The first time you meet Edward Hyde in Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a scene of terrifying action. As you can see from the panel below, Mr. Hyde bursts onto the page, shirt torn to shreds wielding a bloody cane. To be honest, when I turned to this page for the first time, I burst out laughing. I know what you’re thinking: “What kind of sick human being are you?” (or something to that effect). Let me clarify. I was not laughing at the scene taking place in the frame, but rather in the ridiculous manner in which Mr. Hyde is displayed.
I read Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde less than a year ago, and I assure you nowhere in the novel is Edward Hyde described as an enormous hulking monster. Instead, this is the description found within Stevenson’s original work: “Mr. Hyde was pale and dwarfish, he gave an impression of deformity without any nameable malformation, he had a displeasing smile, he had borne himself to the lawyer with a sort of murderous mixture of timidity and boldness, and he spoke with a husky, whispering and somewhat broken voice.” Now take another look at the scene below and see how the portrayals match up. The small, timid, pale figure with a weak voice is nowhere to be found, replaced instead by a massive monkey-like animal bellowing at the top of its lungs. I know Alan Moore wanted to make his work as exciting as possible, but come on, can you see why I was laughing now?
Sharp Dracula fangs in coordination with a patented Bruce Banner shirt rip is enough to give any little kid nightmares for weeks. The eruption of Edward Hyde onto the seen made me pee my bed for three nights straight. The monstrous ape figure, who is suspending a legendary detective with the might of his grip, not only shocks the reader but also horrifies them. The wide open mouth and the cap-locked spelling of “Edward” makes the reader’s eardrums ring as they quickly go to the next panel to try and leave the massive beast they just saw.
All of us have had that moment. When the door is closed, the lights are off, and the room is silent except for the shuffling of feet. Your eyes dilate and your hearts starts beating outside of your chest for fear of the unknown that lurks behind closed doors. You count up to three in your head then with a deep breath you throw the door open and examine the contents of the room. Alan Moore feeds off of this anticipation with this monstrous exposition of the horrific possibility that it is indeed a monster behind the door.
The finely detailed panels make every movement fraught with life as we have to piece together what happens in between pictures. We do not see Mr. Hyde walking to the door before destroying it but we can easily imagine the sequence of events previous to this panel. Graphic novels are interesting because it leaves most of the work to the reader to use their imagination to fill in the gaps between panels. However, the details that play on various emotions and senses such as this picture makes it possible and fun to do so.
In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen graphics must tell what dialogue cannot. Excessive narration would kill the flow of the story, and overly mouthy characters would feel out of place. It thus falls to the illustrator to create images that add to the reader’s understanding of the story and characters in a way that is also amusing.
A most fascinating character is the Invisible Man. He should by all rights be the most difficult character to properly illustrate: he’s not even visible. However, the illustrator does a fantastic job of giving the Invisible Man character and of supplementing his humorous dialogue with complementary images. That is, at least, in general: sometimes it seems as though the illustrator lets the Invisible Man just be invisible, passing up an opportunity to add to his character/the scene in favor of a simplistic ’empty air’ approach. Here is an example.
Having just killed a man in cold blood, the Invisible Man turns to his companions (presumably) and casually makes idle conversation. There is only one indication of this: the sword, and this is an example of where I feel the illustration slightly fails. The words here do all the work: they are what is funny about this scene. In later scenes the Invisible Man is better represented: he leaves fingerprints or interacts with his environment in a way that reveals his appearance, contextually. Here, however, there is nothing. This happens a couple of other times in the graphic novel, and I feel the illustrator could have done more in this scenario: show something leaning under his weight, or have him wipe the sword with a piece of cloth, anything besides making a sword float. It is to both the narrator and illustrator’s credit that the Invisible Man is one of the best and funniest characters in the whole book despite being an invisible man, but where in every panel other characters appear something about them is being expressed facially/via body language, some panels of the Invisible Man seem sadly wasted.