BOOK REVIEW: The Beatles - Yellow Submarine

BOOK REVIEW: The Beatles - Yellow Submarine

Xs Noize was invited to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of The Beatles Yellow Submarine film by taking readers (courtesy of Titan Comics) through the new A4 hardcover 112-page graphic novel of the film by Bill Morrison (The Simpsons).

It could be argued that a title track for the story of Yellow Submarine (taken from the title of a Beatles song sung by Ringo Starr which initially featured on Revolver) should be “The Long and Winding Road”. The journey to getting the film actually made was a difficult one and progress towards achieving this graphic novel was ever so cumbersome. “It was not easy to get initial approval for “Yellow Submarine. The Beatles were unenthusiastic about Mr Brodax’s more conventional-looking cartoon series. Brian Epstein was a stumbling block as well.” Things only changed when “Mr Brodax and Mr Epstein” went to the Tate Gallery in London and happened upon J. M. W. Turner’s “Peace — Burial at Sea” and marvelled at that painting’s intense colours.” “Wouldn’t it be great if we could get those colours to move?” “Mr Brodax asked. Mr Epstein replied, “We would need great art.” Mr Epstein finally agreed to “Yellow Submarine” and that “Yellow Submarine” had some of Turner’s qualities.”

The art direction for Yellow Submarine would come from Heinz Edelmann. In the 1960s he was experimenting with a stylized, soothingly fluid, neo-Art Nouveau manner. Renata Adler wrote in The New York Times in 1968 that Edelmann’s approach had “the spirit and conventions of the Sunday comic strip.” Hence surely a graphic novel would immediately organically flow on following the release of Yellow Submarine. There had been a Yellow Submarine comic published by Gold Key Comics in 1968 before the film was released, but it was not true to the finalised film character designs. When the film was being re-released in 1999 Apple wanted a new full-colour 48-page one-shot (a standalone comic book not part of a series), prestige format comic book, adherent to the original film. In the same year, Bill Morrison was approached by Dark Horse Comics and commissioned to produce it. Morrison produced “an initial cover and 25 pages but then it had to stop as the deal fell through.”

Although it took 50 years to achieve, Titan Comics announced a deal with Apple Corps Ltd and have now published an official illustrated adaptation of the film that is available to buy.  Morrison who writes and pencils Yellow Submarine tells the story of Pepperland, “a cheerful, music-loving paradise under the sea, protected by Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The titular Yellow Submarine rests on an Aztec-like pyramid on a hill. At the edge of the land is a range of high blue mountains. The land falls under a surprise attack from the music-hating Blue Meanies, who live in or beyond the blue mountains.  The attack starts with magical projectiles fired from big artillery stationed in the blue mountains. The Blue Meanies seal the band the band inside a music-proof blue glass globe, they render the Pepperlanders immobile as statues by shooting arrows and dropping giant green apples upon them, and drain the countryside of colour…”

For the original film, there were more than “240 artists and animators (who) worked full time for an entire year to produce the film…”, however, Morrison’s team was much smaller but talented with inks by Andrew Pepoy, colours by Nathan Kane, and letters by Aditya Bidikar. How did Morrison and his team do it? “I started asking myself, “What do comic books and print have that they can’t really do in a film? I hit on the idea of really making each page look like a poster — like psychedelic black light posters that I used to have all over my walls in the 70s. I thought I could make these pages graphically stimulating. So I started designing the pages with that in mind — with that graphic poster sensibility — and I got really excited about it. People who have seen the pages — fans of the original movie — have really liked it and thought “he’s doing something different with it.”

Bill made every effort to stay as true as possible to the film. He even transcribed the film with his wife. There were areas where Bill “had to create dialogue just to keep the story moving and kind of fill in where the songs [would go]. We were not able to use the song lyrics so the sequences where the songs take place are, for the most part, not in the graphic novel. In order to bridge those areas I had to create little bits of dialogue just to keep things going forward.”

Morrison states that “Obviously, visually, there’s a lot of stuff that’s not in the graphic novel that would’ve been fun to illustrate, but there was no reason to do it, like the Beatles spinning around on the record, if you remember that scene. That would’ve been a lot of fun to play with visually, but I would’ve had to create a lot of dialogue that would just be superfluous in order to cover that.” Nonetheless Bill Morrison “tells a good story and the story keeps moving all the way through”. A wonderful read for every generation internationally which attests to the global admiration for the Beatles.

To buy a copy of Yellow Submarine please visit



Xsnoize Author
Michael Barron 331 Articles
Michael first began writing whilst studying at university; reviewing the latest releases and live gigs. He has since contributed to the Fortean Times as well as other publications. Michael’s musical tastes vary from Indie to psychedelic, folk and dubstep.

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