‘Yellow Submarine’ Graphic Novel: Bill Morrison Interview

❉ Paul Abbott talks to the writer and artist of Titan Comics’ 50th anniversary authorised graphic novel adaptation.

“I wanted to avoid creating a version of the film that fans would find inferior because of the lack of sound and animation, so I did things on the page utilizing graphic design that the film wasn’t able to do. The result is sort of like what if the Yellow Submarine and a psychedelic poster had a baby.”

Bill Morrison, the writer and artist behind the new Yellow Submarine graphic novel from Titan Comics has a long history of working with established and much loved comic and animation characters. Having worked as a promotional illustrator for Disney, he later founded Bongo Comics alongside Matt Groening and, as of this year, is the editor of the long-running and influential humour magazine, MAD. Bill provided We Are Cult with some thoughts on the processes and pressures of adapting Yellow Submarine for the page.

Tell us about your first contact with The Beatles’ music.

When I was about five, the first record album that I owned was a record of Alvin and the Chipmunks singing The Beatles’ hits. Then, like everyone else in America, I saw The Beatles on TV on The Ed Sullivan Show, and we all went nuts. We knew it was a big deal. I remember, growing up, having Beatles music on in the house all the time. Between my brother and my two older sisters, we had the whole catalog. It was probably in the ’70s that I saw Yellow Submarine on television for the first time.

What gave you the idea to adapt Yellow Submarine into a comic?

When the film was nearing its 30th anniversary in ’97 or ’98, I was given the opportunity to create an adaptation for Dark Horse Comics. I was really excited and I jumped at the chance. Originally, it was going to be a 48-page adaptation. I did an initial cover and 25 pages but then had to stop as the deal fell through. But now I’m finally able to pick it up again.

Did you feel any pressure dealing with such iconic designs and images?

Sure, to some extent that was unavoidable. You think about something as iconic and beloved as the Beatles and you’re immediately aware that the fans are very passionate and discriminating, so you absolutely have to get it right. But I’m used to working with characters that are universally popular like The Simpsons and Disney characters, so I’m always conscious of the need to do them justice and create something that the fans will appreciate.

Was there any consideration given to trying to find a way to show the musical moments, the Beatles’ songs, on the page?

No, even though this is an officially sanctioned Beatles book, we didn’t have the rights to use the song lyrics, so there was no way to include the songs.

Given that the script, character design and story already existed, in iconic form, what did you have to do to make it look effective on the page?

I wanted to avoid creating a version of the film that fans would find inferior because of the lack of sound and animation, so I did things on the page utilizing graphic design that the film wasn’t able to do. The result is sort of like what if the Yellow Submarine and a psychedelic poster had a baby.

Did you receive any guidance/guidelines, or feedback, from Apple Corps throughout the process of adapting the film?

Yes, but it was overwhelmingly positive. Apple Corps was very supportive and complimentary of what I did throughout the entire production. There were a few times when I had some song lyrics in the script and was told I had to take them out, but I completely understood. They were even supportive of the original dialogue and captions that I occasionally had to write in order to keep the story flowing and approved of it all.’

Have you got a favourite character from the movie? Or a favourite from your adaptation – one that you enjoyed drawing the most?

The villains are always the most fun to draw because they’re usually more expressive than the heroes, so the Blue Meanies were probably my favorite things to draw. But the creatures in the Sea of Monsters were also a lot of fun.

How do you think the Yellow Submarine film has aged over the years?

It’s definitely a film of its time but it does hold up. You can watch it and it doesn’t feel dated — especially if you have a nice crisp print of it. The colors are vibrant, the music’s great, the animation is wonderful. It definitely holds up really well.

I’m watching it over and over again for the graphic novel adaptation and it’s just fun — it doesn’t get old. There’s always so much to look at. I think it’s brilliant.

If the opportunity arose, would you want to head back to Pepperland to tell more tales of their Post-Meanie Attack world?

Yes, of course! If the fan interest was there, I’d love to make a return trip and maybe tell some back-story about the Blue Meanies and their world. We don’t really know where they come from or much about them at all, but there are a few hints in the film. Jeremy looks suspiciously related to the Meanies in the way he’s designed, and the Chief Blue Meanie reveals that his cousin was the Bluebird of Happiness at the end, so we could have some fun building on those things.

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.

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