Wednesday, 4 November 2015

BEYOND OINK! #11: JURASSIC PARK

<< GO TO PART TEN: THUNDERBIRDS THE COMIC

By the time November 1993 rolled around I hadn't read a comic in almost a year.  Thunderbirds The Comic had been my lone title since the cancellation of The Transformers in January 1992 and then by the end of that year I'd grown tired of comics in general.

I'd been collecting Commodore Format magazine since its 14th issue in October 1991 and had since then also picked up the occasional issue of the weekly Games-X magazine and, even though it never covered my beloved computer, I was an avid watcher of GamesMaster on Channel Four and would buy their title too sometimes if there were any exciting features inside.  Magazines had me hooked and my time with comics had passed.  I'd grown out of them.

Or so I'd thought:


Early in 1993 Commodore Format interviewed someone from Commodore UK, who mentioned in passing their favourite author was Michael Crichton and how Steven Spielberg was putting the finishing touches to an adaptation of his latest novel about dinosaurs.  I never thought anything else of it until that summer when the mammoth Jurassic Park movie hit the cinemas.  My dad and I went to see it and I was simply stunned!  You've got to remember this was back at a time when CGI in movies was used sparingly, models and animatronics still being the main SFX go-to devices for big blockbusters.  Spielberg was reluctant to use CGI at all alongside the mechanics initially but it ended up not just winning him over but audiences around the world, and the sound featured in the film just blew us away too!

I noticed a monthly comic book adaptation was in the shops but I'd no interest, having been disappointed with comics adaptations of Transformers: The Movie, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie and those TV adaptations in Thunderbirds The Comic.  Plus, like I said, I'd grown out of comics.  But then a few months later I spotted the issue above popping up in my local newsagents'.  It was the first time the comic had appeared in the shop in Whitehead all-of-a-sudden and along the top it advertised the fact new stories were inside.  Not only that but this very issue was the start of those new adventures so I hadn't missed any.  Intrigued I flicked through it to see what was included:


After a competition to win a Sega Mega-CD (how very 90s) the contents page above oozed atmosphere and I noticed there was more than just Jurassic Park comic strips inside.  As I skimmed the pages not only did I like the look of the main strip but the two back-ups looked like fun, one in particular dropping my jaw with its artwork!  While these were imported strips the comic was very British in that our versions of these American comics always contained additional strips and/or features for us and this one was no different.

It was the first comic I'd bought in what felt like an age and I was extremely excited to get home and read it.  I wasn't to be disappointed.

"WELCOME TO JURASSIC PARK"

The main strip was the official continuation of the movie.  Of course in later years the following movies, and indeed Crichton's own sequel novel The Lost World, would result in this story not being canon after all but at the time it was incredibly exciting to see what happened next after that rather open-ended climax.  In America Topps Comics had the licence to produce the adaptation and an ongoing comic too but, like the Americans seem to like doing, these were released as individual mini-series called Raptor (only two issues and still called a "series"), Raptors Attack (four issues), Raptors Hi-jack (four issues) and then Return to Jurassic Park which was to be an ongoing series but only managed eight issues before things changed at Topps.  There was also a preview issue #0 and an annual, which wasn't a large hardback book like we'd be used to and was instead a regular one-off comic.

Here in the UK Dark Horse International thankfully decided against this and went down the route of a continual issue numbering system, so my first issue was actually #6.  Interestingly, even though this comic was also monthly Dark Horse still decided to chop up the American strips into smaller parts and spread them over two or more issues, something other weekly or fortnightly comics did so as not to catch up with the Americans.  In theory this splitting of the stories meant they could easily have had many more issues in the end than their US counterparts but they actually ended up with less.  But we'll talk about that further down the page as I'm sure you're eager to get to the strips themselves.

Below are the first three pages of part one of Aftershocks!, the whole story being part one of Raptor.  Just to confuse things further the contents page of each British issue would identify the strips by the overall arc titles as you can see above.  As a teen I didn't know this was the case and always wondered why they gave them different names than in the strips themselves, especially as the ones in the strips were more imaginative.  For example later chapters called Animals/Men and Animals/Gods were referred to by the titles Raptors Attack Part Two and Three respectively in the contents page.  I remember at the time I just felt these were really unimaginative and assumed the editorial staff were making silly mistakes and not even looking at the strips they were printing.  I know better now of course.

Raptor: Part One, Aftershocks! picks up only three days after the movie and sees Alan Grant and Ellie Satler return to the island to supervise the clean-up operation.  Written by Steve Englehart, drawn by Armando Gil, lettered by Josh Constanza and coloured/edited by Reneé Witterstaetter, it starts off with this action-packed spread and the attempts to subdue the gigantic star of all the movies, the Tyrannosaurus Rex!:


The artwork goes for a rough-and-ready feel which I love as it lends a real grittiness to the proceedings and helps ground the characters in reality, fundamental to such an outlandish concept as Jurassic Park.  It would've been easy to do a very stilted and slick version of the film with identical likenesses etc but I prefer this approach.  Many years later an American comic company released a CSI title and they concentrated so much on getting the likenesses right they lost all characterisation and looked like non-moving waxworks.  Jurassic Park treated this very much like a comic rather than trying to copy the movie version and it works so much better for it.

The story takes further elements from the original novel and weaves them in to elaborate on what the film covered, bringing in more political intrigue and the Ingen corporation's greed and is a great starting point for developing the world further.  As much as I loved the action it was the background to the story which fascinated me the most and in these first four issues I collected I was beginning to see this being delved into, bringing in new characters and fleshing out the ones we already knew.

Looking back now I'm reminded of two very interesting deleted scenes from The Lost World: Jurassic Park, not in content but in the fact they added quite a bit of grounding to one new character and a lot of background intrigue to Ingen and the setup for the second film.  Such a shame they were taken out.

Issues six to eight imported the two-part American Raptor story and backed these up with two other non-Jurassic Park strips, however in the next two issues it printed two main stories; the ongoing Raptor and the stories from the preview issue #0.  There were two of these and both were ten-page complete prequel stories, which slotted in nicely to the UK title's format.  The first was called Genesis and told of lawyer Donald Gennaro's introduction to the island, then there was Betrayal! which I've featured a couple of pages of below.  They were both created by the team responsible for the adaptation itself; writer Walt Simonson, penciller Gill Kane, inker Dick Giordano, letterer John Workman and colourist/editor Reneé Witterstaetter.

Betrayal! tells the story of Denis Nedry's first visit to Isla Nublar and the seeds of the tragedy are first planted into place.  In case you're wondering why a prequel starts off with "Several years later" in its opening caption, this is placing it in that timescale after the previous story featuring Gennaro.  Again taking small things the novel mentioned and elaborating while keeping within the movie version of the story, these were a great couple of strips and having more from Jurassic Park in each issue was a treat!:


With the Dark Horse comic being released monthly just like the Topps run where the strips originated, splicing the stories up meant Raptor took six months to complete compared to the two in the States.  After this the Dark Horse team seemed to have a change of heart and a few months into the next story decided to then start printing each chapter in its complete state every month.  One of the backup stories had reached its natural conclusion and instead of replacing it they simply extended the page count to forty from thirty-six, kept one backup and extended the main strip to its full twenty-two pages instead of the eight or nine we'd had previously.  The reality of why this happened was down to unfortunate circumstances and I'll get to that soon.

At this point they moved on to the second mini-series from Topps called Raptors Attack.  The first chapter was split in half but the remainder appeared complete.  However the story's focus changed somewhat and centred around a group of escaped velociraptors who'd made it to the mainland.  In the novel our visitors were desperately trying to get back to the control room to radio Costa Rica to warn them they'd seen a few juvenile 'raptors on a boat leaving the island, which was dropped from the movie.  But in the comic they picked this back up, albeit retelling it in a different way.

Big-game hunter George Lewala had captured the young dinos and made his escape from Isla Nublar, but on board the airplane the 'raptors escaped and it crashed into the Columbian jungle, killing Lewala and two of the dinosaurs.  Alan and Ellie awake to find themselves and the surviving 'raptors captives of a drug baron by the name of Rafael, who uses shock therapy to train the dinosaurs to do his bidding.  But are they really the obedient pets he thinks they are?  Anyone who'd seen the film knew they were smarter than that, as did the human characters who'd lived through it.

Still written by Steve Engelhard, the series was now drawn by penciller Chaz Truog and inker Paul Fricke (with the same letterer and colourist) and the style was completely different.  I  didn't like it at first as it was far less detailed but as it developed it was so full of character I fell in love with it.  It certainly suited the more action-packed story of trying to recaptured these creatures.  Unfortunately the upping of the action quota meant all the intrigue and background development was postponed for now, but I looked forward to its return and enjoyed the fact the comic seemed to give as much thought to the inner workings of the minds of the animals as it did the humans.

In these couple of pages below you'll see the velociraptors have collars around their necks for the shock therapy and Rafael sees them as his property.  What's interesting now looking back is how Rafael had been able to identify the pecking order amongst them and how he named them according to who was the alpha of the pack, the beta etc.  Anyone who has seen Jurassic World will certainly feel a level of similarity in this strip from way back in the mid-90s:


Now, Ian Malcolm was my favourite character from the film and I simply adored him in the sequel which would appear a couple of years after this comic.  What I didn't like was how they brought back Robert Muldoon the game warden who we last saw in the movie with his head being crushed by a 'raptor.  It was explained away that he knew their hunting techniques because he'd raised them, which flew in the face of everything the book, movie and the comic up to this point had told us about them.  Oh well.

Writer Engelhart has since then explained with no movie or novel sequels yet he was given free rein to develop the story as he saw fit.

Having Ian Malcolm back though was a treat.  Recently, just before that incredible fourth film was released I read Crichton's novel again.  I'd done so at the time but my young self found it heavy going with all of the Chaos Theory and the bioengineering the book went into at length.  However, now as an adult I found it all extremely fascinating and if you've only ever seen the films I heartily recommend it.  Jurassic World especially brings a lot of the scientific theory from the original novel to the fore and Michael Crichton I'm sure would be very proud of the new film!

Ian's monologues in the novel could run to several pages and after enjoying them this year I was thrilled to see the comic actually did its own version of these.  They were much smaller obviously, but to me it's clear the team behind this official continuation weren't simply cashing in on a blockbuster movie, they were also very respectful of the original source material and the author who created it all in the first place:


To finish off my look at the actual Jurassic Park strip here's the opening four pages to Raptors Attack Part Four (part three in the States) called Animals/Gods! and it's clear from here the artwork completely suits the story being told.

As I said above the strip would also see things from the perspective of the velociraptors and these pages are the perfect example.  Having bided their time they were able to plan a perfect attack on the humans who'd stupidly thought they were their masters, killing the man who had caused them so much pain.  But afterwards, instead of going on a rampage amongst us they returned to what was more naturally their prey and their habitat.  Now out in the wild it made finding and recapturing them to return them to the island all the more difficult, but the story played with us readers and kept flipping back and forth between seeing them as dangerous and needing to be returned, to viewing them simply as young wild animals who should be left in peace.  After all, nature had found a way:


Unfortunately the next month after this the comic ceased prematurely with #16.  This was only the end of Raptors Attack in the ongoing tale, not the full story and, while there was no official announcement it was over, in #15 the strip had ended saying the next month would see the "thrilling climax", though I'd assumed they just meant of this particular story.  It would end with the 'raptors having Alan and Ellie trapped but, recognising them as their fellow captives from previously in the story who had nursed one of them back to health, they let them live and ran off back to the jungle to live as free animals once again.  We even got to see the humans' language from their perspective, with speech balloons made up of random symbols to show us the 'raptors trying to understand them.  But that was where it ended.  The following month the next issue just didn't appear.

When I realised that was it I certainly thought it was a very strange ending, but then again the film had left things open too.  But in researching for this post I came to learn there'd been much more.  I listed them above and there were no less than twelve more Topps issues and an annual still to make the transition over here.  Unfortunately with crashing sales throughout the industry Dark Horse International ceased to exist around May 1994.  Its imprint Manga Comics took on some of their titles for a few more months, seemingly to finish them at more natural conclusions, before terminating all of the ongoing titles such as Aliens, Manga Mania and Total Carnage amongst others.  It appears to be this transition which brought about the changes to the format of the comic so it could end the Jurassic Park story at a suitable point without many more issues.

With so much source material it's unfortunate, because if they'd continued splitting the stories and filling the comic with other great strips it could've ran for a few more years over here yet.  Then Topps also produced an adaptation of The Lost World: Jurassic Park but that company then folded too before any more post-sequel stories could be made.  Such a shame, as Jurassic Park was proving a comic book success both sides of the Atlantic but it wasn't the only title to suffer at the hands of the wider industry crashing around it, beyond its control.

Here are the other issues containing the new adventures I bought for this blog post, the first of which came folded in four inside a tiny envelope!  That eBay seller got negative feedback that's for sure:


The covers sure are gorgeous, all beautifully brought to life by Michael Golden.  I couldn't get my hands on my very favourite cover though in its Dark Horse guise so below is the picture on its original Topps cover.  This was the issue where the velociraptors escaped their cages aboard the aircraft before killing the crew, pilot included.  Of course they didn't then get into the pilot seat and put headgear on but it made for a funny, yet gruesome and intricately detailed cover!:


AGE OF REPTILES

This may have been here as a backup strip, but Age of Reptiles was a highlight for me and you'll see why below!  Released as a one-off book in the States (though two further ones appeared in later years), here it was split into little chunks every month.  Unlike other comics where the main strip would take up the bulk with smaller backups, in Jurassic Park the three strips all shared equal (more-or-less) space every month.  Some might say it was a bit cheeky to have a Jurassic Park comic when only a third of it was actually about that story, but those months where it was broken up like this were my very favourite, like a dino-themed anthology centred around one of my very favourite movies.  What wasn't to love?

This strip in particular sat very well within the comic, telling the tale of times in the Mesozoic era and in this case concentrating in particular on a kind of tribal war (indeed this was the title of the Age of Reptiles book) between a pack of Deinonycuses and a family of Tyrannosaurs.  The opening chapter in #6 blew my mind with its artwork from creator/writer/artist Ricardo Delgado (with colours by James Sinclair) and was the one that had stunned me so completely in the shop before I'd bought it.  Here we see the Deinonychuses chasing down their prey before it's stolen away from them by Blue Back, the Rex:


That last panel, with the Rex taking a hit from one of the smaller creatures is perfectly followed by this after turning the page:


Haha, brilliant!  This continued for about half a year in Jurassic Park, with the Rex's eggs being stolen and eaten in revenge and then we see the Rex actually has a family, with his mate and child distraught at what's happened.  This escalated further and while there's not one written word, descriptive caption or sound effect it's full of character, dynamic storytelling and fantastic pacing.  It's simply genius.  For example, just look at this next page from a later chapter, where an Ankylosaurus hears something and, afraid a predator may be stalking it, takes a peek around the giant tree it's standing in front of.  Even in this simple gesture of peering round to the other side we get a sense of fear and trepidation, the way the last panel is drawn brings more character to the Ankylosaurus than many superhero comics and their dialogue have ever done for me:


Sublime stuff.  But unfortunately only the first book was available in 1993/4 and so its time in Jurassic Park was always going to be limited.  However there was a third and final strip at the party:

XENOZOIC TALES (or CADILLACS AND DINOSAURS)

Originally printed in the late 80s and created by Mark Schultz who also wrote and (mostly) drew the title (with colours by Christine Couturier here) the premise is that a series of natural and manmade disasters saw humans having to live underground for hundreds of years, surfacing eventually to find a completely altered landscape with flooded cities and a world populated by previously extinct animals; dinosaurs.  Jack 'Cadillac' Tenrec is an engineer, who holds great respect amongst his tribe because the skill is extremely rare when technology basically no longer exists.  He has a fleet of Cadillacs which he's converted to run on dino guano (plops to pig pals) and is befriended by an ambassador and scientist from another tribe, Hannah Dundee.

The stories covered everything from politics to action chase stories and even involved a race of human/dinosaur hybrids (well, that's what we're led to believe they are) who are friendly with Jack and can telepathically communicate with the dinosaurs, making them valuable allies, but ones which are seen as enemies by most of mankind.  They can't communicate with man and instead use an ancient tile system to do so, which are actually Scrabble tiles but no one in the distant future knows that, which makes for some funny moments.

The comic spun off into a cartoon called Cadillacs and Dinosaurs, the car likenesses used with consent and the title trademark actually belonging to General Motors who licenced it for the cartoon, toys, videogames etc.  At the time the cartoon was being shown on British TV, so later issues of Jurassic Park renamed the strips and advertised them as such on the covers.  The opening chapter in #4 describes a half-sunken New York city as a coastal island with strange cliffs and canyons, until we realise this is from the perspective of a Pterodactyl.  This is followed by this as way of an introduction to the setup:


With only roughly 8 or 9 pages per issue it took a while to get going and was absent from the two issues with the Jurassic Park prequel strips before returning in #11.  By the time we were introduced to the Girth below we'd nearly reached the end of the comic's suddenly curtailed lifespan:


It's clear reading back that Dark Horse International's original intention when they started out with the new adventures was to have three strips every month which would appeal to Jurassic Park fans and to have a nice long life for this comic title, effectively tripling the length from the Topps originals.  When Dark Horse started to shut down and the Manga imprint took over no replacement was found for Age of Reptiles, they increased the page count by four so as to include a full chapter of Raptors Attack each issue in order to wind it down as quickly as possible and continued with Cadillacs and Dinosaurs until the final issue.  Both wrapped up their current stories but left readers without a climax for either.

"NOW THAT IS ONE BIG PILE OF..."

While it was importing three American strips it rightly marketed itself as a British comic and felt very much like one with its extra strips, as well as written features during those first issues which covered the adaptation itself.  As I said I came onboard with #6 but for this post I tried to collect as many as I could.  I still have plenty of the continuation to get but I was able to buy all of the first five issues which contained the movie story.  Originally in four Topps comics, here they also included movie features and the final chapter was split in two when Xenozoic Tales was brought in:




I'm not going to spend too long on these as the whole point of Beyond Oink! is to look back at what I enjoyed as a young reader after being introduced to comics by Oink!  But I thought I'd include a couple of points of interest if you decide to track these down yourself.

The adaptation is quite different from the movie in parts, with whole sequences missing or some favourite scenes shortened to a page or two meaning they have little to no impact anymore, such as the scene with Denis Nedry and the Dilophosaur.  It also rushes through any character moments, so while we cared about them in the film they all come across as quite two-dimensional here, with the possible exception of Ian Malcolm.  But I did spot quite a few key story points and sections of dialogue from the novel in there which weren't in the film, such as in these two pages from different points in the story:



An adaptation will often have to work from an early script so as to meet the deadline of being released in conjunction with the film itself and I'm guessing that's what happened here.  The reason behind the Triceratops' ill health was never explained in the film, the book also detailed how and why the island was perpetually covered with a layer of fog but in the film it was always lovely and clear (strangely enough the fog is also forgotten about after this page in the comic) and during the helicopter ride in Ian Malcolm did go into how non-linear dynamics had already sealed the fate of the theme park, though in much more depth.

It was nice to see these couple of extra bits in there and there's others too, even the occasional extra joke like in the next selection, which this time includes two consecutive pages.  But another reason I'm including them is simply for the imposing artwork of the Tyrannosaur's first appearance, which we were greeted with after turning the page:


They did however cut the end off possibly my favourite line in any of these movies, though I can understand why.

Finally a quick glance at one of the features included in those early issues.  This is from the premiere issue and it's strange to see that by the time I came to the comic they'd dropped these, the editorials and the monthly checklists of other Dark Horse comics.  I was always used to action comics which spoke to the readers, but the issues of Jurassic Park I collected were all about the stories and the only time it felt like there was an actual human editor behind it all was in the excitedly-worded competitions.  Other than that it was all very impersonal, with the contents page above being all there was apart from the strips and a few adverts.  But that didn't take away from it and rather it felt a bit more grown-up to me at that time for this very reason.  Of course now with hindsight I'd have preferred a bit more interaction with a proper editorial and some written features in my issues like the ones I'd missed, but it's still a fave:


Indeed, right back at the beginning of this series I mentioned how my two very favourite non-Oink! comics from my childhood and early teens lasted only six and sixteen issues respectively.  Ring Raiders was the former and Jurassic Park was most definitely the latter.  I can very specifically remember re-reading that first issue of mine at the very top of this post several times over that month!  For that brief amount of issues I was able to collect (all eleven of them) it was a thrill to find a new issue waiting for me at home after school some day.  You see there was never a 'next issue' date so my parents were simply told when one arrived and would pick it up for me.

It was exciting, thrilling, with real depth of character and had loads of potential.  Unfortunately I never saw if that potential and the interesting plot elements I'd loved so much ever came back but maybe I'll pick up the collected editions some day soon.

It's a fantastic comic and well worth picking up the British version for all the extra content.

Oh, in case you're wondering where I got the preview image from last time, it was this advertisement for the video game.  Released around the time Street Fighter II was so extremely popular I thought it was a great tagline:


THAT'S ALL SHE WROTE
AND ALL I READ

Around the time of the last issue of Jurassic Park in November 1994 I was still collecting Commodore Format and was actually becoming active in the C64 computer's underground scene myself.  I had also just purchased the first bi-monthly issue of 3DO Magazine for the superb console I wouldn't actually get my hands on until the following Christmas in 1995.  Jurassic Park had been a surprise last foray into the world of comics, simply because of the property it was based on to begin with, it was more mature and a fitting companion to my magazines.

It would be eight years and in another millennia, 2002 to be exact, before I bought another comic after the release of the first modern-day Spider-man movie, the only superhero with actual "super powers" I ever liked.  (I do love Batman though, because he doesn't have super powers.)  I realised Babylon 5 creator/writer J. Michael Strazynski was now writing the ongoing title The Amazing Spider-man, but even then I bought the graphic novel collections now-and-again rather than the monthly.  After enjoying them I tried modern takes on old classics such as Masters of the Universe and Transformers from Dreamwave but neither impressed.

When the first Michael Bay Transformers movie came out in 2007 I started buying the new UK comic from Titan.  It included a lot of childish features, but then again they were the main target audience.  However it included in total about 24 pages of fantastic UK and US strips and I read that for about two years, with lots of them written and drawn by the original Marvel UK contributors.  But then it was reduced in size and became too child-like in its storytelling.  I would've been better off waiting for the graphic novel versions of these too as it would've been a lot cheaper for a start and I'd have been buying just the strips.  Apart from taking out a joke subscription to the Spongebob Squarepants comic for my girlfriend at the time that was it, that was all I'd bought since the comics of my childhood.

It seemed they were well-and-truly in my past until Lew Stringer (yes it's his fault this blog got started and now there's something else to pin on him) updated his Blimey! blog with a certain post in September 2014 when iconic British comic 2000AD reached its 1900th issue.  I didn't even know it was still going, having assumed it'd finished years ago.  The cover by Greg Staples looked amazing and Lew's write-up of this jumping-on issue's batch of all-new stories had me sold, at least enough to try one issue out.  I'd always been fascinated by Judge Dredd but had only read a handful in my life and so I tried it... then subscribed to both it and the Judge Dredd Megazine!  I collect both to this day and don't see myself stopping anytime soon, not with over 25 volumes of Dredd graphic novels to catch up on anyway!  I even got my letter printed as Letter of the Week in #1917 - I'm hooked.

So there you go, my comics life in a nutshell and the end of the detailed look into the titles I had reserved during my youth, all having started off with the greatest comic ever to grace a shop shelf - Oink!

4 comments:

John Pitt said...

And a thoroughly enjoyable series too, Phil, expertly and professionally presented.
I have really enjoyed it and I only wish you had a few more faves left!

Phil Boyce said...

Thanks John! Always means so much to hear such feedback, I really appreciate it! Thank you very much for saying it was professionally presented too, that in particular means a lot given my next project for this blog in the new year!

John Pitt said...

You're very welcome, mate!
I said that, because it's true. Not only are your posts pro. jobs, but they are very thorough and give us such a lot per post.
I shall use your blog for future research any tiime I need to check anything .
AND I'll keep an eye out for future posts.
I came over here from Lew's about 3 years ago and really SHOULD have commented earlier!

Phil Boyce said...

I can't tell you how happy it makes me to hear feedback like that, I sometimes ask myself do I waffle too much on the posts? Ha. But then again I'm following my rule of writing the blog I'd want to read myself, so it's always heartening to hear my writing has gone down so well with others.

Feel free to leave comments on any posts you come across on your travels through the blog, no matter how old they are!