Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Twilight Zone in Four Colors

The first Twilight Zone comic book
Dell Four Color #1173
Cover artist unknown

A Look at The Twilight Zone Comic Books
   
        From the inception of the original television series through today, The Twilight Zone has been adapted for radio, film, the stage, a theme park thrill ride, board games, soundtrack albums, toys, books, and countless novelty items. It has inspired documentary films and been released on numerous home video packages from VHS tapes to Blu-ray discs. It has been imitated and parodied and has been the subject of untold number of books, articles, and online resources. It should come as no surprise that The Twilight Zone has also been adapted multiple times for an illustrated format, as three ongoing series of comic books and a line of graphic novels from an American college of art and design. The Twilight Zone in comic book form appeared in three different incarnations, each a product of its time, displaying its own trends, and illustrating the versatility with which the show lent itself to an alternative visual format.
 
The first Gold Key issue (Nov, 1962)
Cover art: George Wilson
            By the early 1960s science fiction was becoming established on television, evolving from the early serials (Buck Rogers, Space Patrol) and the early anthology series (Tales of Tomorrow, Science Fiction Theatre). Comic book publishers began to consider science fiction programs to adapt for their line of books. The decade saw a boom in science fiction and horror television series adapted for comic books as series ranging from The Twilight Zone to Boris Karloff’s Thriller to The Outer Limits to Star Trek, and many more, received the four color treatment.

            In 1960, about the time of production on the second season of The Twilight Zone television series, Western Publishing acquired the rights to create a Twilight Zone comic book. The comic book was published by Dell (Western and Dell had worked closely together as packager and distributor, respectively, since the 1930s) for its Four Color series, a rotating anthology often used to gauge a title’s potential for an ongoing series. The comic would not directly adapt episodes of the television show but instead presented new tales of mystery and imagination (though there are instances of the comic book loosely adapting original series episodes and using Rod Serling's introductions from episodes of the show). Most stories featured an illustrated Rod Serling delivering his typically pithy opening and closing narrations.

A typical Rod Serling hosting panel from issue #18
Art: Nevio Zeccara
          In 1962, four issues after The Twilight Zone comic began its run under the Dell imprint (two for Four Color, two as a regular title), Dell and Western Publishing dissolved their partnership and Western continued many of their licensed titles under their newly created comics imprint, Gold Key. It is under the Gold Key imprint that The Twilight Zone remained for the bulk of its run. Gold Key Comics became a haven in the 1960s and into the 1980s for fantasy, science fiction, and horror properties with titles including Boris Karloff's Tales of Mystery, Grimm's Ghost Stories, and The Occult Files of Dr. Spektor. Late in the run of The Twilight Zone comic the title also began to appear under Western's imprint Whitman Comics during a time when Western battled distribution problems resulting in Gold Key comics disappearing from newsstands. The Whitman imprint was typically used for distribution in areas such as grocery stores, department stores, and the like. Certain later issues of The Twilight Zone were released under both imprints in different distribution patterns.  

A Whitman imprint issue #73
Cover art: George Wilson, reprinted from issue #40
             The initial Dell comic was incorporated into an existing series (continuing from the Dell Four Color series) and therefore numbered in a preexisting pattern. The Dell comic lasted two additional issues before the move to Gold Key, in which the series began anew with issue #1 and ran to issue #91.*

             Each issue typically featured between 2-4 illustrated stories as well as a short text story (a feature required to maintain access to second class postage). The first eight issues of the Gold Key comic featured a pin-up reproduction of the front cover illustration on the back cover, sans logo and text. George Wilson contributed many of the eye-catching covers. Other notable artists who worked on the book during its long run include Reed Crandall, George Evans, Al Williamson, Joe Orlando, Alex Toth, Jerry Robinson, Mike Roy, Angelo Torres, Frank Miller (making his professional debut), Russ Jones, Bob Jenny, Mike Vosburg, Walter Simonson, and Alex Niño. Several stories in the early 1970s issues were written by Len Wein, creator of Wolverine and (with artist Bernie Wrightson) Swamp Thing. The first incarnation of The Twilight Zone comic folded in June, 1979, 15 years of (almost) uninterrupted publication after the cessation of the show upon which it was based. The first series of Twilight Zone comic books have not been collected despite being part of a line of comics which have seen a resurgence of interest in recent years. Other contemporary Gold Key properties, such as Boris Karloff's Tales of Mystery and Star Trek, have been restored and reprinted in archive editions. It is long past time for The Twilight Zone comics to receive the same treatment. 

            1979 saw the appearance of a little-known volume titled Stories from the Twilight Zone: A Skylark Illustrated Book. Published by Bantam Books and designed for reading education, this volume featured comic book style adaptations of Rod Serling's 1960 book Stories from the Twilight Zone. The stories, “The Mighty Casey,” “Escape Clause,” “Walking Distance,” “The Fever,” “Where Is Everybody?” and “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,” were adapted by Horace J. Elias and illustrated by Carl Pfeufer.

            The Twilight Zone returned to comics a little more than a decade later when the first issue of the second incarnation was released by NOW Comics, dated November, 1990. The new book was decidedly different from its predecessor. The second series of Twilight Zone comic books were a natural off-shoot of another boom in science fiction and fantasy films and television programs adapted for comics. 
 
NOW series issue #1 (1990)
Cover art: Bill Sienkiewicz
NOW Comics was founded in late 1985 by Anthony Caputo during a rise in the industry wide trend toward independent publishing. Though NOW began as a sole proprietorship, Caputo was soon bought out and the company began growing at an increasing rate, becoming one of the top five producers of comic books in America by 1990. Much of NOW's success came from their line of licensed media properties, including titles such as The Real Ghostbusters, Fright Night, The Green Hornet, Married. . . with Children, The Original Astro Boy, Speed Racer, Mr. T and the T Force, Terminator: The Burning Earth, and The Twilight Zone. 

        Rod Serling was noticeably absent from the NOW comic book series, which capitalized on the demand for more mature fantasy and horror content. Variant covers and special issues were common and included a double-sized "science fiction" issue, a 3-D issue, an "all computer" issue, and a double-sized annual issue. The most notable issue is the series debut featuring Harlan Ellison's "Crazy as a Soup Sandwich," illustrated by Neal Adams. Ellison, who acted as Creative Consultant for a time on the 1980s The Twilight Zone television series, provided an essay preceding the story detailing his experiences working on the show. "Crazy as a Soup Sandwich" was produced as an episode for the third season of the first revival Twilight Zone television series, directed by Paul Lynch from Ellison's script, broadcast April 1, 1989. The prose version of the story was published in the Spring, 1989 issue of Pulphouse magazine and collected in Ellison's Slippage (1997). Interestingly, that first issue comprised the entirety of the first volume of the series. Due to a change in ownership of NOW Comics, the series was placed on hold for a year. When it returned, the first issue was reprinted with slightly different contents. Originally it contained a back-up story, "Wish Book," written by prolific comic book scribe Don Glut and illustrated by John Stangeland. When the issue was reprinted, it dropped "Wish Book" and added a prose story by Ellison, "Darkness Upon the Face of the Deep," along with a new cover by Neal Adams.

        The NOW series ceased publication in August, 1993. Like many of the NOW titles, The Twilight Zone series has not been reprinted in a collected edition.

Cover art: Rich Ellis
        Rod Serling's scripts for The Twilight Zone were adapted into a series of graphic novels in 2008 and 2009 by Walker & Company in conjunction with the Rod Serling Trust overseen by Carol Serling. Serling's scripts were adapted by art instructor Marc Kneece and art duties were handled by student-artists from the Savannah College of Art and Design, including Dove McHargue, Rebekah Isaacs, Robert Grabe, Rich Ellis, Anthony Spay, and Chris Lie. Each volume included an introductory essay and a biographical essay on Rod Serling.

Dynamite series issue #1
Cover art: Francesco Francavilla
        The third and most recent incarnation of The Twilight Zone in comic book form arrived in December, 2013 with The Twilight Zone #1 from Dynamite Entertainment. The format this time was a long-form series written by J. Michael Straczynski, who contributed significantly to the 1980s Twilight Zone television series, out of which he produced the 1989 book Tales from the New Twilight Zone. The main series continued for twelve issues until February, 2015. A second series, subtitled Shadow and Substance, appeared for four issues in 2015 and another, The Twilight Zone: The Shadow (a crossover series with the pulp hero), from writer David Avallone, appeared in 2016. Like the NOW series, Dynamite released a number of single issue specials, including a 2014 Annual and the one-shots The Twilight Zone: Lost Tales and The Twilight Zone: 1959. The series concluded with the publication of the latter in 2016.

         A final publication of interest is the 2019 graphic novel biography The Twilight Man: Rod Serling and the Birth of Television by writer and artist Koren Shadmi, published by Life Drawn. This excellent biography follows Rod Serling from his days as a paratrooper to his early success in television drama through The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery and on to his untimely death. Shadmi presents Serling’s life story in a highly engaging visual style and manages to slot a great amount of information into a relatively small space. It comes highly recommended.
Cover art: Koren Shadmi

         It is unlikely we have seen the end of The Twilight Zone in comic book form. It is a tribute to the original series that each new generation rediscovers the show and re-imagines it in an interesting and unique way.

*Issue #92 of the Gold Key/Whitman series was released nearly a year after the series ended and was a reprint issue with an alternate cover and so is not considered as a new issue.

The Twilight Zone comic books:

1.) Dell Four Color Comics #1173, #1288

2.) The Twilight Zone (Dell Comics), 2 issues (1962)

3.) The Twilight Zone (Gold Key/Whitman) 91 issues (#1-91), November, 1962-June, 1979. Issue #92 is a reprint.

4.) Mystery Comics Digest (Gold Key reprint series) #3,6,9,12,15,18,21,24

5.) Dan Curtis Giveaway Comics #3 (Gold Key, 1974; mini-comics used as bubble gum premiums).

6.) The Twilight Zone (Gold Key, 1976; mini-comic, sold in packs)

7.) Stories from The Twilight Zone: A Skylark Illustrated Book by Rod Serling, stories adapted by Horace J. Elias and illustrated by Carl Pfeufer (Bantam Books, 1979)

8.) The Twilight Zone (NOW Comics) Series 1: Nov, 1990 (1 issue; reprinted Oct, 1991), Series 2: 11 issues (Nov, 1991-Sept, 1992), Series 3: 4 issues (May-August, 1993). One shots (all 1993): Annual, Science Fiction Special, 3-D special.

9.) The Twilight Zone graphic novels (Walker & Co.); 1. “Walking Distance” 2. "The After Hours" 3. “The Odyssey of Flight 33” 4. “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” 5. “The Midnight Sun” 6. “Deaths-head Revisited” 7. “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” 8. “The Big, Tall Wish”

10.) The Twilight Zone (Dynamite Entertainment) Series 1: 12 issues (Dec, 2013-Feb, 2015; collected in 3 volumes as The Way Out (#1-5), The Way In (#4-8), The Way Back (#9-12)), Series 2: Shadow and Sustance, 4 issues (2015), Series 3: The Twilight Zone: The Shadow, 4 issues (2016). One-shots: 2014 Annual, The Twilight Zone: Lost Tales (2004), The Twilight Zone: 1959 (2016)

11.) The Twilight Man: Rod Serling and the Birth of Television by Koren Shadmi (Life Drawn, 2019).

Grateful acknowledgement to The Grand Comics Database (comics.org) and Sequential Ellison (sequentialellison.com) for information used in the text.

-JP

3 comments:

  1. Thanks for this interesting overview! I would like to see more detail on the first series. Those covers really bring back memories. I still find them tugging at my heart, resulting in that jolt in my brain that says "I want them!" I have to tamp that down. Sadly, the insides of those comics never seemed to live up to the covers.

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  2. I'm still digging through every comic shop I visit attempting to find all the old issues but those suckers are surprisingly difficult to find. If you're looking for more detail consider visiting the Grand Comics Database at www.comics.org. There is a plentiful cover gallery and issue details. Those covers were certainly great and the insides weren't always so bad. Toward the end it got thin but the book had some really great artists working on it in the early days and into the 70s.

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  3. Great series will have to look for the comic book versions especially the 2008-09 series. Great to see they were concentrating on the old episode. Night Gallery was not quite as good. Thanks for sharing have they done The Living Doll in comic book form or the one with the masks.

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