Books Monthly April 2020 The Stephen King page - this month: The Dark Tower Graphic Novels...
Books Monthly
The Stephen King Page...


Stephen King: The Dark Tower and those awful graphic novels...

An epic war between good and evil... wait a minute, isn't that how I started last month's Stephen King essay, about Doctor Sleep? Let me just check... yes, it was, exactly those words. Well, so much of Stephen King's output is about good and evil, and the struggle between the two. But in the case of the seven-volume magnum opus, The Dark Tower (I don't count The Wind Through the Keyhole, for reasons to which I will come later), this really is an epic struggle between Roland, the last gunslinger, and the Crimson King, who wants to destroy the universe and have what's left for himself and his minions.

King started writing The Gunslinger in 1978, eventually finishing Book 7 in the noughties after almost dying from that terrifying and apocalyptic RTA in which he almost lost his life. Along the way, several editions of the books have been published around the world, the originals were sometimes lavishly illustrated. And then Marvel Comics got hold of the series and began to issue a load of graphic novels based on the story and apparently approved by King and his Dark Tower guru, Robin Furth. I started to collect them... but I was never happy with them, because the art in them was highly stylised and not to my taste. (The cover art is not that bad, but the interior art is appalling!) I'm not actually that enamoured of Hodder & Stoughton's cover art on the UK editions, and I think more money could have been spent on cover art that was truly representative of the value of these seven novels to the Stephen King canon.

I have long been a champion of paperback cover art for fantasy and adventure novels, and frequently found fault with Edgar Rice Burroughs's UK publishers for not publishing uniform sets of his novel series (Tarzan, John Carter, Pellucidar), when I was librarian of the British Edgar Rice Burroughs Society (which still lives, thanks to the sterling efforts of Rod Jackson). In those days, Ace Books in the US and Bantam Books (also in the US) were happy to send me their ERB titles, all uniform series. It used to be like that in the UK, of course. Four Square published every Tarzan book in a uniform series that was mostly illustrated by the great Edward Mortelmans. But when Sphere books began to publish the Pellucidar series, the covers were all over the place, really dreadful, and the complete seven volume set could not be identified as a set at all. In contrast, Hodder & Stoughton have a seven-volume set of The Dark Tower, the first volume of which is pictured above. I'm not impressed. I think they could have done better, and it's high time these seminal books were reissued anyway. I keep this series as reading copies only. If I want to look at seriously good cover art for the Dark Tower series, I have to go back to the original paperbacks, with illustrations and cover art by Michael Whelan.

As for the graphic novels - well, there is so much talent out there nowadays, that it beggars belief that Marvel would commission this dreadful artwork (both cover art and interior comic strip art) that is so avant garde, so off the wall that it's possible to forget quite quickly that you are reading one of Stephen King's finest creations. There are brilliant illustrations of scenes from the Dark Tower series that really capture the essence of King's finest writing - but the Marvel Dark Tower series of graphic novels is really quite horrendous. I have always been a comic book reader, right from my earliest years, when I would happily sit on the floor and look at such British stalwarts as ROBIN and JACK AND JILL, gradually graduating to comics like Knockout, Film Fun, and then on to my favourite weekly comics, Lion and Tiger, Sun and Comet, the illustrators of which are celebrated in this month's Book of the Month: MASTERS OF BRITISH COMIC ART, courtesy of Rebellion Publishing. Now if Marvel had been able to commission Don Lawrence for the Dark Tower graphic novel series, that would have been something!

I really don't like the Marvel series, and I got rid of my collection many years ago. Marvel tried to be too clever, in my opinion, and chose an artist to kick start their series who was not up to the challenge. Steer well clear, is my advice, and read the books. I believe the second tranche, based on THE DRAWING OF THE THREE, contains more traditional comic book art, but it's not something I'm inclined to invest in, and Marvel Comics are far too churlish to send out review copies - I know, I've tried... THE DARK TOWER series is Stephen King at his absolute best, and as such it deserves the very best treatment, not something weird and distorted such as Marvel thought would be good enough for the Master...

Next month: 11:22:63...

The small print: Books Monthly, now well into its 22nd year on the web, is published on or slightly before the first day of each month by Paul Norman. You can contact me here. If you wish to submit something for publication in the magazine, let me remind you there is no payment as I don't make any money from this publication. If you want to send me something to review, contact me via email at and I'll let you know where to send it.

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Next month on the Stephen King page: The world of Stephen King's The Dark Tower series - the books, the comics, and the film.