Bill Morrison Talks About The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, A Comic 20 Years In The Making

by Oliver MacNamee

The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine was released by Titan Comics last week, celebrating the film’s 50th anniversary. Written and drawn by Bill Morrison, I was amazed to hear that this was a book that was nearly published 20 years ago, but it never happened. But no longer, as I caught up with Bill and asked him about his work on this new graphic novel and his work on Bongo Comics and Disney, too.

Olly MacNamee: Bill, with your previous life in animation at Disney and your close links to The Simpsons through Bongo Comics, was The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine a book you could easily adapt your style to fit?

Bill Morrison: Yes, I think so. Through my experience with the Disney characters, The Simpsons, Futurama, and other animated characters, I’ve spent most of my career drawing previously established animated characters “on model” and writing dialogue and stories in the style and voice that fans expect. So I’ve sort of developed an ability to bury my own style and mimic the look and feel of whatever characters I’m working with. So all that past experience made it pretty easy for me to draw and write Yellow Submarine in a way that’s very faithful to the original film.

OM: Was it this experience that brought Titan Comics to your door? How did you get involved with this graphic novel?

BM: I’ve know the folks at Titan for several years because they published our Simpsons and Futurama comics in the UK, so I know they were aware of my history. But the deal was actually put together by the licensing agent for Apple Corps. I was originally commissioned by another publisher to adapt the film as a 48-page comic back in 1998, but the deal fell through and I was asked to cease work after completing about half of the work. Then in 2016 or so, Titan obtained the Yellow Submarine license. Apple’s rep had seen my original pages from the 1990’s and asked me if I’d like to complete the project with Titan. Of course, I signed on immediately.

OM: What were the biggest challenges on taking on such a much revered and loved film?

BM: The biggest challenge was to create an adaptation of the film in a form that doesn’t have sound or animation. I didn’t want it to be viewed as an inferior version of the film, so I had to bring something great to it that the film doesn’t have. So I used graphic design to my advantage and played with page and panel designs in a fun way.  I think the result is a book that looks like the Yellow Submarine film and a psychedelic poster had a baby.

OM: Were you a fan of the original film, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year? I mean, how did you first come into contact with this movie?

BM: I don’t know why, but I didn’t see Yellow Submarine until it was on television in the early 1970’s, but I recall seeing posters and other merchandise in 1968 when the film came out and loving the look of all that stuff. But it’s odd that I didn’t see it in 1968, because I grew up listening to the Beatles. My older brother and two older sisters were Beatles fans from the very beginning and had all their records. The first record album I owned was also a Beatles album of sorts. It was Alvin and the Chipmunks Sing The Beatles’ Hits. I remember seeing the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, and going to a drive-in movie theater to see A Hard Day’s Night. So they were a huge part of my cultural life growing up. By 1968, I had graduated from The Chipmunks and was listening to my brother’s Beatles record collection, so its a shame that I didn’t see it on the big screen back then.

OM: And how did you juggle your day job, as editor of MAD Magazine, with your commitment to getting this book out on time?

BM: That was the most difficult part. Basically, I devoted evenings and weekends to Yellow Submarine and put in long days at MAD. Originally, I had planned to do all the inking myself, but at one point I had to bring in help. First Andrew Pepoy came on board as inker, and toward the end we also brought in Tone Rodriguez. 

OM: Finally, then, and this is the $64,000 question. Why do you think The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine has endured so long?

BM: I think anything having to do with The Beatles is going to have a lot of longevity. But Yellow Submarine also has a fun story with a cool message, great animation, incredible design and color, and appealing characters. And the timelessly brilliant Beatles songs, of course. When a film has all that going for it, I don’t think it matters that it’s fifty years old.

OM: Bill, thanks for finding the time to answer these questions.

BM: It was a pleasure!

The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine is currently available from Titan Comics.

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