Saturday, May 30, 2009

'Alien: The Illustrated Story' by Archie Goodwin and Walter Simonson

‘Heavy Metal’ magazine scored a genuine coup by winning the licensing rights to 20th Century Fox’s science fiction thriller ‘Alien’. The magazine made the most of this bounty by arranging to publish a number of books dealing with the film, including ‘The Book of Alien’, a behind-the-scenes look at the film’s production; and ‘Alien: The Illustrated Story’. With art by Walter Simonson and story by Archie Goodwin, Alien: The Illustrated Story was a larger size ‘graphic novel’, released in the Spring of 1979, prior to the film’s debut on May 25. As such, it contained spoilers, so that before I saw the film I knew what was going to happen….

Sections of ‘Alien’ were serialized in the May and June issues of Heavy Metal, and I’ve scanned some of those excerpts for presentation here. I don’t want to spoil the rest of the book’s contents by presenting the ‘Alien-specific pages’. I will say that the book stays true to the film’s script, while at the same time successfully presenting the material in a memorable and distinctive way. Unfortunately, comic adaptations of subsequent Alien films (I’m thinking of Dark Horse’s Alien3 effort in particular) have strayed from this attitude, and have tended to come across as sub-par efforts to cash in on the licensing rights.

Suffice it to say that the ‘Alien’ graphic novel does a great job of communicating the film’s creepy, and sometimes gory, nature. Simonson is adept at presenting H. R. Giger’s unique style of ‘bio-mechanoid’ artwork throughout the book, starting with the careful illustration of the ‘Alien’ title. The one area where the comic falls a bit short, is in mimicking the very dark and drizzly look of the film’s spaceship interiors; but this was in the days before computer graphics programs were available for creating the more complex color and texture schemes such fidelity would have required.

The ‘Alien’ creature is so much a part of pop culture mythology nowadays that it is perceived in a kind of amiable light (as it sometimes appears in the Brewster Rockit: Space Guy’ comic strip), but back in 1979 the creature was a genuinely scary thing. In fact, when Kenner released the first ‘Alien’ toy in ‘79, kids were so frightened by it that some stores actually removed it from their shelves, forcing would-be buyers to ask the store managers for the toy to be brought up from the stock room - !

Fans of the film and comic art in general may find it worthwhile to add ‘Alien: The Illustrated Story’ to their collection. It’s an interesting and worthwhile effort at the sort of synergistic marketing that’s commonplace nowadays for every and all Summer Blockbusters, but back in ’79, it was a bit novel and innovative. 20th Century Fox had undoubtedly learned of the immense power of cross-marketing after the tumult two years earlier of ‘Star Wars’, and was aware that the fans of that film would be lining up for ‘Alien’, as well as happily handing over cash for associated memorabilia.


Will Errickson said...

Great illustrations! As for the Alien toy, I recall shelves of them being sold for about $5, marked down from $20, so I was able to convince my parents to buy one. It went missing a few years back when my parents moved. Damn. I see that it brings about $200-$500 on eBay now!

Markus said...

My favorite (and my opinion) best movie adaptation graphic novel there is. To prove it I have 2 copies of the original printing (and just pre-ordered the reprint) Beautifully loose and expressive art from a Comic art master and one of the best writers Marvel ever had.