1941 – The Illustrated Story

1941 - The Illustrated Story

By Stephen Bissette, Rick Veitch & Allan Asherman (Heavy Metal/Arrow Books)
ISBN: 0- 09922-720-7

It’s not often that I get to review a graphic adaptation that surpasses the source material, but this odd little item certainly does that. I’ll leave it to your personal tastes to determine if that’s because of the comic creators or simply because the movie under fire here wasn’t all that great to begin with…

Written by Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale and John Milius, 1941 was a big budget screwball comedy starring some of the greatest comedy talents of the day and Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster follow-up to Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It did not receive the same accolades and approbation.

The plot, adapted by Allan Asherman, concerns one night in December of that year when Hollywood was panicked by sightings of Japanese planes and submarines. One week after the devastation of Pearl Harbor, much of America, and particularly the West Coast, was terrified of an invasion by the Imperial Forces of Emperor Hirohito.

In this tale one lone sub, borrowed from the Nazis, actually fetches up on the balmy shores of La-La land, but is largely ignored by the populace. The panic actually starts when gormless Zoot-Suiters Wally and Denny use an air-raid siren to distract store patrons and staff so that they can shop-lift new outfits, and peaks later when the feckless wastrels start a fist-fight at a USO (United Services Organisation) Dance. From there chaos and commotion carry this tale to its conclusion.

For the film that isn’t too successful, burdened as it is by leaden direction and a dire lack of spontaneity, but the frenetic energy and mania that was absent on screen is present in overwhelming abundance in the comic art of Steve Bissette and Rick Veitch. Taking their cue from the classic Mad Magazine work of the 1950s, they produced a riot of colour pages for the tie-in album reminiscent of Underground Comix and brimming with extra sight-gags, dripping bad-taste and irony, and combining raw, exciting painted art with collage and found imagery.

It’s not often that I say the story isn’t important in a graphic package, but this is one of those times. 1941 – The Illustrated Story is a visual treat and a fine example of two major creators’ earlier – and certainly more experimental – days. If you get the chance, it’s a wild ride you should take.

© 1979 Universal City Studios, Inc. and Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.