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“BIG..! I’m Telling You…The Sonuvabitch is HUGE!” COMICS! Sometimes They Are Extravagant!

John Kane

Like Ripley going back for that damn cat I go back to ALIEN THE ILLUSTRATED STORY. This time it’s so big Ash could very well be right and, yes, you could probably walk on it!

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No it isn’t PLANET OF THE APES WEEKLY. Well spotted. This week I learned two things: 1) Never say what you are going to look at next because Life will unleash a horde of flying monkeys right at your face and turn you into a big fat liar. 2) In the words of Beat-Cop Brian Hibbs “Always have a throw-down piece.” That would be this. But hey, I didn’t actually say POTA would start this week…so I also learned 3) Just in, I have also learned I will wheedle.

ALIEN THE ILLUSTRATED STORY (THE ORIGINAL ART EDITION)

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Art by Walter Simonson
Scripted by Archie Goodwin
Lettered by John Workman
Based on the original screenplay ALIEN by Dan O’Bannon & Ronald Shusett And the motion picture directed by Ridley Scott
Titan Books, 35.1 x 2.5 x 50.5 cm, 96 pp (2012)
$75.00 US
$85.00 Can
£54.99 UK

We did not try to replicate the film, an impossible task. Instead, we tried to create a graphic novel that would stand on its own merits.
Walter Simonson (2012)

Walter Simonson there reminiscing about his and Archie Goodwin & John Workman’s 1979 Heavy Metal adaptation of the motion picture presentation ALIEN. When we were all that bit younger and fleet of foot I went on about it a bit HERE. (Spoiler: It was VERY GOOD!) If you want to buy a nice shiny version of thatbook Titan just republished it a couple of weeks ago. (Bodacious Ben Lipman popped up in the comments to say: “I bought the cheaper Titan edition a few weeks back, and I don’t believe it has the interviews or behind-the-scenes bits and bobs mentioned in your review – it’s all comic!” So I have altered the following bit.) Here as well as the original (still innovative) adaptation you’ll get Goodwin’s script with Simonson’s annotations, two pages of try-outs (once in B&W and once in colour) and a comprehensive and good natured interview with both Simonson and Workman conducted by J P Rutter. Of even more importance though, in this version, the version I splashed the cash on, you get all those and you get the art reproduced from the original artboards.

Turns out art boards are big.

Turns out art board books are big and pricey.

Yeah, about that. I bought this book because it is a great book but I bought this version because it is probably the only chance I’ll get to grab one of these Original Artboards books. The IDW (to which this bears great, ahem, similarities) books are things of great joy and Satanic temptation but ultimately it’s not the best idea to  spend what you haven’t got (as Western economies found out recently). That’s not to say that the IDW books are unreasonably priced for what you get (by all accounts you get wonders) but they are out of my reach. Thanks to a deep pre-order discount and a deal with Satanzon I could just get my needy fingers on this one. Just in case anyone thought I was Richie fucking Rich or got comps.  I’m not, I don’t, and yet I still bought this ostentatious thing. It didn’t disappoint.

While most of your time will be spent staring at the wonderful (i.e. full of wonders) art, art which is still instructive about how to make comics some thirty three years later, the value of the accompanying interview must be stressed. No empty glad handing back slapping celebration of how simply marvellous all involved were is this. No, although all involved probably deserve it in this case. It is in fact highly educational about how the book was put together.

Look, here’s a page of the script:

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Now, here’s the scripted page in its drawn and published form:

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Alone these could be taken as yet another example of how the writer gets the artist to do all the work. In the interview it becomes clear how closely Goodwin, Simonson and Workman involved. It was the kind of mental cross pollination that isn’t ever going to be adequately documented except in the form of an interview. Where the more abstract and elusive contributions of the creators, contributions that leave no physical evidence, can at least be acknowledged in the approximate, but permanent, form of words. Rutter’s done a fantastic job on the interview is what I’m saying. It helps that he has two subjects as cuddly as Walter Simonson and John Workman (Archie Goodwin died in 1998 and so was unable to attend). Both men are self effacing but aware of the work’s value and so able to discuss its fascinating creation in a way which is both informative and engaging.

It’s through the interview that the names of the people who actually coloured the book are revealed.  So, a belated big happy shout out to Louise Jones (later Louise Simonson), Polly Law and Deb Pedlar for the bulk of the colour work herein. Except it isn’t herein as this one is the uncoloured art from the original art boards. Irony in action there. Most people who buy the book will have a copy of the coloured version so they can have some fun comparing and contrasting and fully appreciating the impact the colour brought to the work. I’ve had to use a scanner to provide examples but with two copies of the book, steady hands and your own eyes this effect can be replicated at will:

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Sometimes they do the comparison for you:

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But you still need to get another copy to look at the original cover, then you’ve got the final piece of the puzzle. (Hey, purple becomes green – I did not know that!):

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When I was doing the script/final page comparison I tried to scan in the original art page just to get that middle step in but that was seriously not a thing that was going to happen. Look, I’m just a sour old man sat in his kitchen with a scanner that can just fit a normal comic without technical hilarity ensuing. I’m not a 21st Century publishing house. So, in lieu of that please accept, as a token indication of the original art involved, a reproduction of the final panel of that page:

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There are two things I really like about having that panel:

1) I can now tell that Simonson drew distorted shapes in the helmets behind the characters’ heads to represent the letters of the SFX behind them. He has visually indicated the distortion the (already bizarre) noise is subject to by passing through the medium of the helmets. I don’t think that extra attention to detail is apparent in the published piece. SIMONSON!

2) The stains!

Were I to spend £54.99 on a book only for someone to spill coffee on it I can assure you there would be raised voices and the very real possibility of awkward man-dancing resulting in at least a torn cardigan and at worst a grazed knuckle or two. Shouty violence of a singularly inept and middle-aged stripe would be on the cards. I’d react badly is what I’m saying. And yet…and yet…I have just spent £54.99 (well, not really £54.99…) on a book and I am pleased as punch to find a reproduction of the 33 year old spillage from one of Simonson’s cawwfee cups defacing it. I mean, it isn’t even the real stain. But, in my defence, it is a stain reproduced from the original artboards!

It was a massive amount of fun looking at this massive book and comparing it with the original, reading the interview, matching the script to the original art and then to the published work etc. But I am not unaware that it was also massivley expensive fun. If you’ve got the cash to hand it is an eye opening, beautifully produced experience. Particularly so for non comics makers, for such as them (i.e. such as me) who’ll probably get no closer to the process than this I’m going to say this was EXCELLENT!

If you just want to read a really good comic adaptation of the movie ALIEN stick to the normal tpb (£10.99 UK). This one is for the professionals, the would-be professionals and the untalented nutters like me who just really, really like COMICS!!!

NEXT TIME: Who the Hell knows (lesson learned.)

8 Responses to “ “BIG..! I’m Telling You…The Sonuvabitch is HUGE!” COMICS! Sometimes They Are Extravagant! ”

  1. Glad it showed up finally John. Have to admit I am reconsidering my purchase of the pauper’s version….

  2. John–nothing very specific to say, except that I enjoy your posts immensely, and always learn something and laugh out loud frequently–often during the course of parsing the exact same sentence!

    Please keep these fine essays going as long as the flying monkeys of fate allow.

    Cheers!

  3. @Corey (Ottawa): Sure took it long enough to turn up! The pauper’s version is just fine and you know it is! Leaves you more to spend on COMICS!!! Or food. Probably comics though, amiright?

    @Paul Di Filippo: Hey, aren’t you a smooth talker. Thanks for that, thanks very much indeed. (If you wrote THE STEAMPUNK TRILOGY and TOP TEN: BEYOND THE FARTHEST PRECINCT then I have enjoyed your (way superior) work too. If you didn’t write them, hey, you’ve got a famous namesake!)

    Thanks to the botha youse, have a good one now, y’hear.

  4. John,

    Keep up the good work.

    P.S. Do you also have a penchant for Dirty Harry and Elvis if so Sleek sends his regards. jonthebook aka Stella

  5. @jonthebook: I’ll surely try. I’ll surely try.

    P.S. A man can change many things about himself but he can never change his love for violent ’70s cop movies or men dressed like fools who sing like angelic boars. So, yes. Sleek always had, has and will continue to have my highest regards. Best to you and yours.

  6. http://huddersfieldphotos.newsprints.co.uk/view/20915167/zy250412cowan_12_jpg http://twitpic.com/b64kh7 http://twitpic.com/b64jud http://twitpic.com/b64jpm http://www.groveinn.co.uk/ http://www.hdmbeershop.co.uk/the-shop/(Apologies off topic) get on that train to Huddersfield for a day of some of the finest beer in the country. Mr Sunderland still has the cool look. I’m @jonthebook on Twitter.

  7. I plead guilty to committing those books, John. Glad they rewarded your perusal.

  8. I bought the cheaper Titan edition a few weeks back, and I don’t believe it has the interviews or behind-the-scenes bits and bobs mentioned in your review – it’s all comic!

  9. @Paul Di Filippo: Indeed they did. Cheers!

    @Ben Lipman: Facts! They never got anyone anywhere those things! Cheers, Bodacious Ben Lipman! I have put a corrective note in the body of text above quoting you in full. It’s all (great) comic – amiright?!?

    Thanks to all as ever. John.

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