PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Books

Graphic Novel 'The Beatles Yellow Submarine' Is Pure Delight

Bill Morrison's The Beatles Yellow Submarine mixes its psychedelia to fully represent the strange combinations found in George Dunning's 1968 film.

The Beatles Yellow Submarine
Bill Morrison

Titan Books

Aug 2018

Other

Anyone who says they don't love the Beatles is probably lying. As a Beatles fan, naturally I jumped at the chance to read and review the new graphic novel published by Titan Comics, The Beatles Yellow Submarine.

Who doesn't love Yellow Submarine? It's the one Beatles property that is purely "all ages". Adults can love it for the music. Kids can love it for the animation. Historians can love it for the groundbreaking visuals. Stoners can love it for all of those exact same reasons.

How can a graphic novel capture the experience?

The answer is rather complex. On one hand, of course this isn't the same experience as listening to the great music and watching the trippy images of George Dunning's 1968 film. On the other hand, adapter/artist Bill Morrison seems to recognize the task ahead of him and has painstakingly worked to recreate not a replacement (how could anyone?) but a companion piece to the classic film.

In this respect, Morrison has resoundingly succeeded. The Beatles Yellow Submarine is a beautiful book that captures the surreal beauty of Yellow Submarine by an artist who clearly loves his inspiration.

The title page alone reads like a credits sequence. John Lennon and Paul McCartney are listed first as authors of the original song, followed by Morrison's own credit and every screenwriter from the film. Then comes the designer of the look of the film (Heinz Edelmann) and the inkers, letterers and colorists of the book itself. In lieu of an introduction, this opening page seems to suggest that, yes, Morrison knows the huge footprints he is trotting upon and, yes, he's about to try his best with his team to give you the best possible graphic novel version of this classic film.

(courtesy of Titan Comics)


Beginning in Pepperland just before the evil "Blue Meanies" (who hate music) attack, Morrison brings us on the titular Yellow Submarine's journey (floating through air, not just water) to Liverpool to seek out the help of The Beatles in his attempt to rescue his land from the music-proof bubble it is now threatened by. Whom, but the Beatles, would you ask?

If the opening clues you in to just how strange this story is going to be, you might be a denizen of Pepperland yourself. We soon see Ringo turning the page of the very book he is in and showing us gunfighters, superheroes, space explorers movie stars, giant foods and even Frankenstein's Monster on his way to collect his mates (John, Paul and George, of course) to convince them to journey back to the musical paradise under the sea and help "Old Fred" fight off the Blue Meanies.

By this time in the film we have already enjoyed three songs. How to convey song in graphic novel form? The solution to this problem is obvious. As you're reading the book, play the soundtrack. Those of you who don't have it on vinyl (ya poseurs, ya) surely can access the MP3s easily enough.

That said, when I say there are little to no actual allusions to the songs, I mean it. While it's understandable that a song like "Eleanor Rigby" might be hard to force into a graphic novel version of the story (it honestly barely fits in the film, aside from being a great song), it's curious that the lyrics to the title song were not included in some form to move the journey along. "All Together Now" is similarly avoided as the Beatles learn to operate the submarine.

Naturally one cannot expect a direct adaptation from musical to graphic novel, but in that the title the song does tell something of a story in itself; one might want for a representation of it or at least the visuals that went with it and "Eleanor Rigby".

That said, the visuals that we are given here -- over 112 beautiful pages -- are breathtaking. Often they seem like screenshots from the film, fitting harmoniously together with word balloons added in for narration. This is as close to the film's visuals as Morrison admirably comes. To tell this story, Morrison doesn't merely copy the visuals but adapts them, taking not only the design but intent of each scene and representing it faithfully but not imitatively. Points of view are shifted, composition changes and longer shots are combined into a static, breathtaking picture.

(courtesy of Titan Comics)

The surreal pop-art style is truly captured as the Beatles and Old Fred make their journey, in vivid, loving detail. The hollow human heads filled with colorful ideas are all here, as are the strange creatures, the holey sea, the sea of green and even the bizarre hybrids of the villains themselves are all evoked accurately with stunning color.

The Beatles Yellow Submarine is psychedelic and even mixes its psychedelia to fully represent the strange combinations found in the film. It's faithful to its source. Absent the songs, the drawings bring you right back into the fascinating tale of Yellow Submarine.

This painstaking attention to detail is seen again in the appendix of the book, entitled "Concept Art and Sketches", where Morrison's pencils are on display helping to show his enchanting creative process.

Still, the fact remains that this book is an adaptation of a motion picture musical made into silent, static drawings. However, this proves to be another unique and exciting aspect of this work as companion piece to the film. Whereas we might have to pause the film to really inspect a great image, here we are able to take our time and enjoy the beauty or flip back and compare page 77 to page 21.

If it still seems odd that a story is told about animated characters stealing music and the greatest rock band in the world brings it back without sound, keep in mind that this is a visual companion piece that works in many ways. Think of the graphic novel as the silent, static world of the Blue Meanies and the film as the final result with vibrant sound to influence the stunning colors. Those who have seen the film will delight in this work; those who have not will want to then see the film.

In that the visuals lend themselves to adaptation on the gridded page so well, it's clear that someone was going to create a new art book about Yellow Submarine at some point. Is it not a great blessing to Beatles fans that it was crafted by someone with such care for the story and imagery found within the film?

Morrison's The Beatles Yellow Submarine is a welcome addition to my collection of ancillary Beatles merchandise. It will be returned to as a reference, and it will serve as a companion piece and tribute to the film. Naturally, I will be playing the music of the Beatles as I read it however, as that is the one thing, perhaps the only thing, that is missing.

Related Articles Around the Web
8

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.