Arthur Ranson is one of Britain’s most admired comic creators, with credits spanning 2000AD, Look-In, and much, much more – and he has documented a lot of his incredible work, in detail, on his excellent official web site. But wait a minute – where’s the entry for his adaptation of John Wyndham‘s The Day of the Triffids?
Well, it turns out some strip pages based on the story were something of a mystery to Arthur, too, so much so that he asked his fans if they recognise two pages of the story that have recently surfaced – and now, they have.
Sadly, we can now report that it wasn’t a complete adaptation of the story, although that was always unlikely.
The two “Triffids” artworks were previously in the ownership of fellow comic artist, the late John Cooper, although his widow, Lesley, told us she could not recall how he obtained them.
The first page of this mystery strip utilises locations Arthur knew well in the 1970s. Arthur tells us the bearded character featured is adapted from Fairburn reference works, even though Day of the Triffids fans feel the character driving the late 1970s Ford Escort Mk II that’s clearly been attacked by a Triffid resembles lead actor John Duttine as Bill Masen, from the BBC TV adaptation of Day of the Triffids released in 1981,
Reinforcing the belief this is an adaptation of the BBC drama, the second page features Triffids exactly as seen in n the same adaptation, and, as with the first page, appears to feature Emma Relph as Jo Playton.
Since first publishing this story, we have learnt the pages were commissioned by the Oxford University Press – Educational Division, a sticker on the back of one of the discovered boards revealing the details that the pages were created for a project identified as “VISA 3”, designed by “RM”.
This in turn led Arthur Ranson fan and art collector Paul Dawson to note Oxford University Press still publish a series of English Visa books which look like they encompass popular culture – including a 2002 edition of “Book 3”, featuring James Bond on the cover.
Was it possible, he wondered, that OUP published an English Visa Student Work Book published in the 1980s that included a few pages of “The Day of the Triffids”? And indeed, they did – because fellow collector Andy Janes kindly sent us some sample pages featuring the elusive “Triffids” strip, the pages clearly showing OUP drew on the BBC adaptation to present the story to students.
With this mystery solved, we now know these were not, as some suggested, sample works by Arthur, and “VISA 3” was a completed project. Now we just need to find a copy ourselves – and make sure we find the right edition!
Talking about the similarities between characters featured and the 1981 BBC adaptation, Arthur says “I do have a suspicion – a very vague one – that I was required to draw it so that no copyright problems would arise.
“So possibly a plagiarised and actor portrait free version of the BBC one. Just a thought. I certainly was never given any reference of TV material, though the Triffid does look as though it came from somewhere, I agree.”
The Day of the Triffids in Comics – A Guide
John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Benyon Harris (10th July 1903 – 11th March 1969) was the writer of some terrific novels and short stories, some of which have been made into films, radio drama and TV series – but less adaptations into comics.
His career as a fiction writer stories began in 1931 with publication in pulp magazines such as Wonder Stories (the first, titled “Worlds to Barter”, was published in the May 1931 issue, under his pen name John Beynon Harris), which eventually led to writing novels, including The Day of the Triffids, first published in 1951.
Before the publication of the Popular Library paperback edition of this story published in the United States in March 1952, titled Revolt of the Triffids, a condensed five-part series appeared in the weekly Collier’s magazine, in the issues dated 6th January to 3rd February 1951 also titled “Revolt of the Triffids”.
This series was illustrated by Fred Banbery, the British artist best known for his work illustrating editions of Michael Bond’s Paddington Bear books during the 1970s.
Despite the success of John Wyndham’s novels, few have been adapted into comics, and any such adaptation is something of an achievement.
More than one publisher has tried to secure rights to the acclaimed SF author’s work for such purpose in recent years, without success.
“I contacted the agency representing the Wyndham estate a couple of years ago to ask about licensing a graphic novel adaptation,” author Ben Dickson stated back in 2017.
“I was told in no uncertain terms that the Wyndham estate doesn’t like comics and would prefer the reader to ‘use their imagination’. (Apparently that idea doesn’t extend to films etc.).”
Ben was more than bemused by this response, given that of all Wyndham’s work, The Day of the Triffids remains the story that has seen the most adaptations into comics.
Correspondence in the John Wyndham Archive at the University of Liverpool includes a letter, dated 14th June 1954, from Brian J. Wareing of Preston, Lancashire, asking whether Wyndham would give him permission to adapt Day of the Triffids for publication as a serial in either of the DC Thomson titles Rover or Wizard. Without sight of the letter, we don’t know if this was as a text story of comic strip, but the date and format of both titles at the time would suggest the former. Wyndham replied on 16th June, telling Brian that a serialised version already existed and was in the hands of his agents and unfortunately there would be no possibility of it being serialised. (Wyndham may have been referring to the Collier’s adaptation).
Undaunted by this knock back, DC Thomson would go on to publish “The Deadly Days of the Capsids“, an illustrated test story that began in The Rover No. 1582, cover dated 22nd October 1955. A tale of alien invasion by strange beetle creatures, the Capsids, who take over St. Kilda island, when these aliens are struck down by the cold germ and go into suspended animation, deadly poisonous plants they have brought with them begin to run amok.
Spanning 12 issues, this ripping yarn reached a dramatic conclusion in No. 1593, cover dated 7th January 1956, with humans and Capsids working together against the dreadful alien plant invasion.
Sadly, we can’t tell you if Brian J. Wareing was the author of “The Deadly Days of the Capsids”, but thanks to author and publisher Phil Harbottle we do know it wasn’t written by other possible writers of comics text stories of the time, such as Denis Hughes.
“Hughes had a formulaic style with his ‘literary fingerprints’,” says Phil, “and these are absent in this very well-written story.
“John Burke was a very talented writer who was decidedly not formulaic,” he continues, throwing that author’s name into the ring. “It is entirely possible that the ‘Capsids’ serial was written by Burke, but alas it is impossible to be certain. From what I remember (I used to read all the Thomson story papers in the 50s) all of the ‘Big Five’, including the Wizard etc., used to run occasional SF serials, and since Burke is only known to have sold DCT one such serial, it is impossible to know if it was this particular one.
Phil also notes: that “‘Capsids’ was certainly very heavily influenced and inspired by Triffids, but it would be unkind and wrong to say it was a plagiarism or unauthorised adaptation of Wyndham. But it was certainly authored by someone who had read Wyndham. Burke would certainly qualify. He actually knew Wyndham, and met him many times at the White Horse meetings in London.”
The first known English language adaptation of The Day of the Triffids itself is a strip for the British weekly comic GIRL, the sister paper to Eagle, drawn by the redoubtable Leo Davy, published in between January and March 1964.
While proclaiming the novel as the origin of this “adaptation”, the strip owes more to the 1962 film, which included Doctor Who companion Carole Ann Ford in its cast. The strip’s “happy ending” even mirrors the film plot.
Marvel published an adaptation of Day of the Triffids in the 1970s, featured in early issues of their anthology magazine title, Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction, launched in 1975.
Gerry Conway adapted the story for early issues of the title, with art by Rico Rival, spoofed in 2017 for a poster featured in an episode of the Father Brown TV series.
A French adaptation, published as Revolté des Triffides, the title used as the basis for several international editions from the 1950s onwards, appeared in two successive 1977 Issues (62 and 63) of Aredit/Artima’s 1997 comics pocket series of Sideral. These two editions were the final releases in the title’s second series, published from November 1968 to March 1977. (We have a longer article here on this adaptation)
The most recent adaptation of The Day of the Triffids was drawn by Simon Gurr and serialised in the Bristol Evening Post, in 2004, as part of The Great Reading Adventure Project organised by Bristol Cultural Development Partnership.
Simon was commissioned to adapt the novel as a 12-part full-page comic, which the paper ran from 12th January 2004, which was very well received by both regular paper readers and teachers. Some schools reported that they had found the comic of benefit in getting pupils interested in reading the book, particularly since the involvement of the Evening Post gave the project credibility. At the City of Bristol College, teachers used the comic with students learning English as a foreign language. (It even encouraged Evening Post staff to read the novel!)
“I was very pleased to be given the opportunity to translate The Day of the Triffids from novel to comic strip serial,” Simon commented, as part of an Evaluation Report of the project. “John Wyndham has been a favourite author of mine for years, and this particular story is one I remember vividly from childhood. I hoped that the serialisation would awaken readers’ interest in the book and its author. Upon re-reading the novel I was delighted by how fresh it seemed and also by
how it reflected many contemporary issues.”
For now, the origin and commissioner of Arthur Ranson’s pages, apparently pages from a larger extent of work, remain a mystery.
• If you have any information on this mystery Day of the Triffids graphic novel with art by Arthur Ranson, please let us know, below!
“Revolt of the Triffids” appears in the following issues of Collier’s, illustrated by Fred Berny
• Collier’s Volume 127 #1, 6th January 1951
• Collier’s Volume 127 #2, 13th January 1951
• Collier’s Volume 127 #3, 20th January 1951
• Collier’s Volume 127 #4, 27th January 1951
• Collier’s Volume 127 #5, 3rd February 1951
This article was last updated on Monday 7th June 2021 to add information about Oxford University Press “Visa 3” and, previously to include more information on other comic strip adaptations of The Day of the Triffids and The Rover tale “The Deadly Days of the Capsids”
With much thanks to Arthur Ranson, Paul Dawson, Andy Janes and Jenni Scott