Best TV Licensed Comics?

A thought struck me after reading Ed’s Battlestar Galactica review … what are the best licensed comics?

There are a ton of not very good ones, but which ones really capture the feel of the original material? Just for discussion, let’s stick to TV shows. It would also be nice if they were good comics whether or not you know the characters. Here are a couple of my suggestions.

The Muppet Show — Maybe it’s too early to declare, with only one issue out, but it was really good. This title also has the advantage of not having to match likenesses of people, since it’s about puppets.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 — Having the original creators involved means a lot.

Historically, KC nominates Dobie Gillis for its great Bob Oskner artwork. He also mentioned that Alien, by Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson, is generally considered one of the best adaptations of all time, but that’s different, because it wasn’t new stories with the same characters.

Licensed comics are difficult. Artists need to be able to do likenesses and have a style well-suited for the property. Often, they’re selected on other qualities (like availability). The reader often misses the subtleties of performance and movement and the actor’s personality that they got on the show. What you wind up being left with is plot, and then you can’t do much with that, because the show wants to maintain control. If it’s still running, then nothing big is going to happen in a comic, and if it isn’t, then many of the viewers aren’t going to care. Writers also can’t make a change the series isn’t going to reflect.

Given all that, maybe it would be smarter to adapt sitcoms instead of the big-deal science fiction properties that are frequently chosen, but the latter has more natural audience crossover with comics.

Another advantage was demonstrated in the recent Eureka miniseries (which was disappointing otherwise): they were able to use characters played by actors who they couldn’t or didn’t get to return and continue working with them.

Has anyone read the Ghost Whisperer adaptation? That seems like it would be a good property to use, since the material is episodic, and there isn’t a lot of character development on the show anyway.

Ultimately, it boils down to creators — if someone talented knows, likes, and respects the property, you’re going to end up with something better than someone doing a job on a book that exists just because the publisher could get the license.

So, which licensed TV comics are Worth Reading?

Update: Now I see that Tokyopop is going to be doing a book called CSI: Interns. That appears to be the most minimal level of licensing: name only. The characters and story sound like they’ll be different from the show.

20 Responses to “Best TV Licensed Comics?”

  1. James Schee Says:

    I would go with the Angel/Spike series (especially Spike Shadow Puppets!!) that Brian Lynch has been writing for IDW. They just really nail the voices of the characters.

    I actually think Angel After the Fall is better than Buffy Season 8. Though a part of that is that to me Buffy’s story was done, while Angel or his supporting cast at least still had some legs.

  2. david brothers Says:

    Do the Scrooge McDuck comics count? There are some real gems in the first few years of Larry Hama’s GI Joe, and Life & Times of Scrooge McDuck. I feel like those sit in a special category for licensed books, since the narrative in them had the freedom to do what the shows never could.

  3. Lori Henderson Says:

    I hated the first “Supernatural” mini series, so I didn’t bother with the second.

    The “Chuck” mini series was okay. It did do a good job with portraying the characters, just didn’t care for the story.

    The first new “Doctor Who” series was good. I liked how the second started, but the ending was a bit of the a disappointment.

    I dropped both “Angel” and “Buffy” cause they weren’t holding my interest. Sounds like it was good I missed the “Eureka” series…

  4. Suzene Says:

    I’ve been enjoying the latest ‘Farscape’ comics, though the art is very hit-and-miss. Also, the ‘Return to Labyrinth’ and ‘Legend of the Dark Crystal’ mangas were quite good. LotDC was a bit grim; I guess that’s to be expected when you’re dealing with a genocide tale, but I really was surprised by how little that was softballed.

  5. Suzene Says:

    Ah, sorry. Forgot that we were sticking to TV stuff about halfway through.

    Wendy Pini’s adaptations of the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ characters were gorgeous, though I thought the first one was weaker than the second story-wise.

  6. Johanna Says:

    Wow, I’d forgotten about Innovation’s stuff. They could have been pretty successful in a different decade, with more bookstore support, I think. (And yeah, I keep thinking of movies, too, but then we have to talk about the Star Wars Marvel comics.)

    I’ve found the Angel comics very hit or miss — some, like the Spike Puppet one, I adored, but some are terrible. I haven’t tried the most current Doctor Who. The ones I hear are good sound too short!

    David, Scrooge doesn’t count if we stick solely to TV, but KC mentioned him, too, as perhaps the most successful license ever, both commercially and creatively.

  7. James Schee Says:

    Yeah that’s why I said Brian Lynch written ones, including the Shadow Puppets one where Spike became a puppet.:) (so did Lorne!)

  8. RAB Says:

    The Bongo Comics titles are pretty variable, but they’re never less than perfectly adequate TV tie-in comics…and sometimes they’re astonishingly good. The mere idea of publishing Bart Simpson’s favorite comic “Radioactive Man” — including a purported comics adaptation of the Radioactive Man movie being filmed in one Simpsons episode — was a very sharp move. These days, the comics often have more life and energy than the series which spawned them.

  9. Johanna Says:

    Oh, good reminder! Yes, the Simpsons do work very well, and they’re a good example of a sitcom adaptation.

  10. Sonic2nd Says:

    Bongo’s Futurama comics are also pretty good. They also printed my favorite crossover of all time the Simpsons/Futurama crossover mini series.

  11. Jim Perreault Says:

    You can’t count GI Joe, as the show was an adaption of the comic. Ditto for Transformers, although in the latter case, the show was what defined the franchise.

    Going back a decade, I liked the adaptions that Bill Spangler worked on. These include “Robotech: Return to Macross” and “Robotech: Malcontent Uprisings” for Robotech and a whole slew of Alien Nation mini-series.

    I believe Alien Nation has the distinction of being the first comic to resolve the final episode cliffhanger (an adaption of the unfilmed script).

  12. Justin Says:

    I have to agree with Lori about Chuck. It captured the feel of the show very well in both art and character portrayal. And from the first issue, I thought it might defy that handicap of licensed comics, and actually explore something new. There was promise, but it did not.

    Still it was nice to have over the summer hiatus. Which was the intention. If they do it again this year, I would almost rather it be a series of stand alones. The story seemed to suffer from being too long. Though I always intended to read all my issues at once and see if that would help.

  13. Chris G. Says:

    I don’t know that they were good in the sense of being faithful to the original material, but I always loved DC’s Star Trek comics from the mid-80s. It was stunning how the stories contorted themselves to fit in-between movies that each radically changed the series’ status quo and then acted like that had been the plan all along.

  14. thekamisama Says:

    I’d love to see some more classic licensed comics get the reprint treatment. So far the only ones I can think of are the Checker editions of the Gold Key books and the stuff IDW is doing with the old Marvel stuff for Doctor Who, Transformers, etc.

    Dobbie Gillis? That goes into a amazing list of 60’s DC licensed books. Surely DC could manage to get Jerry Lewis, the estates of Bob Hope or Phil Silvers (or Paramount for the Bilko character proper) or whoever owns the rights to Dobbie Gillis (Fox?) to allow them to do Showcase, TPB, or Archive format reprints?

  15. Johanna Says:

    I tried the Chuck comic, but it seemed to be referring to too many things I didn’t remember for me to get into it. But yes, the likenesses were very good. And that is a good timing plan.

    I suspect the 60s licensed books would be cost-prohibitive to reprint.

  16. Chickenbone Robinson Says:

    It’s a little geeky I know, but I really like the Dr. Who comics, and I used to love the TNG comics.

  17. Shaun Huston Says:

    I’ve been enjoying the FRINGE mini-series, but I can’t imagine why anyone who wasn’t into the show would read it. The main appeal is the backstory for Walter Bishop and developing a history for certain devices and events on the series, and experimenting further with the implications of the “fringe” science conceit.

    I also read all of the Whedonverse books. The FIREFLY stories have been nice additions to that world. I tend to agree that the new ANGEL series feels more organically connected to the TV series, while BUFFY SEASON EIGHT seems more like its own animal; the scale of the narrative is so much larger than that on the show. I like the fact that Whedon et al are using comics to tell stories that they couldn’t afford to do on TV, but I suspect that some who loved the show have decided to give up on the books. At the same time, the new John Byrne ANGEL series, BLOOD & TRENCHES, looks very promising for the same reason I like the FRINGE books: it fills in “gaps” in the TV canon by looking at a period of history for the character(s) that we haven’t seen before.

    I am very conflicted about the artwork for these kinds of books. I am impressed by strong likenesses, but few artists can get everyone “right”. Sometimes I think I prefer to see stylized versions of the characters to more exact renderings of the actors; the cartoon Scoobies in BUFFY #20 are all readily identifiable as their characters even though they look less like real people than the standard drawings. The attempt at more accurate likenesses can draw attention to the inevitable distortions in ways that more obviously unrealistic styles don’t. Getting the spirit right is more important than the physical likenesses, I think. And, with the BUFFY books, Jo Chen’s covers set the bar pretty high when it comes to replicating the look of the characters from TV; going in a different direction would be very tempting. I think Georges Jeanty has Buffy herself down pretty well as her own character, but is challenged by some of the others.

    Have more to write, but I’ll save it for my own space(s).

  18. James Schee Says:

    I thought the Saved By the Bell comics were pretty fun. There were only a handful but it captured the goofy aspects of the characters well.

    Probably came off as a bit too much like Archie though.

  19. Jim Perreault Says:

    I loved the 80s Star Trek series as well. I was hesitant to mention it at first as my opinion is undoubtedly tained with nostalgia. But it was a lot of fun. Trek comics certainly took a down turn after Paramount started asserting more creative control.

    Regarding Buffy, the comic that I felt best captured the feel of the show was a one shot called “Dust Waltz.” It came out early in the run of the show and readily stood out from the filler material that was in the ongoing at the time.

  20. Alan Coil Says:

    I read the first issue of Ghost Whisperer. It was very much like the television show, except at the end, where it looked as if it was setting up an ongoing antagonist.




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