes it easier to understand their emotional state and reaction to the murder.

At the same time, the use of shape demonstrated by Hogarth helps the viewer to identify the way that the criminal sees his actions. The first tendency that can be noticed if we consider the way Hogarth depicts violence in this work is the commitment to realism – showcasing his well-developed drawing abilities, he does his best to demonstrate the feelings and motives of his characters. Also, the immediate reaction to violence is highlighted through the gestures and facial expressions of the characters.

Interestingly, when it comes to images to depict violence, there is another important tendency peculiar to this series of engravings – aestheticization of violence. To some extent, this tendency is the opposite of the artist’s willingness to use a more realistic way to depict the human body. This aestheticization can be noticed in every engraving in the series, but it is most obvious in the third one showing the crime scene and the murdered woman.

The injuries on the dead body indicate that Tom has murdered with extreme violence: there is a deep incision on the neck of the victim, and some of her fingers are also damaged. However, despite these details, the body does not look as scary as it would look in real life.

Unlike Hogarth, Moore and Campbell are not afraid to show something that may look disgusting in their graphic novel. This is true for all the pictures, from the dissected mice to the human bodies; neither does the artist try to embellish things while depicting the sex scenes or making a reference to Joseph Merrick, the whose disfigured face is shown in great detail. Even though the characters introduced by Moore do not look real due to the peculiarities of the genre and the artist’s style, Campbell does not miss a chance to show violence as a part of everyday life, be it the bird eaten by flesh flies, a man buying a woman engaged in prostitution, or the depiction of murdered women with their throats cut.

According to McCloud, the process of creation includes six steps that should be taken one by one (178). The first and second steps are strictly interconnected with each other as they present the very idea of the comics, or another piece of art, and the form which is designed to express the idea and minimize the loss of initial meaning during this transformation. The interconnection of ideas expressed with verbal means and drawn images presented in the given works is also an interesting subject for discussion.

When it comes to the first work, which is a series of engravings devoted to the development of criminal leanings in a young man, it is important to mention that linguistic means, such as the notes below the images, are not presented by the author to shape the plot and show the assumptions of each character.

Taking into account a range of details presented with the help of graphic means, and the fact that comics, as we know them, did not exist, it is clear that there was no need for the long accompanying texts. The author of the engravings decided to include the short poems to help him tell the story of animal violence turning into real crimes, and the consequences (Beirne 44). It could be argued that the primary reason that encouraged Hogarth to create the work was his willingness to do anything to attract society’s attention to the urgent problem of violence. He aims to demonstrate that the common cases of violence that often remain unnoticed (for instance, when children torture animals or treat them as toys) and the more serious cases of murder that scandalize entire countries are the same.

To make this idea even more explicit and obvious, he uses a series of short poems that fully explain the topic of cruelty in children and adults. The third engravings are accompanied by two different texts, a poem, and a letter. The letter is included to show the back story of the murder; providing the audience with an opportunity to get acquainted with the letter, Hogarth highlights the diabolical cruelty of the character because the readers understand that he has just killed a woman who loved him and was ready to gamble with her future and stab her mistress in the back to be with him.

Unlike the language in The Hell, the poems and the letter below the engravings use a kind of elevated style that does not always correspond strictly with the period; for instance, the letter written by the killed woman is grammatically correct, even though a person from her social stratum would be very unlikely to use such words and expressions. In contrast, characters from The Hell use a wider range of linguistic means, including colloquialisms, contractions, and a great number of interjections. Therefore, the book’s linguistic means of expression are aimed at making the characters alive and showing the difference between social layers.


Overall, the discussed works seem to be rather different when it comes to how the authors depict violence. Numerous factors define these differences, including the period when the works were created and the popular tendencies, the aim of the work, the peculiarities of genres chosen by the creators, and certain features attributable to the authors’ styles. Major differences can be seen in terms of the range of linguistic means of expression, the use of color contrast, the use of drawing techniques, and the degree to which the content that may seem embarrassing or disgusting is presented.

Works Cited

Beirne, Piers. Hogarth’s Art of Animal Cruelty: Satire, Suffering and Pictorial Propaganda. Springer, 2014.

Hogarth: Hogarth’s Modern Moral Series, the Four Stages of Cruelty”. Tate, n.d. Web.

McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. Harper Perennial, 1994.

Moore, Alan, and Eddie Campbell. From Hell. Top Shelf Productions, 1989.

This essay on Violence in “From Hell” by Moore and “The Four Stages of Cruelty” by Hogarth was written and submitted by your fellow student. You are free to use it for research and reference purposes in order to write your own paper; however, you must cite it accordingly.

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