yellow submarine

Exclusive: Bill Morrison dives into Titan Comics' new The Beatles: Yellow Submarine graphic novel

Contributed by
Aug 10, 2018, 11:00 AM EDT

You might think you reside in a sweet pad, but it pales in comparison to the banana-colored submersible that the mop-topped lads from Liverpool call home in the classic Beatles tune "Yellow Submarine." The whimsical ballad was written by Paul McCartney and John Lennon, memorably sung by drummer Ringo Starr, and appeared on their 1966 album Revolver.

To capitalize on the song's fantasy narrative and immense popularity, an iconic animated feature was produced using a kaleidoscopic palette of vivid colors and crazy characters (like Blue Meanies, Apple Bonkers, Snapping Turks, Old Fred, and of course the Dreadful Flying Glove) in a trance-like odyssey starring John, Paul, George, and Ringo.

ys movie poster

The psychedelic images and concepts absorbed in the 1968 United Artists movie are often mistaken as the work of pop-art genius Peter Max, but the film was actually designed by German illustrator and art director Heinz Edelmann.

Screenwriter Lee Minoff developed the phantasmagoric story, which sees The Beatles recruited by the aged Captain of the Yellow Submarine to help him liberate Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and the undersea residents of Pepperland from the evil, music-hating Blue Meanies.

ys cover

To honor the achievement of director George Dunning's monumental animated feature and celebrate the 50th anniversary of its release, Titan Comics is releasing a deluxe graphic novel adaptation of The Beatles: Yellow Submarine written and illustrated by Bill Morrison. The newly appointed editor of Mad magazine, former Disney artist, and Bongo Comics co-founder gained notoriety through his wild comics for The Simpsons, and here he plunges inside a pop culture wonderland with reckless abandon.

The Beatles' Yellow Submarine submerges into comic shops and book retailers on August 28. This 128-page prestige edition is beautifully presented and retains all the zany action and trippy spirit of the landmark British film.


SYFY WIRE spoke to Morrison on this dream project to learn what his memories of the Yellow Submarine movie were, how The Beatles' music inspired his life and art, what readers can anticipate in this upcoming graphic novel adaptation, and how he fully immersed himself in the Fab Four's classic watery adventure.

After the chat, check out our exclusive page preview in the gallery below!

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How did you come into this 50th anniversary Yellow Submarine project for Titan?

Bill Morrison: I had begun a comic adaptation of Yellow Submarine 20 years ago for another publisher, but the project was shelved. In the interim, I had shown the pages online and to friends, and they developed a bit of notoriety. I met the Beatles’ licensing agent at San Diego Comic-Con a few years ago, and he had been shown the pages and wanted to put a deal together with a publisher to complete the project. Titan was already working with him on their brilliant Beatles vinyl toys, so it seemed like a perfect idea to have them publish the Yellow Submarine graphic novel as well. Plus, they’re British, and ideally I think you want a British company publishing an official Beatles book, right? I’m not British, but with the last name Morrison I’m ancestrally from the U.K., so I guess that’s close enough.

What has The Beatles' music meant to you, and do you recall your first viewing of the pioneering film?

I’ve been a Beatles fan since childhood. I remember watching them on The Ed Sullivan Show and seeing A Hard Day's Night at a drive-in movie theater when it was first released. The first record album I owned was a Beatles album of sorts. It was Alvin and the Chipmunks Sing the Beatles Hits. So at age 5, while my older siblings played actual Beatles records day and night, I was playing the Chipmunks' version. But as I got older I developed a love for the real thing. I shared a room with my older brother and he had all the albums, and I used to play them when he was gone. So there was Beatles music playing in my house nearly non-stop when I was a kid and into my teen years. I think it’s safe to say that it’s part of my DNA by now.

I didn’t see Yellow Submarine when it was first released, but I guess I would have seen it when it first aired on TV. I assume that was in the early 1970s. But I do recall seeing all the toys and the original comic book back in 1968 and 1969. I thought it looked really cool, but for some reason I was unable to see the film in a theater.

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What design elements of Heinz Edelmann's original psychedelic art and characters attracted and inspired you most?

You mean Peter Max, right? Ha! Just kidding! I’ve always loved the Art Nouveau movement, particularly the posters of Alphonse Mucha, and I love how Edelmann’s designs took that aesthetic and really went crazy with it. The designs of John, Paul, George, and Ringo are the most normal, by necessity, but when you look at Old Fred, Jeremy, the Blue Meanies, and their henchmen (especially the Snapping Turks and Jack the Nipper) you see Edelmann’s imagination just running wild. And then the characters in the Sea of Monsters are even another level of surrealistic and crazy! They’re all so much fun to look at and to draw!

How did you approach the cinematic material in a fresh way for this anniversary graphic novel adaptation, and what were the challenges and rewards?

The main challenge was to create a faithful adaptation of the animated film in a form that doesn’t have sound or motion. My initial thought after I accepted the job was "How do I do this in a way that isn’t just a lesser version of the film?" So I decided to look to graphic design as a way of giving the book an element that the movie doesn’t have. I was inspired by psychedelic poster design and tried to make the page and panel layouts as imaginative as the characters and backgrounds, without being too over-the-top and distracting.

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Why does Yellow Submarine continue to hold such interest for cinephiles, musicians, and fans of experimental animation?

I think it’s probably because it still looks fresh and original because it didn’t have dozens of imitators. When someone does something unlike anything we’ve seen before, it’s exciting and new, but if it gets imitated ad nauseam, we tend to get tired of the look and we lump the original in with all the copycats. We forget that when the original came out, it was a revolutionary work of genius. Yellow Submarine never really had a wave of successful imitations, so it still looks unique. You can look at what came before in animation, and what came after, and there really is nothing like it.