Back in 1978, musicians Peter Frampton, the Bee-Gees and actor George Burns starred in a film adaptation of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It was a box office disaster, and in the fall out, a Marvel Comics adaptation for the North American market was canned. But editions were published elsewhere, and are, today, perhaps some of the rarest The Beatles comics memorabilia out there.
The Beatles have featured in many comics across the globe down the years, not least in a wonderful telling of their story by Angus Allan and Arthur Ranson in the weekly British comic Look-In, collected in print by Rebellion back in 2018.
Marvel Comics also delivered a charming bio-comic about the Fab Four in 1978, in Marvel Super Special #4 – the work of writer David Anthony Kraft, artist George Pérez, inker Klaus Janson and colourist Petra Goldberg, wrapped in a cover by Tom Palmer.
Having already published “The Beatles’ Story” as Super Special #4 that year, Marvel hired Kraft and to adapt the then eagerly -anticipated Sgt Pepper’s film, intended to run in Marvel Super Special #7. Bob Larkin provided the cover, with interiors inked by Jim Mooney and coloured by Janice Cohen.
Sadly, as the Comics Journal reported in 1979, the project fell foul of delays and poor box office, so Marvel decided not to release the adaptation in the US, but it was released in French by Arédit-Artima (one edition for the French market, another for the French-speaking Canadian market), in Dutch, and, reportedly and edition in Japanese, too.
Meanwhile, American and British readers were treated to Marvel Super Special #8 – Battlestar Galactica, with no explanation as to whatever happened to Issue #7.
In the book Modern Masters Volume 2: George Pérez, by Eric Nolen-Weathington, the artist recalls Marvel had nearly zero cooperation from the film’s production company, “and we didn’t realise that the [movie] script was still in so much flux that things we were putting in the comic were not going to appear in the movie and things we didn’t know about were going to be added to the movie.
“The plot was so convoluted and cheesy, even on the printed page,” Perez noted, “and after a while we realised it was not really going anywhere. They said they were going to have all these superstars appear at the end of the film and, of course, in the end they couldn’t get them – not that we could have used them anyway, because we didn’t have the licenses to use their likenesses. Also, I was paired with a very incompatible inker because the book was running so late. I was doing a terrible job on it, Jim Mooney was a terrible fit for me – though he did the best he could – [and] it was just one disaster after another.
“It was one of the nadirs of my career. I was so grateful that the book never got an American release.”
After the success of Marvel Super Special #4, a magazine-size, glossy-stock comic complete with psychedelic, fluorescent wrap-around cover, the story behind the planned Sgt Pepper’s is a bit of a sad one, but we’re told those French and Dutch publications, despite the claimed quality of the adaptation, are regarded as something of a holy grail among Beatles fans and comic collectors alike, one going so far as to reveal it took them twenty years to track copies down!
One mystery remains. Was the cover of the June 1978 edition of Marvel Comics humour magazine Pizzazz someone’s idea of revenge for the hassle the company went through on the Sgt. Peppers project?
I doubt we’ll ever know!
• Sgt. Peppers isn’t available, it seems, as a Region 2 DVD release, but a Region 1 US device compatible edition has been released | Film Soundtrack
Back in 2014, in the grand tradition of radio countdowns, Thirteenth Dimension brought fans the Top 13 Beatles Moments in Comics History
With much thanks to the Comic Book Historian Facebook Group for dragging me down this rabbit hole