With Stephen King’s seventy-fifth birthday arriving in just a few days, there’s plenty of the man’s pop culture machinations to celebrate, along with his fascinating life.
Not only is the prolific horror writer known for his books and movies, but King has also made the foray into comic books over his decades-long writing career. And he’s gotten to work with some of the best the industry has ever produced.
Comic books often turn up in King’s writing, be it in his fiction or in autobiographical accounts and interviews with the man. Like the rest of us, he’s been a fan of the medium since he was a kid.
Within the pages of Bizarre Adventures #29, Marvel Comic’s oversized anthology of out-there stories steeped in science fiction and horror, you’ll find Stephen King’s comic book adaptation of The Lawnmower Man, illustrated by industry legend, Walt Simonson. It features the original text of the short story, first published in 1975 which was then published again in King’s Night Shift collection in 1978. It’s certainly a highly-prized collector’s item these days. If interested, you can find a handsome IDW hardcover portfolio edition of Simonson’s original art at a better comic book shop or, more likely, ebay, or a comic book convention somewhere near you.
Creepshow, published in 1982 by an imprint of Penguin Books was the comic book adaptation of the George A. Romero film, featuring the visualization of two short stories of King’s work along with three tales made specifically for the horror movie. Notably, the one-off comic teamed King with another Master of the Macabre in famed illustrator, Bernie Wrightson (Swamp Thing, Frankenstein, Batman: The Cult). It wouldn’t be the only time the two worked together.
I first experienced the bridging of Stephen King and comic books sometime in the mid-1980s. I was already reading King’s novels, specifically Thinner, which he wrote under the pseudonym, Richard Bachman, a book that has made a lifelong impression on me, along with his stories Cujo and The Eyes of the Dragon. It was at that time that I came upon Cycle of the Werewolf (originally published in 1983), a short novel that was illustrated, again, by Bernie Wrightson whose comic book work I absolutely adored. As with all of Wrightson’s gothic work, here were finely detailed, highly charged stills from the fiction that played beautifully (in horrific ways of course) with King’s prose. It’s a book that is still treasured in my collection of books and comics, and I have fond memories watching the movie version, Silver Bullet (1985), on VHS in the basement with friends during summer holidays as a child.
Those were good times, filled with great – and scary – books and comic books!
It wasn’t all horror for King, however. Featuring an all-star line-up, King would work with Wrightson again via three-pages in the Marvel Comics Heroes For Hope (1985) double-sized one-off comic book that aimed to raise awareness about hunger in Africa. A charity event, the comic book showed the altruistic side of King and, importantly, his knowledge and care for politics and global events.
Along with adaptations of his prose stories and his comic book writing, Stephen King could often be read in the introductions to highly acclaimed comic book compilations, again showcasing his interest and love of the medium and the artists and writers that regularly worked within it. He was, in essence, a champion for them, lending his own voice and notoriety to put more -and new – eyes on the works that existed within sequential art. As an example, Batman #400 (1986), an immense anniversary issue full of stories and art featuring the Dark Knight Detective, written and illustrated by a host of talents, was one of these sorts of endeavours. Here, King praised the previous five years of Batman publications, specifically the work of Frank Miller and his seminal The Dark Knight Returns story, for saving Batman from the poppy campiness that was the 1960-1970 era and returning him to a darker, noirish existence. You see, King, like us, was always paying attention to what was happening to his beloved characters and the art form in which they existed.
Of course, most recently, alongside co-writer Scott Snyder and artist Rafael Albuquerque, Stephen King co-created the American Vampire (2010) series, winner of both the Eisner Award and Harvey Award. It encapsulated America through various generations, seen through the eyes of a vampire, of course. Additionally, Stephen King’s acclaimed novel The Stand (2008) has seen publication in comic book form, as has his much-loved The Dark Tower (2007) series of novels, the latter of which was adapted by close confident Robin Furth alongside comic book legend Peter David. It features the Gothic-inspired artistic work of fan favourites , Jae Lee and Richard Isanove, their imagery, full of mist and mystery and horror. The series is a beautiful addition that shines a new visual light on the original prose.
It’s been a long, storied and wonderful road for Stephen King and the comic book medium, full of stories and writings that run the range between shock and comfort that broaden the minds of readers everywhere. King’s words and ideas always provoke and, importantly, always entertain.
Here at Biff Bam Pop!, we wish Stephen King nothing but the best on the eve of his seventy-fifth birthday. In addition to an oeuvre of fantastic publications, here’s to many. many more of his great comic book tales still to come!