The Hobbit Comic Book Adaptations

In 1989 Eclipse Comics (under the rubric of “Eclipse Books”) published a 3-part adaption of The Hobbit, with script adapted by Charles Dixon (then working for Marvel on titles such as Alien Legion and Marc Spector: Moon Knight) and illustrations by David Wenzel (who like Dixon had worked on Savage Sword of Conan, and had also been recognized for his work on Avengers). Tolkien’s original publisher Unwin released a one-volume edition in 1990, which Del Rey reprinted in 2001 with a new cover by Magic: The Gathering illustrator Donato Giancola.

I eagerly purchased the first issue of the Eclipse adaptation when it hit the stands, since The Hobbit has been my favorite fiction book since I was 7 years old. Regrettably, I was not as enthused about the comic book adaptation.

Hobbit covers 1-3
Hobbit 1

The greatest flaw was the art. For some reason Wenzel chose to draw Bilbo with a combination of a Beatles moptop and a nose that looks like Jimmy Durante went drinking with W.C. Fields. The coloring is generally characterized by stark brights with little sense of shading. When shading is attempted, as in the Goblintown scenes, the darks often look smudged. The overall effect gave the look a cartoonish feel that lacked seriousness in the scenes that needed it, and diminished the emotional impact of the story.

Still, the underlying story is a great story, redeeming the art somewhat. But there were problems adapting Tolkien’s material here as well. Dixon stuck closely to Tolkien’s original wording, which is understandable in that one does not tamper with Tolkien’s prose, but unfortunately this had the effect of trying to cram too much lettering into each panel, forcing a tiny font on the story. A more experienced fantasy writer like Roy Thomas could probably have done better with distilling Tolkien’s material into something that preserved the original sense while still fitting the comic format.

My evaluation is that this adaptation is of interest to avid Tolkien collectors like me and worth having to complete one’s collection, but it does not do justice to the story, and there is room for a visually more compelling treatment of The Hobbit that does a better job of adapting Tolkien’s prose to the spatial limitations of the medium. Hopefully the new film will spur a graphic novel publisher to produce a new adaptation.

5 thoughts on “The Hobbit Comic Book Adaptations”

  1. Dear Roy:

    Let me tell you my comic book connection to the Hobbit and why I will not go see this movie. (Maybe I will see it on cable).

    A long time ago, in a classroom far away, my eight grade teacher, Mrs. Oring, had assigned us to read Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. We then had to give a report on one of the topics. I choose the creation of the Earth, from Norse Mythology. My source was not to be this book, but the newly published Tales of Asgard that appeared in Journey into Mystery with Thor. It was a great story, embellished, of course, by lee and Kirby, and the teacher really liked it.

    She came over to me at said that if I liked that sort of story, I should read the Hobbit. And I did and I loved it.

    The Hobbit was very different from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which I also read and enjoyed. It was a lighter book, far less complicated and was a wonderful introduction to the Middle Earth.

    Peter Jackson, the director of the Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings, has become too self-absorbed and indulgent. He is so pleased with his own filmmaking that he elongates every scene, repeats himself ad infinatim and, frankly, loses the good stuff in a bunch of boring exposition.

    I first notice this in the extended version of the Lord of the Rings on DVD. For the first time, the “regular” version was better. Nine hours was enough, we don’t need 12. I got bored. But that is OK, the theatrical version was still out there, still a bit two long (especially, for me, The Two Towers) but available.

    I have no idea why King Kong was made into a three hour movie, when it was originally 90 minutes. We all knew what was going to happen, yet it took one hour to meet the big Ape. And we saw 100 sunsets, all beautiful, but all slowing down the picture. Showing the Ape in Central Park, while Naomi Watts ice skates, a stuff like that, just slows down the picture. Now Kong was not a failure, but it could have been done better.

    To discover that the Hobbit, perhaps 20% the length of Lord of the Rings and a lot simpler is being made into THREE movies of nearly THREE hours is more than I can take. This is total self-indulgence mixed in with pure greed. This is a two hour, maybe 2.5 hour to tell. There is no need for a trilogy and a “continued next movie” approach. I won’t sit through it.

    We need to start a movement! The “NO MORE TRILOGIES” movement. Not every adventure movie needs to be the first of three. Spider-Man, Batman, X-Men, Star Wars, all seem to be prepackaged for three movies. Look what happened to Green Lantern!

    The Hobbit is not habit forming, it should have been one, damn good movie.

    1. Thanks for sharing your Hobbit/”Tales of Asgard” tale, Barry! I’d like to see more of your thoughts on “Tales of Asgard” in a longer piece 🙂

      I am seeing the movie tonight and will post my reaction. I did not mind the “extra” stuff in the extended LotR DVDs, because a lot of what was cut out was from the books, so it was still of interest, though I agree it did not belong in a theatrical release for a general audience. I agree King Kong was too long; but the highlights were still good enough that I enjoyed the film overall. That is about what I’m expecting from this one. I’m willing to forgive Jackson some flaws, as I don’t think anyone else could do better with the material than he did on LotR.

      I’ll add that my undestanding is the actual book of The Hobbit is “only” being spread out over two films, the third film is actually material culled from LotR filling in the gap between Bilbo’s return from his adventure and his farewell party at the beginning of Fellowship, and it will focus more on what Gandalf, Sauron, Legolas, Aragorn, Gollum, etc. were doing during that time frame. I don’t mind seeing that material adapted, but I think it’s more of a film in itself than part of a “trilogy”.

      There are two Tolkien works I’d really like to see Jackson do: The Silmarillion (or parts of it at least) and Farmer Giles of Ham.

    2. I just got back from seeing the film: big thumbs up! The story was reasonably true to the material, the visuals were spectacular, and the acting was excellent. It had some of the flaws we’ve been discussing in terms of length and excess, and there were a few places the film could have stuck closer to the book, but overall it was good enough these were relatively minor issues. I found myself wanting to see more after 166 minutes, and I’m looking forward to seeing the uncut version on DVD and seeing the sequel.

    1. It wasn’t IMAX and it was in 3D, so I assume it was the new frame rate. The 3D scenes were the most vivid I’ve seen in a movie. I was sitting near the front row, so they really jumped out. There were a couple places where it really did look like the image on the screen was in the theater, it was pretty wild.

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