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Tag Archive: Archie Goodwin


Review by C.J. Bunce

If you only could choose one book to represent the potential–maybe even the highest form–of the comic book medium, a new book hitting the stands today may be on your short list.  IDW Publishing is releasing a stunning anthology of the history of the Holocaust as seen in comic books of the past, presented with an introduction and afterword by Stan Lee, the creator who broke more stereotypes in his stories than anyone in comic books’ first century.  In We Spoke Out: Comic Books and the Holocaust, artist Neal Adams, who changed the way comic book stories were told in the early 1970s with his Green Lantern/Green Arrow and Batman series, Holocaust scholar Rafael Medoff, and comics historian Craig Yoe have compiled what is arguably the most noble use of comic books–educating kids in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s on a subject of history virtually ignored in mainstream circles.  Along with Congressman John Lewis’s March series about the civil rights movement, We Spoke Out: Comic Books and the Holocaust should be in every library and taught in every history class.

My high school history teacher was astonished to learn none of us knew the details of Watergate–we were only infants at the time–and I recall the realization he saw of what he and his peers were not teaching. This weekend my eighteen-year-old nephew mentioned watching the footage of 9-11 in school this year for the first time.  In the 1980s only the last paragraph of the last chapter of our World History textbooks discussed the Holocaust, yet we at least spent a week talking about the subject.  But not until the 1990s was the Holocaust taught in most of American school systems.  Even today only 35 states require education in the subject in school curriculums.  Certainly the most important lessons in history can be taught with its study, and in that light We Spoke Out should serve as a wake-up call to everyone, citizens, educators, and leaders.  Oddly enough, for generations of American kids, the only place they learned about the murder of six million Jews, the stories of concentration camps, of the atrocities committed by Hitler and his Nazis, was in the comics pages.

   

The stories in the anthology present the atrocities of World War II without the overdone blood and gore of many 1950s “horror” comics.  In an April 1955 story from Impact Issue #1 we meet a Jewish man post-War still haunted by his memories in what would now be called PTSD.  In the pages of December 1951’s Frontline Combat, Issue #3 story the then-lauded Nazi general Rommel is dressed down, revealing the villainous truths of his leadership in the face of contemporary efforts to re-invent Rommel as a military hero.  Based on the real-life Nazi Ilse Koch, in a story from Beware! Terror Tales, Issue #4, we are reminded of the vilest of humans who made household goods from the tattooed skin of captured Jews–a real-life horror some may think is only the stuff of fiction from Silence of the Lambs.  Among these stories ripped from real life, Adams, Medoff, and Yoe fill in the blanks of time with historical context, including details of what the stories leave out.

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A lot has been written about “comic book adaptations”—taking a comic book character and making it into a movie, as has now been done extensively in the theaters with Superman, Batman, the Avengers characters and X-Men, and to a lesser extent with Hellboy, Green Lantern, Fantastic Four, and on the small screen with Superman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, and several others.  What hasn’t gotten as much attention is the art of successfully translating of a movie into comic book form.

For years, comic book publishers have teamed with movie studios to co-market a new film with a same-day or early release adaptation of the movie or to take advantage after the fact on the public’s desire to view the movie again later.  The recent term is the movie “tie-in”.  This has been done in fiction novelations as well, sometimes to positive effect and sometimes not.  A striking example is an early attempt to create a novelization for Ridley Scott’s movie Blade Runner, itself based on a Philip K. Dick novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  That didn’t fly for the original creator and the novel issued with the movie release was actually a re-issue of Dick’s original work.  This lent some confusion to viewers of both the book and movie because of the many changes made for the film.

In comic books, studios and publishers have been cross marketing movies extensively back at least to the early 1950s, with the Dell Four Color comic books series, which included movie adaptations of John Ford’s The Searchers, Moby Dick with Gregory Peck, and dozens of others, to the Gold Key series of the 1960s, which delivered the popular Star Trek and other TV series adaptations in addition to movies, to Marvel Comics in the 1970s with adaptations of Planet of the Apes, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Logan’s Run, and even into the 1980s with adaptations of films like The Last Starfighter.  For some movies, rights issues prevent a movie from making it into comic book form.  This is the case with the James Bond movies and Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Getting a comic book adaptation right involves the same sensibilities as that required for a good novelization. Story must always remain the key focus, but with comics you get the added bonus of the visual re-presentation of the film.  Often the writers get advance looks at what the filmmakers are doing, but sometimes they don’t get to see as much as would be helpful for rounding out the adapted work.  In the 1977 Star Wars comic book adaptation, one page featured a first look at Jabba the Hutt, who we would later meet in the movie Return of the Jedi and find to be a giant slug.  In the original Star Wars adaptation he is a yellow, whiskered biped, a humanoid–an example of preparation and timing not allowing for an accurate translation of what ends up on screen.

In 35 years I still have not seen a comic book adaptation that was as well done as Archie Goodwin and Al Williamson’s The Empire Strikes Back, published by Marvel Comics (cover at the top of this article).  Where the Star Wars adaptation was a stylized sci-fi epic, Empire featured a stunningly drawn adaptation of characters, aliens and places, and even characters that looked like the actors playing the characters.  The Empire adaptation was released in a giant over-sized book in the same way the Star Wars adaptation had been released.  As a kid, I had repeatedly checked out the hard-bound library version of the Star Wars adaptation—to get that taste of the movie in the days when you had to wait years to see a movie re-released in the theater, long before video tapes.  So when I got the Empire version in the same format for my birthday, it became a well-worn companion that stuck by me until Return of the Jedi premiered.  Incredibly it is still available for sale on eBay and at Amazon.com.

Why did the Empire adaptation work?  Preparation clearly played a key role, with the writers and artists having full access to the complete director’s version of the film, including scenes that eventually were cut from the film.  An artist who stuck to the film and refrained from unwanted elaboration also helped.  Clearly, compared to the Star Wars adaptation that had been quickly drawn, the Empire adaptation benefitted from on artist who had the time to include great detail.  And just as Star Wars was issued in single issues over a period of four months, so was Empire, and the plotting and chapter divisions also reflected a film that was paced well, lending itself toward a good adaptation.  What followed suit would be years of similar high-quality adaptations, including a superb three-issue Marvel Comics series adapting Raiders of the Lost Ark, and later, a four-issue adaptation of Return of the Jedi.  From then on adaptations would stick closer to the films they were adapting.

A few recent comic book projects will be featured in the following days.  These works are not adaptations as much as science fiction movie tie-ins, but they are also some of the most creative and interesting bridging between movies and comic books to ever hit the shelves.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

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