October 2nd, 1959 saw the debut of one of television’s undeniable classics, Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone. Dealing with the supernatural and paranormal, the anthology show would run for five seasons, receive numerous awards and set a standard for creepiness on late night television. Intelligent and well-written, Twilight Zone attracted an impressive roster of known and up and coming actors such as: Art Carney, Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, Carol Burnett, Elizabeth Montgomery, Julie Newmar, Cliff Robertson, Telly Savalas, Dennis Hopper, Ron Howard, Robert Redford, Burt Reynolds, Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner, to name but a few. With such talent involved, Twilight Zone understandably makes top television and cult television “best of” lists on a regular basis.
Although the show ended in 1964, it still appears in syndication to this day. There have been two attempted television revivals of the program (1985-89, 2002-03) and a theatrically released film (1983) produced by Stephen Spielberg starring Dan Akroyd, Albert Brooks, Vic Morrow, John Lithgow and Scatman Crothers. Current rumours suggest that another film may be in the works with participation from Christopher Nolan and Leonardo DiCapprio.
The Twilight Zone’s popularity, short story anthology format, and frequent use of surprise or twist endings made it a natural for adaptation into comic books. It was first released in 1961 by Western Publishing through their Dell comics line. Four issues were printed, two under Dell’s Four Color comic title and the other two as The Twilight Zone before being switched to Gold Key comics, also owned by Western. The series ran successfully for 91 issues until 1979 with one final issue being published in 1982 by another Western company, Whitman.
Each Twilight Zone issue contained several stories, some as short as a single page, others as long as eight or eleven pages. Like the television series, the comic featured the work of top talent such as former EC comics artists: Reed Crandall, George Evans, Frank Frazetta and Al Williamson. Other now-familiar names also included: Len Wein, Alex Toth, Joe Orlando, Walt Simonson, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez along with many others. The Twilight Zone comic also has the distinction of having provided Frank Miller his first professional credit, long before his successful work on Daredevil, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Sin City and 300.
Although the Twilight Zone comic enjoyed a long run, it eventually came to an end. Like the television show, however, The Twilight Zone enjoyed a few attempted revivals in comic book form as well. NOW comics revived the series with sporadic printings through the early 90′s including one issue written by Harlan Ellison and pencilled by comics great, Neal Adams. In recent years Walker Books have published a series of graphic novel adaptations of original Twilight Zone episodes. These books are aimed at younger readers, but have been met with lukewarm reception.
The greatest difficulty in adapting a series like Twilight Zone lies in capturing the moody atmosphere of the show. As mediums go, television and film have a lot of tricks up their sleeves: lighting, extreme camera angles, fast panning and jump cuts which can all be attempted in comics with varying degrees of success depending on the skills of the artist. But there are other aspects which cannot be so easily translated: music, sound effects and, most notably, the abilities of the actors to be convincing in their roles. This is not to say that one shouldn’t attempt adapting such material, if that were so, suspense or horror comics wouldn’t exist.
Who knows, if the rumours are correct, and a successful film adaption of Twilight Zone hits the screen, comics might get another chance to go traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind; a journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That’s the signpost up ahead — your next stop, the Twilight Zone.