It was 50 years ago that the iconic Beatles film introduced us to Sgt. Pepper, the Blue Meanies, and the Nowhere Man. Now, in brilliant color, Bill Morrison's stunning graphic novel tribute THE BEATLES YELLOW SUBMARINE showcases the film's psychedelic art and clever wordplay.
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The Beatles without music is hard to fathom. Not only did their music define an era, but it’s still some of the most widely known music of all time. If you’re an avid Beatles fan, you might be able to recognize their songs by the very first notes. But, dear Beatles fans, you’d also know that the Beatles are more than the music. These colorful, peace loving, groovy young men with bowl cuts provided us with offbeat productions and antiwar politics that still resonate to this day. As we pass through the sea of time, it is hard to believe that their most iconic film, YELLOW SUBMARINE, turns 50 years old this year! In honor of the event, Sgt. Pepper, the Pepperlandians, the Beatles, and the Blue Meanies make a triumphant return in Bill Morrison’s new comic tribute from Titan: THE BEATLES YELLOW SUBMARINE.

Image courtesy of Titan Comics.

The Sea of Sound: Where’s the Music?

Morrison’s YELLOW SUBMARINE tribute follows in chief animator Robert Balser and Jack Stoke’s footsteps. The graphic novel matches the original film nearly shot for shot, minus the musical sequences. Certainly, readers will miss the bizarre sequences that accompanied “Eleanor Rigby,” “Only a Northern Song,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” and the other tracks that defined the album. However, in Morrison’s silent rendition, two features stand out: the psychedelic artwork and the witty dialogue.

Indeed, Morrison’s Pepperland is just as vibrant as the original 1968 version. With blue skies, abundant candy-colored flowers, and wild creatures, Morrison’s comic captures the fluidity of the animated film. Moreover, readers can spend time admiring each page. Unlike the film, which carries viewers along the overwhelmingly bright journey, the comic gives us space to enjoy the scenery and notice details — from patterns on fabric to the Blue Meanie’s yellowing teeth.

Image courtesy of Titan Comics.

As readers peruse each page, they’ll also notice the ways Morrison incorporates the film’s design elements. For example, although the Sea of Time section skips the Beatles’ “When I’m Sixty-Four” song, Morrison adds elements from the sequence – floating numbers and clocks – to his pages.

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Ad Hoc, Ad Loc, Quid Pro Quo: Nowhere Man Dialectics

The YELLOW SUBMARINE graphic novel follows nearly word-for-word the original script. And rightfully so. Like the artwork, the dialogue is iconic. The characters’ lines offer a plethora of absurdly delightful puns and ridiculous observations. The Blue Meanies’ leader in particular is extreme. For example, the insistence that Meanies don’t say “yes,” the desire to make Pepperland go “Blue-y,” as well as the observation that “I haven’t had this much fun since Pompeii!” all make the script incredibly rich and humorous.

Indeed, the script doesn’t seem to stop. The small Jeremy Hillary Boob, Ph. D, AKA the Nowhere Man, is as delightful as always. The insistent rhyme “Ad hoc, ad loc, quid pro quo. So little time, so much to know!” feels terribly sweet. Alongside the Beatles’ frequent punning, John’s pontificating about Einstein’s theories (“relatively speaking,” of course!) and George’s repeated catchphrase, “It’s all in the mind,” the Nowhere Man’s bizarre rhymes contribute lighthearted joy to the remarkable script.

Image courtesy of Titan Comics.

We Are The Originals: Staying True to YELLOW SUBMARINE

When the Beatles reach Pepperland, the Lord Mayer comments on the similarity between them and “the originals;” namely, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. John states cheekily: “We are the originals.” Of course, in a comic based on a film based on an album, finding the “original” is a humorous challenge. Each is a derivative of another version. Even within the comic, there are multiple incarnations of each Beatle. But what matters is the way the comic version honors the classic film. By staying faithful to the original script and character design, Morrison manages to bring fresh light to the colorful art and whimsical language.

Additionally, readers may notice that Morrison’s version of THE BEATLES YELLOW SUBMARINE maintains the fantastical weirdness of the original film, but is less frightening. The film itself is somehow fascinating, grotesque, whimsical, and beautiful. Occasionally the artwork makes viewers uncomfortable. In retrospect, and with Morrison’s comic as a guide, THE BEATLES YELLOW SUBMARINE is less overwhelming. As a result, the comic lets readers dig deeper into the details of the original piece.

However, it does make readers wonder, what would a completely reimagined YELLOW SUBMARINE look like? Is that even possible? Perhaps the lack of music was risk enough for Morrison. However, I find it hard to believe a YELLOW SUBMARINE adaptation without the art and dialogue would be as delightful as Morrison’s loving tribute.

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By staying true to the original, Morrison emphasizes the the Beatles’ key message: love. The comic tribute is just as cheesy, punny, and strange as the original film. However, the love Morrison clearly has for the character design, layouts, plot, and even the music, shine through. Additionally, the loving message of the album and film is still central to the comic.

Readers who love the film will have a hard time staying away from The Beatles Yellow Submarine album or film. I, for one, rewatched the movie right after I read the comic! Ultimately, the tribute proves what any good tribute should — it reminds us how well the original holds up. Morrison’s THE BEATLES YELLOW SUBMARINE will make you love the story even more.

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