by Robert Greenberger
Heavy Metal was busily rewriting the rules of what could be done with graphic storytelling in America. Since their debut in 1977, they introduced readers to magazine-sized, full-color work from people around the world, giving many of us our first taste of countless European greats. So, it’s no surprise that they brought that same verve to movie adaptations. Comics had been adapting movies and television series since the medium began and during the 1970s, Gold Key and Marvel were the two major companies producing such works.
Former DC production artist John Workman was at Heavy Metal in 1978 as its art director when the company acquired a license to produce books about Ridley Scott’s forthcoming science fiction film Alien. While others worked on the Making of book, Workman was tasked with finding talent for Alien: The Illustrated Story and immediately thought of Carmine Infantino, inked by Walter Simonson. They had previously collaborated on a story for Creepy #84 so he knew what he’d be getting.
As fate had it, Carmine’s phone was busy so Workman called Simonson, who wanted to do the entire art job. It was the artist who suggested the brilliant Archie Goodwin, by then a recognized expert at adaptations, for the scripting. According to Workman’s recollection, the graphic novel may have been the first comics work to hit The New York Times Best Seller List where it resided for seven weeks. Long out of print, the book is coming back in time for Scott’s prequel film Prometheus. Best, it’s coming back in two interesting formats: Titan is rereleasing the full color book as both The Original Edition and Simonson’s amazing work is showcased in The Artist’s Edition. The Artist’s Edition will be 14″ x 17″ size replete with color tryout pages, Goodwin’s script, plus an interview with Simonson.
“The second I read it, I knew it was going to go over, very, very well,” Workman told our own Roger Ash and Eric Nolen-Weathington in Modern Masters Volume Eight. While Workman had lettered Simonson’s material previously, this was the next in a consistent line of assignments leading to his becoming the artist’s personal letterer for years.
Goodwin’s pacing kept the creepy unknown factor sustained page after page while Simonson’s stylistic artwork coupled with the brilliant design work meant it had a unique look and feel. For the artist, it was “one of the best experiences I ever had in comics.” 20th Century-Fox flew Walt over to tour the effects house and see a rough cut of the film, letting him absorb all the visual reference he needed.
Additionally, “20th Century wasn’t really nuts about whether the comic was exactly like the movie. What that meant was we were able to take bits and pieces from different treatments and put them together in what we thought was the best story. In the end, I thought we got a comic that was a really good adaptation of the film, but in sprit and of most of the stuff that was in it.”
Despite all the support, the final 20 pages of the 60 page work had to be rushed in about a week to ensure the adaptation was in print when the film was released. Released by Simon & Schuster to bookstores and by Heavy Metal to newsstands, the book found its audience but Workman recalls being disappointed by the fan market reaction which was unusually tame. Fortunately, the time has come to properly geek out over this brilliant work which deserves rereading.