❉ Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine comes this fully authorised graphic novel adaptation written and illustrated by Bill Morrison.
The Beatles, and Paul McCartney in particular, would occasionally try to shield themselves from the madness that surrounded them in the real world by using alter-egos in their work, or to disguise their identities when working with others. It was never really effective, of course. The idea of Sgt.Pepper as ‘another band’, for example, really only reflected the difference between the touring-years Beatles and the then studio-bound Beatles, rather than as a grand concept for an audience to get on board with and Magical Mystery Tour didn’t make anything of the b-plot which featured the group (and Mal Evans) as “Four or Five Magicians” who lived in the sky. It’s funny then, that the only really effective parallel world that appeared during their career, and that was sustained beyond it, was that of Yellow Submarine: a cartoon movie, based on an idea in a song, and which only features the actual Beatles in a brief post-story cameo.
Celebrating its Gold anniversary this year, Yellow Submarine has been back in cinemas with a new 5.1 surround mix to accompany the frame-by-frame hand-restored visuals, with release day audiences receiving a gift of a postcard, letter and sticker set. As far as merchandise is concerned, the Lego Yellow Submarine has proven toppermost of the poppermost of the items spun-off from the film in recent years (I’ve got that, but I can’t bring myself to pay £60 for the limited edition collectors box of socks) and now Apple Corps have joined up with Titan Comics to bring us the official graphic novel adaptation of the film written and drawn by Bill Morrison, current editor of MAD magazine and artist/editor for The Simpsons comics. It’s not necessarily a task to be envied. The script, character design and story all exist, so how do you make something fresh out of these elements?
There have been print versions of the story released in the past, as tie-ins to the original film release. The 1968 novelisation by pulp publishers, New English Library, features minimal text printed over not-very-well-reproduced scenes from the film (although it hints at a mysterious and otherwise unseen “Sea of Consumer Products” and has some additional comic histories of Pepperland as appendices) and a comic-book adaptation from the same year by Gold Key is a wacky affair that varies wildly from the movie – Old Fred romances Lovely Rita to get out of a Submarine-Parking-Violation – but neither of these adaptations captured the real stand-out feature of the film which is its startlingly colourful art and design.
Morrison’s artwork goes a long way to remedy this by approaching the layout in a dynamic manner, with each page or double-page spread acting almost as a piece of poster art in itself, rarely taking the form of a simple panel-by-panel story. A word that often crops up when discussing Yellow Submarine is “colourful” and this graphic novel has the charming vibrancy of Nathan Kane’s colouring to meet its chromatic requirements – consistent and appropriate for the story, it helps the images to leap off the page. The crispness of the inks and lettering (by Andrew Pepoy and Aditya Bidikar respectively) help to ensure that the dynamic design and colouring doesn’t spill, bleed or blur unnecessarily and helps the images retain the feel of their cel-painted counterparts from the movie.
Of course what you can’t do in a graphic novel is effectively render musical performances, so these are jettisoned from the adaptation. This means you don’t get a version of the Hey Bulldog chase: a sequence which I thought I’d dreamed for many years, having seen it once in a TV showing of the film, only then for it to seemingly vanish out of existence. It turns out the song was removed from the US version of the film which – until the reissue in the late nineties – became the ‘official’ cut. Funnily enough, in reading rather than watching the story, the music I missed most was George Martin’s beautiful score, which includes the rousing, Yellow Submarine In Pepperland – a piece I would happily have replace the national anthem.
This graphic novel, save for the odd moments excised for narrative common-sense, follows the course of the film completely. This is fine – it is the official graphic novelisation after all – but after years of merchandising and re-releasing the world of Yellow Submarine is probably the only place left in the Beatles universe where a new story could be told. A prequel or sequel (“Newer and bluer Meanies have been sighted within the vicinity of this theatre!”), with or without the Beatles as characters, would undoubtedly prove fun and interesting, perhaps with the guidance of the uncredited contributor to the original screenplay, Mersey-poet Roger McGough to give it the quick Scouse Once-Over (incidentally, it looks like Roger features in this graphic novel as a bow-tie wearing Pepperland inhabitant getting splotched in the opening attack).
All told, Titan Comics have done an amazing job with this adaptation. Morrison’s page-layout is the outstanding feature. Cartoonish and arty at the same time, it brings to mind a sense of the motion of the animation on the static page. If you can read it without doing the voices in your head, then you’re doing better than me, but whilst the graphic novel will be popular with fans and collectors it will be an especially fantastic treat for the younger reader or viewer who has seen the film, or is just getting into the Beatles’ music. Remember folks, all you need is love – and, if you’re Titan Comics, a lot of blue and yellow ink in your printer.
❉ The Beatles – ‘Yellow Submarine’ graphic novel written and illustrated by Bill Morrison. Inks: Andrew Pepoy. Colors: Nathan Kane. Lettering: Aditya Bidikar. Publisher: Titan Comics. Hardcover, 292mm x 190mm. 112pp, $29.99/£26.99. Published August 28, 2018. ISBN: 9781785863943.
❉ Paul Abbott runs Hark! The 87th Precinct Podcast, which takes a look at each of the books in series in turn, but usually turns quite silly. He also makes noises with his band in Liverpool, Good Grief, and spends the rest of the time thinking about Transformers, The Beatles, Doctor Who and Monty Python.