Simian Saturdays: Giant Classic King Kong

Simian-Saturdays-logoWelcome back to Simian Saturdays, a series of reviews that examine the movies (and other media) that focused on King Kong, the giant monkey that captured generations of monster fans’ hearts. It’s part of our celebration of the release of King Kong, the latest addition to our Illustrated Classics library.

King Kong is an e-book exclusive that reintroduces monster fans to the 1932 novelization of the original movie classic. Written by Delos W. Lovelace, based on the story by Edgar Wallace and Merian C. Cooper and the screenplay by James A. Creelman and Ruth Rose, the SWC edition features scenes that didn’t appear in the final cut of the film—including the notorious “spider pit” sequence in which Kong’s human pursuers are attacked by horrific arachnids and insects. Our version also features six original black-and-white illustrations by comics artist Paul Tuma, whose pulp-influenced style has appeared in the pages of The Twilight Avenger, Flare, and Dan Turner: Hollywood Detective.

King_Kong_LG_CoverNot familiar with the beauty-and-the-beast story of Kong and his “love interest,” Ann Darrow (who was played in the 1933 original by the queen of the scream queens, Fay Wray)? Well, here’s our edition’s back-cover copy to bring you up-to-date:

Ann Darrow was a down-on-her-luck actress struggling to survive in Depression-era New York when she met moviemaker Carl Denham. He offered her the starring role in his latest film: a documentary about a long-lost island—and the godlike ape named Kong rumored to live there. Denham needed a beauty as a counterpart to the beast he hoped to find, and Ann was the answer to his prayers.

Mystery, romance, a chance to turn her life around, even the possibility of stardom—to Ann, it sounded like the adventure of a lifetime! But what she didn’t count on were the horrific dangers that awaited her on Skull Island—including the affections of a love-struck monster . . .

giant-classic-kongToday we’re doing a little comic-book reading—or rather big comic-book reading as we look at Giant Classic King Kong, a licensed adaptation of the Wallace and Cooper story that seems to use either the Delos Lovelace novelization or the Creelman-Rose early-draft screenplay as the source material, some tipoffs being the cargo ship going to Skull Island is called the Wanderer (as opposed to the Venture in the film) and Kong fighting three triceratops (a scene dropped in the final screenplay) before his brawl with the T-Rex. Originally published at traditional comic-book size in 1968 through Gold Key, it was reissued in 1976—presumably to take advantage of the 1976 film remake—by Whitman Publishing as a super-sized “treasury edition”—a 10″ x 13″ format made popular at the time by Marvel and DC. It’s the latter version I picked up back in the day (at a local Woolworth’s), and what we’re looking at today.

Kong-GoldKey-Pg14Unfortunately, as was commonplace in the comics industry at the time, and especially with Gold Key/Dell/Western Publishing/Whitman Publishing, no credit is listed for the writer. Thankfully, the editors did see fit to credit the cover painter, George Wilson (Star Trek, Turok, Son of Stone, Space Family Robinson), and the artist tasked with bringing Kong to four-color comic life: the immensely talented Alberto Giolitti.

Giolitti was a mainstay at the company, having worked on numerous series—mostly Westerns—since his arrival in the States from Italy in 1949. It was in the 1960s that he really hit his stride with their licensed titles, drawing multiple issues of Star Trek, Tarzan, The Twilight Zone, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, as well as the one-issue adaptation of Beneath the Planet of the Apes. And then there’s King Kong.

Kong-GoldKey-Pg15Storywise, it’s a faithful translation of the source material, breaking the adventure into seven chapters across 64 pages. (FYI: The pages you see reproduced here came from the official Alberto Giolitti website—the treasury pages are too big to fit on a scanner—but are from an Italian reprint, which required me to reletter the balloons and captions, following the English edition. Click the images to embiggen, as they say.) What it lacks is characterization, but that’s to be expected from a one-shot comic in which there’s very little room for depth—an adaptation has to hit the ground running and not stop until the last page. Besides, you can always order our novelization to get that greater depth. 😉

Artwise, it’s classic Giolitti, with pages filled with highly detailed environments and action-packed sequences. His depiction of Kong is a little weak, but whether the big ape is battling dinosaurs or rampaging through New York City, Giolitti makes it all look fantastic. (Although, who at Gold Key decided Kong should be colored blue?)

Kong-GoldKey-Pg58The cast is fairly nondescript: Ann Darrow is a generic blonde, Jack Driscoll a handsome guy, Carl Denham a middle-aged guy with a thin mustache; no doubt Gold Key wasn’t willing to pay for the likeness rights to Fay Wray, Bruce Cabot, and Robert Armstrong. (I noticed, however, that Armstrong makes an appearance as a Wanderer crewmate in that chapter-three splash page you see here. He’s the one looking directly at the reader.) As a whole, though, it’s an outstanding art job, and the oversized reproduction makes it look all the better.

Bottom line? The Gold Key comic is a little pricey these days, going for up to $70.00 from some sellers, but if you can track down a cheap copy of the Whitman treasury definitely consider picking it up. After all, a story about a giant monkey should really be enjoyed by reading it in an equally giant comic.

Giant Classic King Kong
Written by Unknown
Art by Alberto Giolitti
Cover painting by George Wilson
64 pages • full color • treasury size
Originally published in 1968 by Gold Key Comics
Republished in 1976 by Whitman Publishing

Coming Next Saturday: Yet another adaptation of the original Kong—only this one is an audio drama produced in the 1960s! Don’t miss the next installment of Simian Saturdays as we put on our listening ears (as Judge Judy would say) and check out King Kong: The Original RKO-General Motion Picture Classic!

King Kong (the SWC edition) is available for download through the SWC webstore. Visit its product page for ordering information.

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