JURASSiC PARK #1: ADAPTiNG THE ADAPTATiON

We’re jumping back 28 years now to the first issue of Dark Horse International‘s UK version of the Jurassic Park comic. How can that film be 28 years old? Anyway, published by Topps Comics in the States, over here it was repackaged on larger A4 paper of a higher quality, with that distinct Dark Horse banner and over the course of its run included extra features, competitions and back up strips like most UK comics.

By a happy coincidence 24th June was a Thursday in 1993 so it looks like each issue will be up on the blog on the same day of the week as the original run. Surprisingly this first issue went on sale before the movie was released over here, which didn’t stomp its way into cinemas until 16th July.

As I noted in the introductory post I’d originally spotted an issue of the adaptation in a shop but never bothered to buy it. I hadn’t enjoyed comics adaptations of movies previously and also felt I’d moved on from the medium. (We all make mistakes.) My first issue ended up being issue six and by then it contained three strips per issue, but it hadn’t started out that way. This first issue is cover-to-cover Isla Nublar, containing the first full chapter of the adaptation, a whopping 29 pages in length with the rest of the 36-page comic containing features that I’ll get to below.

Edited by Dick Hansom (Aliens, Total Carnage, Speakeasy) there was never an editorial and instead a simple credits page for the strips, but the background of the park sets the scene. Let’s talk about that team Topps Comics assembled to adapt the film to comic form! As a fan of the franchise I’m pleasantly surprised by the names here. I may not have been aware of who all but one were at the time but I certainly am now.

The one name I did recognise originally was Jim Salicrup thanks to Transformers and whose adaptation of the Visionaries origin story has also been reviewed here on the blog. He also edited multiple superhero comics for the company before moving to Topps and eventually to Papercutz where he now resides as Editor-in-Chief, alongside being a trustee of the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art. Writer Walter Simonson was tasked with adapting the screenplay and is probably best known for creating Star Slammers (featured in Havoc comic here in the UK), writing/drawing Thor for nearly five years in the 80s, drawing Robocop vs Terminator and writing Iron Man 2020 who popped up in the UK version of Transformers.


“You’ll decide you’ll control nature, and from that moment on you’re in deep trouble, because you can’t do it.”

Michael Crichton

Penciller Gil Kane sadly passed in 2000 but leaves a wealth of comics work on everything from Action Comics to Teen Titans and co-creating Iron Fist for Marvel. He was the artist on landmark stories in The Amazing Spider-Man, tales which led the Comics Code Authority to rewrite their rules about the depiction of drug abuse. Inker George Perez has won several awards for his comics artwork throughout his career, co-creating the characters White Tiger and Taskmaster for Marvel and he was artist on Crisis of Infinite Earths, The Avengers and Teen Titans amongst many others. George also wrote and drew on the highly regarded Wonder Woman of the late 80s and early 90s.

Colourist Tom Smith has worked for so many comics companies it’d be impossible to fit them all in here. Marvel, DC, IDW, Topps, Top Cow, Malibu and more. The Avengers, Hulk, X-Men and Justice League are just some examples of his artwork and he’s coloured for such legendary artists as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. Finally, John Workman lettered the complete run of Doom Patrol and has been a frequent partner of Walter’s. His style stands out, opening up the panel frames when his speech balloons or captions touch them, as evidenced throughout these early issues of Jurassic Park. John has also created strips for Star*Reach and lettered critically acclaimed titles such as Thor and Michael Moorcock’s Multiverse. What a team!

It’s important to put this story in the context of its time. Nowadays, mainly thanks to the film series we know details about dinosaurs and their social orders, hunting habits and intelligence. They’re no longer the lumbering, stupid lizards of stop-motion special effects. This all changed with the first Jurassic Park and reading this exchange between Dr. Ellie Satler (portrayed in the movie by Laura Dern) and Dr. Alan Grant, taken from the novel rather than the film, takes me right back to that time when this was all new information.

But taking me back also worries me. You see, as a kid I found comics adaptations of movies always seemed to have issues, such as excising whole scenes, leaving huge plot holes behind, or they’d copy some moments word-for-word but with artwork that failed to convey any of the drama, making exciting scenes rather dull. They felt very rushed with little thought given to what would work.

It’s brave to take up four pages with the opening of a gate!

Instead of falling into the traps above for a quick cash in, Walter seems to be properly adapting the story for the comics medium. Take the scene above for example. In the movie Alan (Sam Neill) simply described the hunting techniques of a velociraptor to the child. With his raptor claw fossil in hand and using it with slow, deliberate movements, Neill’s tone and delivery made this scene foreboding and funny in equal measure. This wouldn’t work in a comic, so instead we’re shown what the kid could’ve been imagining at this moment. It’s from this we get our cover image too.

Some scenes remain unchanged, at least in their dialogue if not their setting. The classic Dodgson scene with Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight) is played out pretty much as it is in the film, but then again what’s in the film is almost verbatim what Crichton originally wrote in his book. So when it’s already worked in written form it doesn’t require changing. Speaking of the book, on more than one occasion some of its original ideas and dialogue, changed for the film, can be found here.

The following page is a good example, showing our main characters arriving on a helicopter at Isla Nublar, an island which was also covered in a thick fog in the original novel but not the film. There are also more details from Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) on how Chaos Theory predicts the experiment will fail. Crichton’s novel can often give several pages at once to Ian to describe his theories so obviously the movie had to simplify things, but they were utterly fascinating to read and in the comic just a little bit more of that original text is slipped in.

With an adaptation like this the aim is to have it on the shelves when the movie hits cinemas. This means work could commence with an earlier draft of the screenplay. As the screenplay changes from one draft to another some of those alterations come too late, meaning the comic could contain parts of the previous versions. In the case of Jurassic Park it makes for fascinating reading at times for a fan like me who knows the film so well.

However, the biggest change in this first chapter definitely comes as a result of the medium and the requirement to split the film’s story into five chunks. If I were to tell you that the cliffhanger at the end of chapter one is the first encounter with the brachiosaur, where John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) had his “Welcome to Jurassic Park” moment in the film, fans should instantly be querying why these next four pages are in this issue. (Actually, Hammond had his moment in the comic when they landed in the helicopter.)

These pages do look wonderfully dramatic, though. It’s brave to take up four pages with the opening of a gate! In the film this didn’t happen until after we’d been fed all the science behind the park and the characters were heading out on the inaugural tour.  But this isn’t the comic team taking liberties with the story. The first chapter is very much about making the introductions and with a distinct lack of dinosaurs some changes had to be made to grip readers to the overall story. If that means some iconic scenes have to be moved or elaborated on visually (like with the child’s imagination earlier), then so be it.

I think it was a smart move to rearrange the placement of this scene, but some people will always complain about such changes, like how movies have to change certain aspects of a book.  Well of course they do, it’s a completely different medium. Books based on films also add and rearrange elements of the story or characters to suit the reading experience, but they’re still the same story, just adapted to suit each medium. Having read the novel, I’ve always felt Spielberg did the perfect job of translating Michael Crichton’s novel to the screen and now the comic was adapting Spielberg’s adaptation!

I do believe Hammond’s famous line would’ve worked better as part of this cliffhanger, but that’s just personal preference. There is one difference from the film I’m not keen on. In Crichton’s original story, while Grant overlooks the landscape he mistakes a brachiosaur’s neck in the distance for the trunk of a tall tree, until the dinosaur moves. Here, he’s meant to mistake a leg for a tree instead as they drive within a few metres of it. They didn’t see the giant tail or the belly over their heads?  If this was the original idea for the film I’m glad they changed it.

The final double-page is a beautiful image of their first encounter, with the remainder of this classic scene hopefully playing out next month. The captions make reference to the creatures welcoming them to the island and is also lifted straight from the book. In the novel the brachiosaurs come to this area whenever the helicopter approaches the island, eager to see the humans who they associate with looking after them. It’s a lovely, tender moment in the book designed to give a false sense of tranquility to the island.

When I collected Jurassic Park back at the time it was cover-to-cover strips, with the occasional competition and comics adverts thrown in for good measure. It was a pleasant surprise to see a series of additional features about the making of the movie in these early issues.

They begin right back at the beginning, long before any filming had taken place, informing the reader about Amblin and Spielberg buying the rights, their first impressions and what they felt were the scientific and moral highlights. These were the important things they’d want to concentrate on when developing their own vision.  It makes for a good if somewhat brief read and there’s more to come over the next few months.

There’s also a checklist of Dark Horse’s local and import comics to be released over the next month. I can remember picking up an issue of their Aliens comic at some stage on a family holiday. It must’ve been before Jurassic Park because the trademark banner on the cover of this comic was very familiar. I didn’t know there was a Dracula title and, while Jurassic Park has started out with just one strip every month, it’s clear its stablemates were similar to other UK comic publishers’ titles, especially the aforementioned Aliens.

So there you go, our first look at Jurassic Park UK, a comic which has been sadly largely forgotten in the intervening years. I adored this comic and I can’t wait to share those later issues with you but so far I’m actually enjoying a comic movie adaptation, which is noteworthy in and of itself.

To finish here are your obligatory retro advertisements. I’m not too sure about some of those t-shirt designs but given half the chance as a 15-year-old I’d have jumped at the chance. On the back page is Kenner‘s toy range. I wasn’t even aware there was one. Obviously for a younger audience than I was at the time but I’m still surprised I never spotted them in the shops.

There are some brilliant Jurassic merchandise adverts in this series and I’ll definitely be including them as we go, alongside those for some very-90s comics. I hope you’ll come along for the ride because it’s going to be great. After all, it has been 65 million years in the making.

Issue two of Jurassic Park will be roaring its way on to the blog on Thursday 29th July.

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