Review by Shane Meyer

yellow submarine graphic novel

Every culture has its Golden Age, a fabled era and place to which it might return should the boundaries (internal and external) and mitigating circumstances comprising reality fall away. Integral to the myth, in those who subscribe to it, is the belief that the Golden Age has been taken from them. You need three things to stir this fantasy’s pot: a) something taken; b) someone who’s taken it; c) someone to give it back.  Yellow Submarine has all three.  This “fully authorized” (the press kit is keen on this point) comic book version of the famous cartoon/album has been published to tell the story to a generation of readers for whom the cartoon and album haven’t quite brought the point home.


Logline: Under attack from the Blue Meanies—who, with the aid of anti-music missiles, have laid siege to Sgt. Pepper’s band—the inhabitants of Pepperland send Lord Admiral Fred via Yellow Submarine to enlist the help of the Beatles.


Fred has difficulty communicating once in the Squareverse: “Woozle-wozzle, Music! Um, er, flubba-dubba, Submarine! Walla walla bing-bang, Blue Meanies!” he beseeches Ringo and John. They aren’t sure what he’s about, but in 1968 it’s the sort of thing that happened all the time.


What passes for humor in the comic book arises from puns, verbal miscues and slapstick. The action, lacking suspense or surprise, rolls along without pause or consequence. Scale and time lack plausibility, like listening to a child tell a story. But every child’s story has one good bit. This one comes at a crucial, quiet moment when Ringo steps on a bagpipe, “WAAAHH.”


The palette of writer/illustrator Bill Morrison is loud and his composition is busy. It’s designed for people who know what to expect–maybe one of the problems with nostalgia trips–and don’t want that expectation left unmet. Nevertheless, halfway through, at the Sea of Holes, Morrison manages to accomplish a nifty visual trick having to do with depth of field. “This place reminds me of Blackburn, Lancashire,” says John. I think it’s a joke for English people or Beatle fanatics.


On the run from the Blue Meanies, the lads find some goofy outfits and band equipment. That explains the cover of the album. Finally, after a great deal of bantering and romping, they restore Pepperland to its former glory.


“Disguised as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the Beatles played a groovy tune! Their music poured out over Pepperland like a welcome summer shower on a parched farmland. But to the Meanies, it was an acid rain.”


As political parables go, Yellow Submarine is naïve to the point where you wonder if it’s reached a higher and more completely inaccessible stage of irony:  the Nowhere Man becomes a Somebody and teaches the head Meanie—ready in Nazi fashion to decamp to Argentina—about Love, about saying Yes:


“Oh ‘yes’ is a word with a glorious ring, a true, universal, euphonious thing! Engenders embracing and chasing of the blues, the very best for the whole world to use.”


If Yellow Submarine were to be taken as the Golden Age wish of the 60s, one might surmise the following of the flower child’s ideal world: solipsistic (“it’s all in the mind”), apolitical, morally black-and-white (despite the obsession with color) and immersed in music 24/7.  It sounds like hell. Also, “All You Need Is Love”: demonstrably untrue.


I wouldn’t say I sympathize with the Blue Meanies, but credit where credit’s due: without their instinctive hatred of music, the comic would have been 50 pages of Ringo deciding whether to commit suicide. On second thought…


The Yellow Submarine was released  October 17, 2018.

The Furious Gazelle received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.