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Book Review < Back

The Birth Caul

Credits: Written by Alan Moore and Illustrated by Eddie Campbell
Publisher: Eddie Campbell Comics


With the conclusion of From Hell's serialisation, it seemed that Alan Moore was content to sit and play quietly for the years that followed. His work in comics has stayed solidly in the light tone of the kid's pulp pastiche Tom Strong and the occult-fantasy primer for teenagers, Promethea. Clever, inventive adventure comics, but clearly small-scale, comfortable exercises. His most powerful writing of the past few years have been produced for his occasional spoken-word performance projects, created with the likes of David J from the Eighties band Bauhaus, and published on CD by the likes of Steve Severin from Siouxsie And The Banshees. THE BIRTH CAUL was one of those projects, and Eddie Campbell has adapted the work into a slim graphic novel.

THE BIRTH CAUL is nothing less than a treatise on the human condition. A birth caul is a membrane occasionally present on the face of a newborn. Alan's mother was born with one. Her mother kept it. These are the things we pass on. The small, fragile things we are born with. That's what the book's about. What we grow up with. Eddie captures perfectly that which makes the performance work; the changes in scale, from the vulnerable human moments to the grandiose scope of life's structure.

It's about magic. It's about invocation of something, about a shaman's conversation with the great and secret things lurking at the back of their own brain, about the genetic incantations of the vast skein of life we're brought out into in our silvered veils.

It's possible that the commercial arena Alan usually works in is considered too small a thing to contain writing like this. THE BIRTH CAUL is one of the strangest, most astonishing and heartbreaking things Alan Moore has yet written. Eddie Campbell's organic, emotional art and great innovative abilities make it more than an adaptation. Campbell makes it a whole work of comics, an experience no other medium could emulate. It is as much his as Alan's.

This is where Alan Moore's power has been hiding. Listen.

-- Warren Ellis

Warren Ellis has written around thirty graphic novels, comics, prose fiction, journalism, videogames and screenplays. Sometimes he take photographs. He also creates and co-creates websites, including this one. He has awards and stuff, he's been in big magazines and newspapers, and he's been published in Nature, which he always mentions because it makes him laugh. He's on the web at warrenellis.com and diepunyhumans.com.


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