We All Live in a Yellow Submarine, Thanks to Bill Morrison
(with a little help from his friends, the Beatles)
Bill Morrison, comic artist, MAD Magazine editor and co-founder of Bongo Comics, has just wrapped up an ambitious new project that’s been two decades in the making: a graphic novel based on the iconic 1960’s Yellow Submarine animated film, published by Titan Comics and available for sale this Fall. Bill was originally commissioned to write and draw the adaptation by Dark Horse Comics back in 1998, but the project was shelved.
“Of course I dreamed of completing the project through all those years, and often thought of just doing it on my own for the sake of having closure, and in the hope that maybe Dark Horse would take it up again and ask me to finish it. I fantasized that they’d call me up and give me a deadline to complete it and I’d deliver the pages the next day! Of course I never did finish it on my own, but thankfully Titan eventually acquired the license and they asked me to do it,” said Bill.
Bill shared that he has been a Beatles fan since childhood, and in fact, the first record album he owned was a Beatles album, sort of. “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. Of course as I got older I developed a love for the real thing.”
The novel itself is 96 visually rich and stunning pages, to which Bill added some sketches and page layouts to round it all out. The illustrations harken back to the style of the original 1968 film. “I actually set out to bury my own style and make it look as much like the film as possible. I wanted it to be a very faithful adaptation. Whenever I work with existing animated characters, from Mickey Mouse and the Little Mermaid to Homer Simpson and Bender, I always try to keep the characters “on model” and make them look the way fans expect them to look. For Yellow Submarine, I put my own personal flair into the page and panel designs more than anything, because I felt that graphic page design was an area where I could add something that the film didn’t have,” said Bill.
Looking under the hood of Yellow Submarine
Bill explained that his creative process involved going through the film scene by scene and taking screenshots for drawing reference. “It’s hard to say how many times I watched the film because I viewed it in bits and pieces. I watched it a few times to get familiar with the story, but after that I went to different scenes to gather reference or to listen to dialogue. I played some scenes over and over many times to make sure I had the lines right.” Bill laid out the pages in thumbnail form, using the screenshots as a reference, and tried to give each page a distinct look that complimented what was happening in the story. Using a dialogue script that the team from Titan helped transcribe from the film, he arranged the panels so that the characters would speak in the proper order.
Clip from the 1968 film, Yellow Submarine
“For example, there might be a shot in the film where we see Paul, Jeremy and John, with Paul on the left, John on the right, and Jeremy in the middle. Jeremy speaks first, then John, then Jeremy again, then Paul. In order to do that scene in the book I couldn’t just draw it as it was in the film. On screen the characters can talk back and forth at will without changing positions because there are no word balloons. I had to rearrange the characters or do my own cuts, inserting close-ups, different angles, etc., so the word balloons would read in the proper order without having crossed tails, which is taboo in comics.”
Once the layouts were complete, Bill enlarged them and put them on a light box under good Strathmore paper, and produced the final pencil drawings. Bill inked the first 28 pages and the cover himself, but the remaining pages were inked by Andrew Pepoy and Tone Rodriguez. Bill explained that for those pages, he made sure the pencils were extra tight so the guys wouldn’t have to guess at what his intentions were with the lines. After the inks were finished they went to Nathan Kane for coloring in Photoshop. Nathan matched the character colors from the official style guide and added beautiful watercolor-type backgrounds, inspired by the film. The lettering was done by Aditya Bidikar and Bill did the final direction and approvals.
“The story has a great message of good conquering evil, love vanquishing hate, and also a message of redemption with the Blue Meanies. I hope that comes through. It was a strong message in the turbulent days of the late 1960’s, and it’s still a very important message today. Maybe even more so. I’d also love it if this book became one of those treasured keepsakes that Beatles fans covet and speak fondly of for years to come. Ultimately, my goal is to give Beatles fans, and fans of the film in general, something that pleases them,” said Bill.
About Bill Morrison
Bill Morrison is an American comic book artist and writer, and co-founder of Bongo Comics (along with Matt Groening and Steve and Cindy Vance). He is the currently the editor of MAD Magazine and the president of the National Cartoonists Society.
Twitter - @atomicbattery, @MADmagazine
Where to Buy Yellow Submarine:
Barnes and Noble