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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Ray Harryhausen Films in Comics part 1

Part One: Mighty Joe Young to One Million Years BC
by Jeremy Briggs

The phrase "a legend in his own lifetime" is all too often bandied about but for stop motion special effects man Ray Harryhausen it rings true. He made sixteen feature films that were released between 1949 and 1981 and thirty years after his last film left the cinemas he is perhaps even better known now than he was then. In 1991 the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded him with the special Oscar known as the Gordon E. Sawyer Award for "an individual in the motion picture industry whose technological contributions have brought credit to the industry" which was presented to him at the 1992 awards ceremony. Of course it is often forgotten that he was a major part of his mentor Willis O'Brien's special effects team on Mighty Joe Young when that film won the Special Effects Oscar in 1950.

His feature films are -
Mighty Joe Young - 1949       
The Beast From 20000 Fathoms - 1953   
It Came From Beneath The Sea - 1955
Earth Vs The Flying Saucers - 1956
The Animal World - 1956
20 Million Miles To Earth - 1957
The Seventh Voyage Of Sinbad - 1958
The Three Worlds Of Gulliver - 1960
Mysterious Island    - 1961
Jason And The Argonauts - 1963           
The First Men In The Moon - 1964           
One Million Years BC - 1966
The Valley Of Gwangi - 1969   
The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad - 1974
Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger - 1977       
Clash Of The Titans - 1981

As can be seen, Mighty Joe Young and Clash of The Titans bookend his feature film work and Hollywood has since remade both films. Of the rest, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad gave Tom Baker his audition for Doctor Who while One Million Years BC made a star out of Rachel Welsh. In the days before Jurassic Park the dinosaur fight sequence from One Million Years BC was the stock footage that television programmes used to illustrate dinosaurs, publicity photos of the flying saucers from Earth Vs The Flying Saucers have become a standard reference for both print and television items on UFOs, while the skeleton fight from Jason And The Argonauts, in which live action actors fight against seven stop motion skeletons, is considered by many film critics and fans to be the greatest stop motion special effects sequence ever filmed.

Released over five decades by many different distributors, and as a mixture of major releases and B features plus, unusually, one feature documentary, Harryhausen's films have had very mixed coverage when it comes to comics both in the USA and the United Kingdom. Many of the British comics of his films have been reprints from America, however those that were originated in the UK feature work by some of the most notable British comics artists of their time including John Bolton, Ian Gibson and Kevin O'Neill.

The first British Harryhausen comic strip, remarkably, was Mighty Joe Young. At a time when publishing in the UK was still influenced by post war paper rationing, Sun comic, originally published by J B Allen but taken over by the Amalgamated Press in 1948, ran a six part single page adaptation of the film illustrated by artist Robert McGillivray. This wasn't that an unusual strip for the comic to feature as it regularly featured comic strip adaptations of films. Printed in partial green and orange, the Mighty Joe Young strip ran in the biweekly comic from 10 December 1949 until 18 February 1950. There doesn't appear to have been an American comic strip of Mighty Joe Young while the next three films, The Beast From 20000 Fathoms, It Came From Beneath The Sea and Earth Vs The Flying Saucers, were all black and white B movies that also don't appear to have received the comic strip treatment on either side of the Atlantic.

Some of these films did however have press strips as part of their advertising. These were provided by the distributors as publicity about the films to be printed in newspapers or magazines and usually told the basic story of the film in a series of comic strip frames often totaling three rows of three panels each.

Of the black and white films both It Came From Beneath The Sea and Earth Vs The Flying Saucers had press strips associated with them and there could well have been similar ones produced for the other films of this period.

Things changed for the better comic-wise with The Animal World, a 1956 feature length documentary produced by Irwin Allen who is now better remembered for his SF television series such as Lost In Space. The Animal World was a wildlife documentary that featured an extended stop motion sequence covering animals from pre-history that was animated by Willis O'Brien and Ray Harryhausen. A comic of The Animal World was published by Dell in the US in August 1957 as Four Color Comics issue 713 written by Gaylord DuBois and this was reprinted in the UK by World Distributors as Movie Classic issue 24.

The last of the black and white B movies, 20 Million Miles To Earth, like its predecessors also appears to have been ignored by the comics publishers. However things improved again with the first of the colour films, The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad, a film in which Harryhausen's theme changed from monsters to myths and legends. In the US Dell published the first of Harryhausen’s Sinbad films as Four Color Comics issue 944 in September 1958 with artwork by John Buscema before he moved over to draw for Marvel and, like The Animal World before it, it was also written by Gaylord DuBois. Also like The Animal World, the Dell version of 7th Voyage was reprinted in the UK by World Distributors this time as Movie Classic issue 68. There were later adaptations of 7th Voyage both in the UK and America but we will return to those in Part Two.

Dell’s Four Color Comics title was a long running series of one-offs that included many TV and film adaptations which continued to feature Harryhausen films. The next three films were all covered in the US by Dell, with The Three Worlds Of Gulliver published as Four Colour issue 1158 in 1960 and Mysterious Island published in 1961 as issue 1213 while, with the cancellation of Four Color Comics in 1962, Jason And The Argonauts, penciled by John Tartaglione, was published as a one-off title dated August-October 1963. As can be seen above, the details of the Mysterious Island comic were included in the American Columbia Pressbook for the film. In the UK World Distributors ceased publication of their Movie Classics series in 1960 and so there appears to have been no British reprints of any of these three Dell comic adaptations.

Jason And The Argonauts also had a press strip available to the newspapers and which, like the previous ones mentioned, consisted of three rows of three panels although this time none of the panels featured speech balloons as the strip concentrated on the visual imagery of the film rather than the characters and plot.

The next film The First Men In The Moon also didn’t have a British adaptation although there was an American comic which was published by Gold Key in March 1965 with art by Fred Fredericks. Of these last four films that had no UK comic adaptations, it is perhaps surprising that there was no British comic strip of The First Men In The Moon as it is Harryhausen's most British film populated by British actors playing British characters on a British lunar expedition.

Again the comic book was promoted in the publicity material for the film which, in the USA at least, included a black and white press strip made up of three separate sections that could be used by the cinema to help advertise the film in a local newspaper or magazine over three issues. 

Due to its fame today, it is perhaps surprising that there wasn’t a comic of Harryhausen’s next film on either side of the Atlantic when it was released in 1966. The dinosaurs and cavemen film One Million Years BC was billed as Hammer Film's 100th feature and was based on the 1940 Victor Mature film One Million BC which had not used stop-motion. While the Hammer version features some of Harryhausen's best dinosaur effects, it was the publicity shot of the leather bikini clad Raquel Welsh as "cave-girl" Loana of the Shell Tribe that became an iconic image of the 1960s. Eleven years later Dez Skinn, as editor of The House of Hammer magazine, returned to the film. Issue 14 of HoH from November 1977 gave us a fully painted cover by Brian Lewis and a 15 page black and white comic strip scripted by Steve Moore and illustrated by John Bolton.

What One Million Years BC did have at the time was the most interesting of all the press strips associated with Harryhausen’s films. The advertising strip for this film was six episodes long and it is heavy on text to go with its nicely illustrated visuals. Each separate part had a title: The Outcast, The Shell People, Man Against Beast, Tumak Returns!, Flight of Death!, and End Of An Era, and together they told the entire plot of the film rather than just being a teaser for it. The “A” certificate and the spelling in the images above show that this particular press strip was from a British publication.

This feature concludes in Part Two which covers The Valley Of Gwangi to Clash of The Titans.

More details of Ray Harryhausen’s career can be found on his official website. Complete scans of some of the comics in this article can be found on other blogs: - Dell 7th Voyage Of Sinbad; Dell Jason And The Argonauts Part 1, Part 2; HoH: One Million Years BC Part 1,
Part 2.


Richard James said...

Your article is excellent overall, but contains two errors in its opening paragraph: Ray was given his Lifetime Achievement Oscar, thanks to the efforts of retired educator Arnold Kunert, on March 7, 1992, not 1991 as you reported. This error keeps appearing thanks to the efforts of Ray's "biographer" Tony Dalton, whose three books about Harryhausen are filled with many dozens of errors, 29 of them on the last three pages of "An Animated Life." The other error in your article refers to Willis O'Brien "winning" the Oscar for "Mighty Joe Young." The visual effects Oscar for 1949 films was given to the film's producer, Merian C. Cooper. Cooper, knowing that O'Brien was the deserved recipient, gave the Oscar to O'Brien. For those who are interested in such things, Harryhausen's website,, also contains a number of errors involving release dates of Harryhausen's films and the spelling of certain names.

Jeremy Briggs said...

I'm pleased to see that people read Bear Alley in such detail. Harryhausen's Oscar was handed to him in 1992 but the Academy consider it to be a 1991 award.

I can see how confusion arises on the date (in a similar way to British annuals being named for the year after their copyright date) so I'll change that Oscars sentence to make it unambiguous.

Jim said...

Fascinating and well-assembled! Looking forward to part 2. I was able to have Harryhausen sign my Marvel (US) Sinbad and the Eye Of The Tiger comic in 1977 or so. I haven't looked at the comic in ages, but it's possible that Charles Schneer and Beverley Cross may have signed it, as well, as they were all appearing at the same wonderful comic convention (the Triple Fan Fair) in Michigan at the time of that film's release.

jim said...

oops, maybe it was the golden yoyage comic? anyway, it was when tiger was released that i saw the trio.