Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Today in Comics History: 26-year old movie shuts down internet it didn't predict

Today in Comics History: yadda yadda yadda, blah blah blah, Back to the Future, Part II, la la la la.

Yes, today is the day that Marty McFly went back to the future (actual definitions of the word "back" may include "forward"). And, like the similar celebrations we had on November 5, 1955 and September 2, 1885, the media has gone hog-wild and commercial companies have showered us with a wealth of future-y consumer items like Pepsi in a Tube™, Floaty Skateboard Thing™, Max Spielberg™ Movies, and Fax™ Machines™. Who says that Bob Zemeckis™ didn't have his finger on the pulse of our current year? Well, aside from critics of his 2015 movie The Walk™.

About the only thing that BttFII (pronounced "butt-foo") didn't predict was that on this very day, IDW would release the first issue of an all-new comic book series! Sadly, without a dust jacket.

Cover of Back to the Future (2015 IDW series) #1 (October 2015)

But as the multiple appearances in the films of everybody's favorite BttF characters like "Biff Tannen," and "Clock Tower Lady," and "Michael Jackson" show, history repeats itself. Could the very medium of comic books be a part of a multiple time paradox in that they existed and yet will exist? As Doctor Emmett Brown explained
the encounter could create a time paradox. The results of which could cause a chain reaction that would unravel the very fabric of the space-time continuum and destroy the entire universe!... Granted, that's the worst-case scenario. The destruction however might be limited merely to our own galaxy.
And if you don't understand that, you're just not thinking fourth-dimensionally. Or, you're not remembering that Harvey produced a Back to the Future comic book back in the early 1990s!

Cover of Back to the Future (1991 Harvey series) #1 (November 1991), art by [REDACTED]

(By the way: can you guess which modern master of comic book art drew the covers for this series? Answer below!)

Yep, Harvey. The comic book company that ruled the newsstands during the 1970s with Casper, The Friendly Ghost, Hot Stuff, Sad Sack, Baby Huey, the Infantile Duck with a Severe and Alarming Congenital Disease, and, lest we forget, approximately one zillion Richie Rich comics, published a short-lived BttF comic (and follow-up miniseries) tied into the CBS Saturday morning animated series, which featured Christopher Lloyd in short live-action "science!" segments after each episode — though not as the voice of Doc in the animated series. That actor? Dan "Homer Simpson" Castellaneta. And in the series, Mary Steenburgen and Thomas F. Wilson voiced their animated counterparts! Didn't see the cartoon? (And Bill Nye was in it!) Didn't watch the movies, collect the bubble-gum cards, or read any of the tie-in novelizations? Don't worry: First Issue Handy Recap Page™ has got ya covered:

Splash page of Back to the Future (1991 Harvey series) #1 (November 1991), script by Dwayne McDuffie, pencils by Nelson Dewey, inks by Nelson Dewey and Ken Selig, letters by Grace Kremer

Writer Dwayne McDuffie (the late great) is better known for his DC/Milestone work, co-creating Damage Control, and animation scripting and producing credits, but I can only say, trying to be kind, that the Back to the Future comic book isn't his finest work. Hampered by being two steps removed from the original source material as well as written for the younger audience Harvey marketed to, these are extremely simple plots without the intricacy of the movies' elaborate set pieces. The art by Nelson Dewey was occasionally elaborate and imaginative...

...but often verged on the edge of exceptionally "cartoonish," even for a...well, for a cartoon:

Panels from Back to the Future #2 (January 1992); script by Dwayne McDuffie, pencils, inks, and colors by Nelson Dewey

(An aside: One Little Cool Thing I'm gonna tip my hat to McDuffie for: the mention of Medfield as Hill Valley's twinned city in the above panel. Don't remember Medfield? It, and its titular Medfield College, was the setting for all those crazy-fun live-action Disney comedies of the 1960s-70s like The Absent-Minded Professor, The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, and Now You See Him, Now You Don't — all of them featuring "mad science" of the sort that Doc Brown would have rightfully given props to!)

Under Dewey's pencil, the simplified caricatures of the animated series could become even more distorted.

Panel from Back to the Future #4 (June 1992); script by Dwayne McDuffie (adapted from [an animated series script (?) by] Peyton Reed and Mark Cowen), pencils, inks, colors, and letters by Nelson Dewey

This not a flattering look for the gorgeous Mary Steenburgen:

On the other hand, Nelson Dewey does an amazing job portraying the trilogy's Delorean time machine. That's not surprising considering that while this is virtually his only major comic book work (he's also done stories in Cracked and WHAM-O Giant Comics), but he's illustrated motor cars for many issues of CARtoons, HOT ROD Cartoons,, CYCLEtoons and more magazines of the type likely to be seen on Jeremy Clarkson's coffee table.

I should point out that the covers of the comic book were not drawn by Dewey. Here's another one. Can you guess which comics legend created it yet? (If not, more covers and the answer below!)

Cover of Back to the Future #3 (March 1992), art by [REDACTED]. I've digitally erased the artist's very recognizable signature from this cover to avoid giving the answer away too quickly!

The series' scripts play out fairly innocuous (and not-quite-hilarious) gags…

from Back to the Future #1

Panel from Back to the Future #3 (March 1992); script by Dwayne McDuffie (adapted from the animated series script by Mark and Michael Klastorin, pencils, inks, and colors by Nelson Dewey well as repeating familiar movie tropes:

By the way, that episode/issue where the Doc and Marty went back to Ancient Rome? Might be based on a comment by Christopher Lloyd, in which he said that he always wanted to do one more movie, in which Marty and Doc Brown time-travel back to Ancient Rome. You can still do it, guys.

So! Did you guess who the big-name comic artist responsible for the series' covers is yet? Here's two more covers, and I'm pretty sure you can guess from his familiar renderings of lizards 'n' dinosaurs (if not [CLUE] for his philtrums):

Covers of Back to the Future #2 & 4 (January and June 1992), art by Gil Kane

That's right: all four covers were drawn by veteran comics master Gil Kane, who brings his dynamic style, solid anatomy, and big-ass dinosaurs to even this very cartoony of properties.

While the Back to the Future comic book ended after four issues, it was almost immediately followed by a three-issue miniseries awkwardly titled Back to the Future: Forward to the Future. Because "Forward into the Past!" was already taken. For all intents and purposes, it's basically issues #5-7. Once again it's scripted by McDuffie and drawn by Dewey, who, when he's not good, he's really not that good:

Panels from Back to the Future: Forward to the Future #2 (November 1992), script by Dwayne McDuffie, pencils and letters by Nelson Dewey

This may be because the art was reproduced — for the first two issues, at least — directly from Dewey's pencils, with no inking. Artistic/creative decision, or Harvey's attempt at saving money by not paying Dewey for inking? You be the judge. That said, when it's not focused directly on the characters, Dewey's artwork can be imaginative and detailed.

And he can throw in an impressively whimsical and creative effect now and then:

Panels from Back to the Future: Forward to the Future #3 (January 1993); script by Dwayne McDuffie; pencils, inks, and letters by Nelson Dewey

Still, I can't help but wonder "what if" the property had been drawn by someone like Sergio Aragonés or even McDuffie's Damage Control collaborator Ernie Colon. Maybe in some alternate timeline...? But whatever you say about it, I think we all have to agree: Back to the Future was a comic book published by Harvey.

And considering Harvey Comics' output of the 1990s, Back to the Future sighs with relief that it is not the worst movie-to-comic book adaptation ever made.

Nor was it one of the nearly a dozen Harvey titles based on this long-lifed media property:

Well, we can't all be Richie Rich. Happy October 21, 2015, Back to the Future!


Blam said...

"I guess everything started when my friend, Doc Emmett Brown, invented a time machine out of a DeLorean!" Everything?!? That'd be like the biggest causal loop ever!

Nelson said...

Well -- thanks (I guess) for at least a little praise (occasionally).

I had to follow the model sheets created for the animated TV series, so I didn't have much leeway in how I drew the characters. (Sorry, Mary Steenburgen!)

There were no pencils used as the final art -- it was all inked in one form or another. I admit to playing around and experimenting with techniques that didn't always work the way I hoped.

And I DID do a few covers: all three of the three-part mini-series (Oct., Nov., and Jan 1992 & 93).

Happy to say I also have the original Gil Kane art of the dinosaur cover -- it's inspiring to study it and hope to some day come close to his talent!