Comic Books of Movies

When I was a kid, comic books adapting movies were the norm. Although other companies might do them (trivia: The movie adaptation of the first James Bond film, Dr. No was done by DC!), most of them were done by Western Publishing – Dell comics until 1962, or Gold Key thereafter*. These were fascinating things. I had lots of them, and readd the literally to pieces.
They released a lot of adaptations of Disney movies – not only the cartoon features, but a lot of the live-action ones, like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Swiss Family Robinson, and a surprising number of the now-mostly-forgotten “Real Life Adventure” Nature films, like Jungle Cat.
Science fiction and fantastic cinema was always big – ** Mysterious Island**, Master of the World, the Lost World, Jack the Giant Killer

And they released some amazingly bad flicks as adaptations, too – literal MST3L fodder like Santa Claus Conquers the Martians and The Sword and the Dragon

What fascinates me the most these days is that, looking back at them with an adult’s eye, it’s clesar to me that coming up with these must have been a production headache. The scripter and artist generally didn’t have access to the completed product, most likely because it didn’t exist yet. Sometimes they obviously had copies of stills from the movie (they often used stills for the covers), as in the case of Jack the Giant Killer, where some comic panels seems to be copied directly from frames of the film (and the cover, too). I n other cases the discrepancy between the imagery of the comic and the movie bewildered the younger me, but I now realize that they evidently only had a script to go by, and no pictures. So in The Lost World, the scenes of the Giant Spider or the Tentacles or the Diamond in the Cave of the Fire God look nothing like the film, and the artist was evidently trying to draw something corresponding to the vague description the script gave him.

And then there are cases like The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad – one of Ray Harryhausen’s best films, and his first all-color production. The scripter and artist apparently had nothing to go by, except a vague description of the plot. The story line bears little resemblance to the film, and, while there are a cyclops, a bald evil magician, and a dragon, they look nothing like their film counterparts. Even the cover photograph – which should have prominently featured the Cyclops or the Dragon, or at least the Two-Headed Roc – just shows Sinbad at the ship’s wheel in a storn.

You can buy these comics at comic book stores, but the prices for such antiques are pretty high. Sometimes you can get them elsewhere – the lost World comic is scanned in as an “extra” on the DVD release of the movie. Someone has also released a DVD with a bunch of these scanned onto one disc: There are probably some examples scanned on-line somewhere.

*The Gold Key/Dell history is wonderfully weird and complex.

See here:
Suffice it to say that Western Publishing was responsible for them, and was a continuing presence. Movie adaptations first published by Dell would often be re-issued later under the Gold Key imprint, often with the very same cover.

Beatles fans will find the Yellow Submarine comic instructive, based as it was on an early script, with scenes that were later deleted.

At the very least, I would think they had access to the storyboards which, when assembled, remarkably resemble a comic book. Getting the “look” right would have been the easier part. The hard part would be getting the sequence and pacing to match the film, since a film editor could change all that mere days before a film’s release.

Dell’s major claim to fame in comicdom is that they were the first company to break the 10 cent ceiling for a regular sized comic book in 1961. Apparently, a good chunk of their cover price (one-third!) was going to Disney, MGM, Warner Brothers, Universal and other studios for character and movie adaptation licensing.

As my story of Seventh Voyage of Sinbad indicates, they didn’t always have access to even this.

In the case of a film like the Sword and the Dragon, which was wholly a foreign production, they probably only had the film itself, which would have been enough. But for a US production, where the comic book release had to be coincident with the film’s, I suspect they usually had a few stills, and maybe a script or a treatment.

I loved those as a kid. I read the Empire Strikes Back comic adaptation before I saw the movie and read my adaptation of Battlestar Galactica millions of times. Both were oversized and had great art.

One of the first things I did when I discovered the Internet in the early 90s was seek out the original Comic adaptation of Star Wars. I ended up buying it from someone via USENET and amazingly I wasn’t scammed or killed.

The comic book adaptation of Raiders of the Lost Ark had me convinced that I had seen Indy tie himself to the submarine periscope with his whip as they traveled to the secret base on the Island. I thought this for years until my friends proved me wrong with the home video.

I finally got to see that deleted scene with the blu-ray collection released recently. When they were making that comic book series, they must have had access to story boards or an early movie cut.

There were also lots of comic books based on TV shows. I use to have/still have examples from “The Twilight Zone”, “Thriller”, “Zoro” and, of all things, “Supercar”. As I recall, the material in these comics was usually more original writing than adaptations of actual TV episodes.

I’ve always wondered if the stories in “The Twilight Zone” comic books were unused scripts from the show. They used “Classics Illustrated” artists like Reed Crandall who were known for their detailed costumes and locales. Stories requiring those kinds of props and sets may have been too expensive for TV, but perfect for comic books.

I remember seeing that in the adaptation.

Also, in the Star Wars adaptation the Jabba the Hutt scene was included with Jabba as a bidal yellow (IIRC) alient.

And he was furry! Or at least had whiskers.

Not according to Marc Scott Zicree’s Twilight Zone Companion, which lists the unused stories, and gives synopses. (Interestingly, one of these unused stories – by Richard Matheson, who wrote a lot of the TZ scripts – was later adapted as an episode of Spielberg’s show Amazing Stories in the 1980s). I haven’t encountered any of the unused stories adapted as TZ comic book plots. I agre that they had the right “feel”. In fact, the comic book had greater scope sometimes, because you can draw a panorama, or the deestruction of a village a lot easier and more cheaply than you can show that on TV on a small budget.

Man, the artwork in that one was awesome. It must’ve been done with just storyboards, because Yoda was this weird little purple thing, and used some of Ralph McQuarrie’s concept art.