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♦ Tripwire’s contributing writer Tim Hayes reviews Titan Comics’ The Beatles: Yellow Submarine, by Bill Morrison, out from tomorrow…
The Beatles: Yellow Submarine
Writer/ Artist: Bill Morrison
Comics based on films have not gone away exactly—Marvel’s Star Wars adaptations may well roll on for as long as the films stay in the Disney family, which is probably forever—but the glory days of one-off comic-book adaptations of hit films seem to have faded. However, Titan Books has just bucked the trend, sort of, by commissioning a graphic novel adaptation of Yellow Submarine written and drawn by current MAD magazine editor Bill Morrison, to mark fifty years since the animated Beatles movie was released.
Morrison worked on an aborted Yellow Submarine adaptation for Dark Horse twenty years ago, and the new book certainly looks like the work of a man who has steeped himself in the source material. Along with inker Andrew Pepoy and colourist Nathan Kane, the artist matches all the classic character designs exactly, and the book also leans more than most on the lettering of Aditya Bidikar to catch the spirit of the film’s lilting overripe speech patterns. Modern recreations of 1960s psychedelia always have a hint of pastiche about them, and the source material has a mournful element in any case, but in panel form like this the trippy excess of Yellow Submarine looks directly back to earlier European pop-art comics too; strong natural hints here of Guy Peellaert’s The Adventures Of Jodelle, in which a less melancholy 1966 version of the Fab Four actually appeared.
One thing the graphic novel doesn’t try and convey is the film’s Beatles songs, and from the book you wouldn’t know that Yellow Submarine actually is an animated musical. This understandable decision keeps the book moving at the pace of a comic, rather than the more interrupted rhythm of a musical, and saves a tonne of space. But it does also mean that the changes in visual style that the film uses for its musical moments never appear. The movie’s sequence of the submarine travelling across Liverpool set to Eleanor Rigby, striking animation not quite like anything else in the film, is lost between two pages; and Nowhere Man disappears between two adjacent panels. On the other hand, the infinite corridors and staircases of Ringo’s house are omitted when Ringo himself turns the comic page to move things along, so Morrison knows what he’s doing with his edits.
Animation is never the same as comic art and vice versa, although Morrison’s background in creating promotional art for Disney—as well as his role at Bongo Comics, long the home of Matt Groening’s animations in their comic versions—puts him nicely at the point where the two arts overlap. In this case, his graphic novel deliberately plays to the strengths of panel art, with eccentric page design to pull the film’s trippy style from one medium into another, and double page spreads to manipulate a reader’s attention onto things that the film only glances at. A new Yellow Submarine graphic novel will never feel like an authentic artefact from 1968, but this one does justice to the visual quirkiness of its inspiration.