Friday, October 30, 2015

Guest Review - Alien: The Illustrated Story

Doug: Edo Bosnar is in the critic's chair today. Kick back and relax with his thoughts on the Alien graphic novel -- and be sure to leave the man a comment for his troubles!

Alien: The Illustrated Story (June 1979)
Archie Goodwin/Walter Simonson

Edo Bosnar: Just in time for Halloween, here’s one that really deserves some attention here at the Bronze Age Babies, because it combines two things much-loved by most BAB regulars: SF/horror flicks from the ‘70s and ‘80s, and, of course, comics. Plus, it was one of those cool projects not published by one of the Big Two back then.

Originally, this comic/graphic novel version of Alien was published by Heavy Metal Magazine as a separate special. It’s something I never had, nor even knew existed back then, but once I learned about it (via the internet, of course), I really, really, really wanted it. But it was hard to find at any reasonable price, and for a while it would have counted as one of my Holy Grails. And then, a few years ago, Titan Books reprinted it in a handsome new edition, and I bought a discounted copy from the Book Depository.

Often, when you get one of these long sought-after items, you experience of bit of disappointment because of high expectations. Well, that wasn’t the case here for me: this is just a really nicely done comic.

I’m assuming that everyone reading this has seen Alien at least once, so I won’t go into a summary of the story. This comic adaptation is pretty faithful to the original – at least as far as I recall, since it’s actually been a while since I’ve seen the movie.

I realize I’m probably beginning to sound like a broken record (or scratched CD, or, hmmm, decompiled mp3?) in my praise of Simonson’s art, but I can’t think of an artist better suited to doing an adaptation like this. He really owns the art in a way that few other comic book artists do in these film adaptation books. The images flow; they don’t have that often stiff look that movie adaptation comics do, when the artist tries too hard to capture the likeness of the actors or the various poses from actual scenes in the movie.

Another thing I found is that the adaptation really looks (and reads for that matter – gotta give Goodwin his due) like an original graphic novel: you don’t need to see the movie to appreciate it, or even have to know that the movie exists.

Needless  to say, I can warmly recommend this one for anyone who likes Alien, Simonson’s art and/or horror and SF. And since it’s been recently reprinted, it’s pretty easy to come by I think, and probably quite inexpensively.


Doug said...

Off-topic to get the comments rolling today --

I'd become a little delinquent in updating our "BAB Library of Reviews". It's now current, with today's post marking the 580th comic, book, or DVD review at this blog.


Redartz said...

Nice post, Edo! Good to see this is now available at a reasonable price. Anything illustrated by Walt Simonson is worth a look, in my book; and Archie Goodwin's talents are well known.

Boy, it seems every day brings notice of another book to be read, or another film to be seen, or some such. May need to cut back on work and sleep so I can catch up with all this. This world is simply too doggoned interesting...

david_b said...

To my feeble, java-induced mind, this adaptation stands as one of the earliest and best rationales for the exquisite deluxe format. Neither the vivid story pacing nor the facial/moody renderings would not have held up well under normal stock printing. You would have had a great disservice done.

With beautiful subtle coloring, it sure looks like a masterpiece to behold. Thanks for the great post today.

JJ said...

I love Simonson's art and the Alien movie equally, yet I don't own this. This is the first art I've seen from it, in fact. Good to know it's been reprinted. Makes me think, is this and Manhunter the only two Goodwin/Simonson projects out there? They both seemed to bring out the best in each other. Nice review, Edo!

Garett said...

This looks great! Thanks for the spotlight, Edo. I'm going to get this.

Edo Bosnar said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone.
Doug - woo hoo! The jubilee 580th review! Do I get some kind of BAB Nobel or something? :P

Redartz - your comment really hits home for me. I've gotten so much stuff, and thinned out my wallet significantly, based on things I found out about at this and other blogs (as indicated in the review, I learned about this Alien book from some other comics blog a number of years ago).

David - this is indeed a great book all around; to me, since I'm such a fan of Simonson's work, the art is pure eye candy.

JJ - interesting question about Goodwin/Simonson collaborations. Off the top of my head, the only other one I can think of is a single issue of Marvel's Star Wars (somewhere in the teens, #16 or 17 I think) in which Simonson worked as guest artist. It's actually too bad that they didn't team up for more projects, because every time those two worked together, they seemed to produce magic.

Martinex1 said...

Edo, I had no idea an "Alien" adaptation existed. Thanks for pointing it out. I have a question regarding the art and coloring. In the examples you shared, it seems fairly bright and colorful with a lot of yellows and oranges. Is this consistent throughout the book? The movie always seemed so dark, gloomy, dirty and had a sense of oppression and confinement. This seems different. Do you know... did the creators work off of a script only? They obviously had the creatures design, but the setting seems brighter. What are your thoughts on that? If it was throughout the story, do you feel it affected the mood?

Like others, I would really like to read this now.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, the Goodwin/Simonson Alien was great. Nice one Edo.
You were totally right about how Simonson avoided the pitfall of film adaptation, you know, stiff photo referencing and all that.

Same with Steranko's Outland, also originally in Heavy Metal; they both had a sound understanding of comics, and were trying for a genuine reading experience rather than just a souvenir tie in (hope that makes sense)


Anonymous said...

Cool review, Edo. Like you, I haven't seen Alien in years, but this adaptation looks pretty good.

Goodwin and Simonson's Manhunter...hmmm, maybe someone should do a review of that ;)

Mike Wilson

Karen said...

Thanks for presenting this, Edo. I don't recall seeing it before, but I may have to look into getting it. I had the same reaction as Martinex - I'm surprised by the bright colors. I'd like to know the story behind the story, so to speak.

Edo Bosnar said...

Martinex & Karen, yes, the colors are generally like that in the entire book - not at all like the dark and somber, mainly gray, dull white and black tones from the movie, and more similar to the garish colors found in the comic books of the day. It doesn't take anything away from the story, but possibly contributes to something I alluded to in the post: that it seems like it's its own, separate thing, even though the story (plot, dialogue) adheres quite closely to the movie.
Unfortunately, there's no text pieces (from Simonson or anyone else involved in its production) in the book that would explain how it came about and how decisions on the general appearance of the art were made. However, the credits indicate that the coloring was done by Simonson himself, plus Louise Simonson, Deborah Pedlar, Polly Law and Bob Lerose - which tells me that Simonson was probably calling the shots in the art department and decided on the distinctive coloring scheme himself.

pete doree said...

Archie Goodwin. Walt Simonson. Alien. What more do we need to say? Me and Sean ( Phillips ) bought this at the time, and then I lost my copy over the years, then we went to a con and Philbo was like: 'Pete! Pete! There's a copy of Alien over there! Get it! Get it!'
The bits I always remember at the time is the double page spread of the chestburster scene, that Walt turns into a volcano of gore, and the bit where Ripley's asks Lambert if she ever slept with Ash ( or the other way round, I forget ). I remember thinking Heavy Metal must've asked Archie to shoehorn that in, 'cos we've gotta have SOME sex!
Anyway, it's a masterpiece, buy it if you don't have it.

Anonymous said...

A suggestion for a future topic: 'Alien' vs. 'Aliens'.

Unknown said...

You're going to hate me, Edo, I bought a copy in a bookstore the month it came out in 1979....and I still have it. Like Marvel's Star Wars comic, the Alien graphic novel came out shortly before the movie opened. It could've spoiled the movie for me, but it actually ramped up my excitement to see it. For one thing, I was really wondering if they would have the guts to do the chest-bursting scene.

James Chatterton

Edo Bosnar said...

James, why would I hate you for that? I think it's awesome - not only that you bought it back then, but still have it (man, I could write a whole weepy post about all the stuff I wish I still had).

RobAnderson said...

Great find and review, Edo -- thanks so much! What a fantastic creative team, and the parts you shared made me add the reprint version to my "wish list." Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

This is a bit late but I finally had a chance to re-read Walt's comments on the Alien adaption from his volume of Twomorrows Publishing Modern Masters series. According to Walt, he and Archie were supplied with a couple of revised versions of the script and a few stills. They also were flown to London where they toured the model shop and saw a rough cut of the movie minus special effects. Based on this, it would seem Walt would have been aware of the dark, moody lighting of the film. He did mention that near the end there was a rush to get the book completed because the studio wanted it out when the movie premiered. Since coloring would be one of the last steps the schedule may have had some affect on what they were able to do.

Wonder Woman Movie by Brad said...

I've always loved this ALIEN adaptation by Archie Goodwin and Walter SImonson! As to other Goodwin/Simonson collaborations, Goodwin mentioned that Simonson had shown an aptitude for drawing war comics, so there might be some back-up war stories that they did before MANHUNTER, I'm not sure. Their ALIEN maintained the tension of the film, which is quite an achievement, as well as capturing the furious actions of the film - Goodwin being a master of pacing a story, with Simonson keeping the imagery crisp throughout. Another great movie adaptation by Goodwin was BLADE RUNNER, illustrated by his longtime collaborator Al Williamson and Ralph Reese; again, transferring Ridley Scott's vision onto the comics page with assurance, keeping the attitude intact, that whole sci-fi-noir vibe - for me, it evokes the complexities of that movie every time. Simonson knows how to best use paneling to break down seconds of action elegantly, as well as use two page splashes to great effect - so he's a little bit Steranko, a little bit Jack Kirby - but his faces are all distinct, in ALIEN he captures the diversity of the cast without apparent effort; along with remarkable draftsmanship so that we never doubt that we are in space, each personality is also given space to breathe. So glad that Simonson is still producing great work for us to enjoy!

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