It starts with a Blue Meanie attack!
As a kid growing up in awe of the Beatles, one of my most precious memories as receiving the newly-remastered VHS of Yellow Submarine and playing that sucker over and over again. Even to this day, I can recite most scenes verbatim and find myself becoming surprisingly misty at certain scenes. The film is a timeless classic that is made all the more extraordinary in that it had no right to be as good as it turned out to be. As a contract filler, the Beatles had little direct involvement in the project and were all a little busy struggling with what it meant to be at the vanguard of the counterculture. With The White Album released only several months after the film’s release, Yellow Submarine was, in many ways, the swan song of groovy, swingin’ London and the good vibes of the Summer of Love.
And after fifty years in the public consciousness, the groundbreaking animated calliope that is Yellow Submarine has, perhaps more than any other entity related to the Fab Four, become synonymous with their public image in the realm of licensed products. Any cursory glance for what is most ubiquitous on the shelves right now for Beatles-based toys and games is all related to the Heinz Edelmann-conception of the lads at their most psychedelic. Perhaps it is simply a personal overreaction of mine, but I’ve grown weary at seeing this particular version of the group represented in the toys, games, and yes, even comics, especially because there are so many more points in of the Beatles’ career to choose from.
Of course, I bring up this latter point because Titan Comics recently released a handsome graphic novel translation of the Yellow Submarine film, adapted and drawn by Bill Morrison (Bongo Comics; Mad Magazine). The final book is certainly a labor of love and it shows in every panel. Morrison just goes to town on this sucker and the spirit of the film can be felt with every turn of the page. The emotion and voice of the movie are left intact, with the non-sequitur Liverpudlian patois that has become closely associated with John, Paul, George, and Ringo is clearly heard even while reading this book silently. Of course, the story could never have been a one-to-one reworking of the film, as it was inevitable that the rights to the song lyrics featured in the movie would be nigh impossible to secure. Yet, Morrison manages admirably to recreate as much as he can with the auditory limitations of the medium—from the Blue Meanies to the Sea of Monsters to the Sea of Green—while keeping the integrity and spirit of the film humming along.
In terms of actually reading and enjoying the story, it doesn’t matter whether one is a long-time fan of the film or experiencing the adventure for the first time. And because of this accessibility, this comic could work as an introduction to the world or as a refresher for old fans. I found myself not only reading the book, but reading out loud with all of the film’s odd and ingenious inflections. Mind you, I haven’t sat down to re-watch the film in years. Yet, there I was, grinning the entire time despite my initial skepticism and reservations.
If I am to be completely honest, I feel this review is futile. The legacies of the Beatles and Yellow Submarine are irrevocable and secure in the popular culture forevermore. So then, how should this book ultimately be judged? There is a lot of tender care placed here to catch as many of the nuances, wordplays, colors, and (exaggerated) personalities of the Lads as they rescue the Land of Pepper from the music-hating Blue Meanies. While it should be clear that this book will never be a substitute for the original, what readers will find is gorgeously rendered billet-doux to the message of the Beatles as a whole and to the film itself. And that is a considerable achievement in-and-of-itself. Morrison’s concert poster-inspired aesthetic (there ain’t no room for squares here, man) and lush color palette (from Nathan Kane) make this comic easy on the eyes and lasting on the mind.
It’s certainly worth the trip.
Writer/Artist: Bill Morrison
Inks: Andrew Pepoy
Colors: Nathan Kane
Lettering: Aditya Bidikar
Publisher: Titan Comics
Hardcover, 292mm x 190mm