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.
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
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
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!
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...
small print: Books
Monthly, now well into its 22nd
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& Science Fiction
Bilk Sleeve Notes
Next month on the Stephen King
page: The world of Stephen King's The Dark Tower series - the books,
the comics, and the film.