Comic book adaptations are a big deal — on the big and small screens and in video games. But there’s a number of popular franchises in modern media whose comic book origins have been forgotten and even de-emphasized by their owners. In this week’s Six By 6, I look at six concepts that are well-known by the world at-large who share a secret origin in sequential art.
Aliens Vs. Predator
In 2004, 20th Century Fox put together two of horror/sci-fis biggest villains — and biggest franchises — in the film Aliens vs. Predator (frequently abbreviated to AvP). The live-action movie did great business — earning nearly three times its budget — and prompted a sequel as well as renewed interest in both franchises. But the idea to bring these two disparate villains together was actually birthed in the offices of the then-meager Dark Horse Comics back in 1989. A full year before the movies teased Predators and Aliens colliding in the 1990 movie Predator 2, writer/editors Chris Warner and Randy Stradley partnered with artist Phil Norwood on a four issue series bringing these two together. Although they didn’t create either race of alien, they did figure out a way to make it work. The series sold well on comic stands, leading to several sequels — including work by Chris Claremont and Alex Maleev — as well as further crossovers like Aliens vs. Predator vs. Terminator and even Superman & Batman vs. Aliens & Predator. Get on that, Hollywood.
The Addams Family
Remember the original Addams Family, the black & white television series from the 1960s? That’s not the original. The family of Addams actually premiered in series of one-off gag strips by cartoonist Charles Addams in the pages of the The New Yorker in the late 1930s. In the original comics they were an unnamed American gothic family, and were only given names when the television show was put into production. Based on his childhood hometown of Westfield, New Jersey, the Addams Family concept took on a life outside of comics that dwarved its sequential art origins. Back in 2010 a book titled The Addams Family: An Evilution was published, tracing the origins of the macabre bunch from a one-time window washer to becoming a staple of modern culture.
Democrats as Donkeys and Republicans as Elephants
Great logos and mascots have an over-sized persona that overwhelms whatever origins it might have — but did you ever stop to think why political parties are named after donkeys and elephants? These animal identifications actually are a result of a late 19th century cartoonist named Thomas Nast. In 1870 Nast illustrated a political cartoon with a donkey — standing in for Democrats — kicking a despondent and already beaten-down lion. Back in 1828 future U.S. President Andrew Jackson took up a donkey icon after being called one by his political opponents, but it wasn’t a mascot for his party itself. The association between Republicans and the elephant was created by Nast four years after the Democrat/Donkey creation, again for a political strip. In it, an elephant labelled “The Republican vote” was among many zoo animals being scared by the Democratic donkey, dressed in a lion suit.
From all records, both parties took to their animal mascots relatively quickly — each emphasizing the positive aspects of their respective animals despite some obvious downsides to each as well. Political spin, 19th century style.
Tales From The Crypt
Man, the Cryptkeeper. That voice by John Kassir and that immaculately decrepit puppet was a staple of my teenage years in the early 1990s, but it owes itself both in concept and character to a 1950s-era EC Comics series of the same name. The advent of the Comics Code in 1955 cut the series short, but it’s lived on — like a story pulled straight out of the comics anthology — with movies, the television series, a pinball machine, and even a Saturday morning cartoon and a game show. But it all started with a little horror anthology comic with a who’s who of 1950s comic talent like Wally Wood, Harvey Kurtzman, Joe Orlando, Will Elder, Jack Davis and others.
Ripley’s Believe It or Not!
This chain of tourist-y museums of oddities is the public face to a franchise started by a California cartoonist/entreprenuer named Robert Ripley. Ripley, whose real life could be a Believe It Or Not story, got his start as 1910s sports star — in handball. After doing an illustrated book on handball, Ripley segued into a daily newspaper strip for the New York Globe in 1918 about sports feats but quickly broadened his scope to feats around the world one year later. After establishing himself, he became a sensation in the 1930s when his strip was syndicated by King Features. Ripley continued to draw the strip for years, and even hosted future comics greats like Bob Clarke and even a young Charles M. Schulz. But Ripley saw the expansion potential in the Believe It Or Not franchise, expanding to a radio series, films, musical and his first museum in 1932. At one point Ripley was even named the most popular man of America by the new York Times. And although the Ripley’s Believe It Not comic strip still runs to this day, sadly most people see it as a tie-in rather than the basis for the entire franchise.
For men of a certain age, Kelly LeBrock started their interest in science. But the basis for the Weird Science film by John Hughes all started out of a sister publication of the earlier mentioned Tales of the Crypt comic series by EC in the 1950s, titled Weird Science. The movie itself is based on a single 8 page story that appeared in the series’ fifth issue back in 1951 called “Made of the Future” by Al Feldstein (which is online here.) Feldstein’s story holds little surface resemblance to the movie in terms of characters, instead being about a lonely scientist who travels to the future to get a genetically-engineered wife. I like the movie’s story better.