Novelizations and comic book adaptations in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s weren’t limited to motion pictures alone. Television provided a large array of material to be novelized and turned into comics. Most of these, though not all, were derived from popular genres such as Westerns, cop & detective stories, science-fiction, and even sit-coms. I don’t remember reading many, if any, novels and comic books based on TV shows. I don’t know why, because I was certainly watching most of these shows.
Here are examples of novelizations based on “adult” Westerns of the period. I particularly like the covers for The Scout (based on Wagon Train characters) and Have Gun Will Travel, both of which are illustrations rather than photographs of the actors.
Science-Fiction & Fantasy novelizations include the following. Some of these are for fairly recent TV shows, so novelizations aren’t exactly dead.
Some detectives. The Peter Gunn cover is especially nice.
The vast majority of comic book adaptations of TV shows was published by Gold Key Comics. The format was almost identical in appearance with that of Dell Comics. Gold Key’s parent company, Western Publishing, had previously provided content for Dell. In 1962, Western created Gold Key, which concentrated on popular television shows for newsstand distribution. Gold Key was active from 1962 to 1984.
Here are some of their titles. It’s like waking up inside TV Land.
Here are two Star Trek covers — one using photographs of the actors, as was usually done, and the other an illustrated cover with small inset photos of William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy.
While researching material for this post, I chanced upon something that seems pretty bizarre to me: John Wayne Adventure Comics. Thirty-one issues were published by Toby Press from 1949 to 1955. I’d never heard of these before and don’t recall ever seeing one. They are strange, to say the least. A photo or illustration of John Wayne in a movie role adorns most of the covers, usually in a Western or military setting. His character in all of the stories is called John Wayne. Each issue plays off his established movie persona as a cowboy or gung-ho soldier, or in at least two cases below, a wrestler of alligators or harpooner of whales.
Here is a sampling of John Wayne Adventure Comics covers:
I initially thought the cover below was for a real — though profoundly weird — DC comic, but it turns out to have been created by a comics fan and posted online. I’m glad I checked further. Nonetheless, it’s too cool not to include here.
John Wayne did many print ads for Camel cigarettes and other products, but this is the only one I’ve seen that uses illustrations rather than photographs, showing him in cowboy garb throwing a “two-fisted” punch. (Wayne survived lung cancer in 1964, then died of stomach cancer in 1979.)
Finally, the strangest John Wayne tie-in of them all — John Wayne Paper Dolls. Though this is not quite as strange as I initially thought, seeing as there’s a whole world of paper-doll aficionados out there. This one was done by Tom Tierney in 1981. Per his obituary in the New York Times in 2014: “From the mid-1970s until his death, Mr. Tierney reigned as the undisputed king of the international paper-doll world… a milieu that comprises thousands of collectors in the United States alone.” He created more than 400 paper-doll books that have sold four million copies. Okay, but the idea of John Wayne paper-dolls is still pretty weird. The book contains two dolls, a young and an old Wayne, and 32 costumes representing 30 of his films, including one titled Girls Demand Excitement (1931).
That’s a hard act to follow, so I think I’ll bring this to a close. I hope it’s been interesting. There’s a lot more of this stuff online, just a Google away. – Ted Hicks