Friday, July 26, 2013

King Kong Cover for Amazing Heroes!

Perhaps the best piece of art I created for the entire King Kong adaptation I drew for Fantagraphics' Monster Comics imprint in the early 1990s never appeared as part of the series. Instead, it was the cover for Amazing Heroes, the little sister publication to their more upscale publication, The Comics Journal. Here is a look at the original colored blueline.

As I've said before, King Kong was perhaps the most poorly marketed comic book in history. After years of effort to get the Kong license, Fantagraphics' strategy was to serialize the work in six bi-monthly issues (as if readers could be kept in suspense for over a year when they already knew the film's ending), with guest cover artists. I was drafted as a semi-name to write and draw the adaptation from the novelization (securing the RKO movie rights was prohibitive), and I like to think I did a creditable job. With no advertising, the household-name status of the property was supposed to sell itself. Naturally, sales were disappointing. But Fantagraphics was of the mindset that commercial success in comics = lowering your artistic standards, not making a creative effort at marketing.

To be fair, this was also an era in which the entire industry was still thinking in terms of serialized comic books and was not instantly repackaging them as graphic novels, which came later. If there was ever a series that should never have been a series in the first place but have gone straight to a graphic novel it was King Kong. In my view, Fantagraphics frittered away a golden opportunity to market this project as the definitive King Kong comic book adaptation and at the same time pioneer the field of original graphic novels.

Years later, when the Peter Jackson remake came out, Dark Horse Comics, which had secured the license for a new adaptation, maliciously maneuvered to keep my adaptation off the market (by that logic, sales of the old film on DVD should have been halted so as not to interfere with sales of the new version) . Unfortunately, the co-copyright I own in this work (which I share with the Merian C. Cooper estate) gave me insufficient leverage to enable this work to be collected as a graphic novel, as many people thought it deserved.


  1. I always thought this was a great read! It's too bad so few people ever read it, much less even knew it existed.

  2. I created and wrote a 3 issue mini-series for Fantagraphics Monster Comics titled Tyrannosaurus Tex, which was drawn by Ron Wilber. This was about 1991 and at the time CBG was doing free previews of comics in their pages. When I contacted Gary Groth and said that Tex would be a perfect subject for this, he replied that he wasn't promoting any of the other comics like this so he didn't know why he would single mine out for this promotion. He didn't see that this was the entire problem.--James Van Hise

  3. I believe it. Apes and dinosaurs were supposed to just sell themselves because they weren't art the way Love and Rockets supposedly was. Commercial comics was all about selling out, no real effort involved. How did Fantagraphics survive all these years? They must have evolved their views somewhat.