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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Ray Harryhausen Films in Comics part 2

Part Two: The Valley Of Gwangi to Clash Of The Titans
by Jeremy Briggs

Harryhausen stayed with a dinosaur theme in 1969 for the dinosaurs and cowboys tale of The Valley Of Gwangi. After The First Men In The Moon comic had been published by Gold Key, once again it was Dell that published an American colour comic book of the film in September 1969, a comic which also does not appear to have been reprinted in the United Kingdom.

1974 saw Harryhausen return to the myths and monsters theme with The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad. This was his first film to be adapted into a comic format in the United States by Marvel Comics when it appeared over issues 7 and 8 of Worlds Unknown, dated June and August 1974 with Len Wein (who would go on to edit DC’s Watchmen) scripting, George Tuska on pencils, Vince Colletta on inks and Wein’s then wife Glynis on colours. It is interesting that multi-armed statue of Kali is referred to as Karo in the comics - perhaps Wein was using an early draft of the script or alternatively Marvel were being cautious and renaming the character so as to not use the name of the Hindu goddess.

As with a lot of Marvel US material of the period, it was reprinted by Marvel UK with the two issues of Worlds Unknown each split in two and printed in black and white (Glynis Wein’s name was removed from the credit strips) in issues 35 to 38 of the weekly Planet Of The Apes which had cover dates of 21 June to 12 July 1974. While this may seem like an unusual location for the reprint, since the comic at that point was reprinting the American originated adaptation of the second Apes movie, Beneath The Planet Of The Apes, there was a certain logic for editor Matt Softley running the Sinbad film adaptation as a backup strip to an Apes film adaptation.

After the success of The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad at the box-office in 1974, The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad, originally released in 1958, was re-released in 1975. To tie-in with this release Marvel adapted the movie in issue 25 of Marvel Spotlight dated December 1975, written by John Werner with art by Sonny Trinidad. Unlike the Worlds Unknown Sinbad strip this one was not reprinted by Marvel UK, however Britain did have its own 7th Voyage comic strip to tie-in with the re-release of the film.

Legend Horror Classics was an unusual publication that was similar, although not identical, to the British poster magazine format that was prevalent in the late 1970s and early 1980s of a large single sheet folded into a sixteen page A4 magazine with an eight page poster. Released by Legend Publishing and edited by Gent Shaw, Legend Horror Classics was a single large sheet folded into a twenty page, near A4-size magazine with a four page poster and, in the early issues at least, a tie-in comic strip. Issue 3 of the magazine featured a ten page comic strip adaptation of the film illustrated by the magazine’s Art Editor Kevin O'Neill in black and white with an unusual mixture of yellow, blue and green spot colours. The issue is undated but all the adverts that it contains suggest that it was published in 1975.

The third and final Sinbad film, Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger, did not fair as well in the United States as the previous two Sinbad films with apparently no comic book publication, however the British publication more than makes up for the lack of it. With a no publication date and only a copyright date of 1977, the Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger magazine was a one-shot publication from General Book Distributors, edited by Dez Skinn and with a format very similar to his then current House of Hammer magazine. The main feature of the Sinbad magazine is a sixteen page black and white adaptation of the film scripted by Benny Aldrich and illustrated by Ian Gibson. This comic magazine was also promoted in the Columbia-Warner Exhibitor’s Campaign Book that was issued to cinemas to help promote the film on its British release.

In America there was a rather nice press strip to go with the film’s release. Like earlier ones it concentrated on the film’s visuals rather than the plot and these were represented in black and white line and wash in what could well have been used as a half page advert in a magazine.

Clash Of The Titans was the final cinema release that Harryhausen worked on and it was to be his biggest film with star names such as Sir Laurence Olivier and Ursula Andress making cameo appearances as the gods of Olympus. Clash also has the most unusual set of comic strips associated with it.

In America Golden Press released a full colour graphic novel of the film written by Mary Carey and illustrated by Dan Spiegle. This American book was then reprinted in the UK as a softcover annual sized book by ITV Books Ltd that was tagged as a Look-In Film Special, although no other spin-off from Look-In magazine looked anything like it. While the US version used a selection of colour photos from the film for its cover, the British one had a newly illustrated, albeit rather uninspiring, cover - it was a pity that they didn’t use the fully painted cover that was used on the regular weekly Look-In when it featured the film on its centre pages.

In addition to these books there was also a series of black and white comic strip adverts for Clash Of The Titans that tied in with the promotion for the film being carried on Smiths Snacks. These were illustrated by Pat Wright and ran as a series of six sequential half page adverts over six weeks in IPC titles such as 2000AD (Progs 214 to 219, 30 May to 4 July 1981) and DC Thomson titles such as Warlord (issues 349 to 354, same dates). A two page advertising strip then appeared in the monthly Starburst film magazine issue 34 which, although by the same artist, covered the same ground as the six weekly episodes but with new artwork and panel designs. These Clash Of The Titans adverts, from the weekly comics and from Starburst, have already been covered on Bear Alley - here and here.

While the comic strip adaptations of the Harryhausen films would have been expected to finish with the films themselves, the on-going sales of TV and film tie-in comics in the USA in the mid-2000s lead American independent comics publisher Bluewater to license a series of comics based on the various Harryhausen films which and they were released under the generic banner of Ray Harryhausen Presents. These were mainly comic strip sequels to the films and ranged from the rather good Wrath Of The Titans to the incomprehensible Flying Saucers Vs The Earth. There appears to have been more of these titles advertised than were actually released and the licensing agreement between Harryhausen and Bluewater has now expired with only a few of the mini-series being collated into graphic novel format. None of the Bluewater series adapted any of the cinema releases directly but the promotional title Ray Harryhausen Presents issue 1, cover dated October 2007, adapted one of his short “Mother Goose” films, The Tortoise And The Hare, as a five page humorous comic strip written by Jason Schultz and illustrated by Brian Hess.

Ray Harryhausen moved from California to Britain in the early 1960s and married Diana Livingstone Bruce, great grand-daughter of the explorer David Livingstone, in 1962. He has lived in the UK ever since and in 2004 he designed and donated a large bronze statue of the famous explorer fighting off a lion attack to the National Trust For Scotland’s David Livingstone Centre in Blantyre near Glasgow where it has been placed in the park outside the museum for the public to see.

Along with his daughter Vanessa, Harryhausen set up the Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation in 1986 to preserve his collection of film artifacts ranging from his original design artwork to the actual stop motion figures that he worked with. In 2010 when Ray Harryhausen was 90 years of age, the Foundation donated the collection to the National Media Museum (the former National Museum Of Film And Television) in Bradford for preservation and display in his adoptive country. The National Media Museum described the collection as “one of our most significant acquisitions of recent times.”

As well as inspiring the cinema-going public to part with their money during five different decades, Harryhausen’s films are familiar now to television viewers either from broadcasts during holiday periods or from video, DVD and now Blu-Ray releases. Despite stop-motion special effects having given way to digital CGI, his films have inspired generations of film makers who now pay tribute to him with 'in-jokes' in major motion pictures such as the Harryhausen piano in Tim Burton's The Corpse Bride or Harryhausen's Restaurant in Pixar's Monsters Inc.

It all goes to show that Ray Harryhausen's imagination, which has inspired and influenced people for decades, will live on for many more years to come.

More details of Ray Harryhausen’s career can be found on his official website.

Postscript: It is entirely possible that there is a Ray Harryhausen strip, like Mighty Joe Young or Golden Voyage Of Sinbad, buried within the confines of another British comic waiting to be discovered. If you know of any Harryhausen strips, either British or American, or even more of the press strips that not covered in this article then please leave a comment.

(With thanks to Robin Kirby)

Complete scans of some of the comics in this article can be found on other blogs: Dell: The Valley Of Gwangi; Marvel: The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad; Marvel: The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad.

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