Thursday, July 22, 2010

From the justly-forgotten corner -- Dell's TV and movie comics

Back in the age of the spinner rack, before every town had a comic book store and even your local library found room for a graphic novel section, pickings were often limited to a few grocery store and drug store displays. What was even worse, many of these displays would only carry 'wholesome' comics -- Harvey, Gold Key, Dell.

For comic book historians, Dell will undoubtedly be remembered for publishing three of the unquestioned giants of the medium (Walt Kelly, Carl Barks and John Stanley) but for a kid holding a week's allowance with one hand and turning a picked-over spinner rack with the other, Dell often meant settling for a cheesy TV or movie adaptation.

These shows generally made for boring comics, particularly given the realistic but crude house style of the line. Not only would the characters in the comics not look much like the actors they portrayed, they would differ from the actor in different ways from panel to panel (check out Patrick McGoohan and Tim Conway).

Here, for the sake of completeness, is a

And just in case you thought the classics of American cinema were safe...


  1. I feel your blanket condemnation of Dell's TV and movie tie-in's is unfair. True, Dell employed numerous ho-hum artists with super-conservative styles. But at the same time their media tie-in's featured great work by Alberto Giolitti, Russ Manning, Dan Spiegle, E. R. Kinstler, Ray Bailey, Warren Tufts, George Evans, Reed Crandall, and more.

    Storywise the direct tie-in's (that is movie adaptations as opposed to new stories based on episodic TV) were limited by the quality of the original. Even with 32 pages to play with, writers had to strip scripts to the bones to fit a comic. All that was left was plot. If the plot was strong the comic was more readable.

    Production considerations also affected the final product. Movie adaptations were scripted and drawn long before the movie's release. The comics creators seldom saw the film. Usually artists had only a handful of stills to work from. In one instance (Frank Thorne's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" adaptation) the movie hadn't even been cast when the comic was drawn! Other factors entered the mix: for instance John Wayne did not want his likeness used in comics, so artists had to come up with a guy who looked almost exactly unlike John Wayne.

    Series based on episodic TV did tend to have bland stories, likely the result of Paul S. Newman writing most of them. But many stories were solid, and they were often illustrated by Dell's better artists.

    Finally, it should be noted that there were two Dells. All the above refer to the long Western Publishing reign.

    After the split with Western, Dell continued with an entirely new staff. the Rango pages you display are from this period. Though Dell had some interesting titles early on, before long most of its books were done by the likes of Tony Tallarico, Jack Sparling, and the Colletta studio: the cheap guys.

    Even so, some interesting work appeared--the cult classic "Kona," for instance.

    On the whole I feel Dell holds up pretty well against its more fan-favored competitors.

  2. That's an impressive list of artists (the Thorne title sounds particularly interesting), but the TV/movie Dells I've seen have been pretty weak. This probably has a lot to do with the constraints you mentioned and the differences in the two media.