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‘The Beatles Yellow Submarine’ GN (review)

Written and Illustrated by Bill Morrison
Published by Titan Comics

 

The way I recall it, in 1968 Yellow Submarine was the first movie I ever was allowed to attend without adult supervision.

At 9 years old, it was really the first time I had paid much attention to the Beatles’ music, too, even though they had been omnipresent for more than four years by the time it came out.

The movie started me out toward becoming obsessed with them over the following decade. I had the LP, the reissued single, the paperback “photonovel,” the Gold Key comic book one-shot, and, later on, the special Yellow Submarine mag, the behind the scenes short on Beta, a movie poster on my wall, the anniversary DVD, and both making of books. I even did some work for the now-late Jack Mendelsohn, one of the film’s writers!

Sadly, I admit to being somewhat disappointed in Bill Morrison’s long-awaited Yellow Submarine adaptation from Titan.

Yes, it’s colorful and at times makes creative use of the comic book format while still sticking close to the story but it just doesn’t quite work for me.

The most obvious reason is that musicals are virtually impossible to successfully translate to other non-audio media because they don’t—and by nature CAN’T—have their music. When it comes to Yellow Submarine, this problem is compounded by the fact that music is at the very heart of the story.

To be fair, even without music one still gets some amusing bits of business and funny dialogue as well as plenty of unique creatures and critters throughout. The rather simplistic actual story of good vs. evil and love defeating hate can also be considered as Heaven (Pepperland) invaded by satanic demons (Blue Meanies) with only a few good men (Beatles) willing to march into the new Hell to fight back. Kind of Dante-esque if one thinks of it that way.

Let’s throw some Homer in there, too, because most of the story deals with the Fabs’ “Mod Osyssey” as they sail off into the unknown to try to find Pepperland but instead seem to find only distractions around every turn.

In the movie, these are sometimes longish episodes with increasingly odd and alternately menacing or satirical monsters. Perhaps since one expects to see John, Paul, George, or Ringo as often as possible, much of that is truncated here, detracting from the full impact of their perilous journey. Well, not TOO perilous as one of the conceits of the movie AND the adaptation is that our heroes rarely show a crack in their cliché deadpan British stoicism.

In the end, they do arrive and with the help of a certain Boob—the most interesting character, really—they defeat the Blue Meanies with love and flower power. A tad anachronistic nowadays but hey, it’s a classic.

Many of the scenes are depicted quite faithfully to the film, but they often come across as just that, static attempts at re-creating someone else’s images, rather than actually attempting to tell the same story in a unique format.

Morrison’s art style is beyond reproach with the characters and backgrounds all completely recognizable from the film, although for some reason the Flying Glove seems a bit smaller at times and far less intimidating here than on the screen.

One unexpected change that caught my eye was in the pop culture gallery.

Originally, Mandrake the Magician, Flash Gordon, and the Phantom, all King Features characters, are represented alongside the likes of Marilyn Monroe. Yellow Submarine was, in fact, a King Features production. Apparently, King is no longer involved since Morrison makes them all into generic characters here, even going so far as to make “Marilyn” a redhead!

My review copy is missing what I assume would be some background material and, in fact, is missing the art completely on one page, so I haven’t actually seen the full package. What’s there, though is very pretty, very colorful, mildly creative, and overall a nice little reminder as to how much better the actual movie is.

If you’re a Beatles fan or a Yellow Submarine collector, this new version, like the 1968 Gold Key version, is probably a must for your collection but it’s reasonably pointless for the casual fan.

See the movie.

 

 

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