As part of the ongoing celebration of Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel Prometheus, Titan Books have re-released the graphic novel Alien: The Illustrated Story. Originally published over twenty years ago through Heavy Metal, this graphic novel brings together the complete series.
Alien: The Illustrated Story opens promisingly with the famous quote by Joseph Conrad, “We live as we dream, alone”. Long-time fans of the films will naturally recognise this quote as being one of the core inspirations for the film Alien.
I had hoped that Alien: The Illustrated Story might deviate from the film, expanding upon elements only hinted at originally (as with the Aliens: Newt’s Tale graphic novel), but sadly this is not the case. Instead we find the classic tale of Alien rigidly adhered to, which purists will undoubtedly appreciate. This does means that there are no surprises, hidden twists, or thematic undercurrents at play here.
Nonetheless, the graphic novel does function well in highlighting key moments in the story. There are full page panels of Kane’s death exploding to fill the page (and no, this is not a spoiler, as the film has been out for nearly thirty years!); as well as our first glimpse of the alien craft, showing the epic scale of the spaceship.
The artwork in Alien: The Illustrated Story has been freshly recreated, using the artist’s original prints, which were then digitally re-mastered to ensure the art is top quality.
Design techniques and digital artwork have continually evolved since Alien: The Illustrated Story was first released, and the accompanying artwork has unfortunately not aged well. Nonetheless, the artwork remains an excellent example of pre-digital comic-art, with the different characters easily by their mannerisms, such as the cool detachment exhibited by Ash, or Lambert’s stooped shoulders.
Whilst most graphic novels are a compact A5-ish size, Alien: The Illustrated Story bucks the trend by being surprisingly large. The inconvenience is that it is slightly less portable than traditional graphic novels (and harder to file alongside your existing, traditionally sized, Aliens graphic novels) but there is the advantage that the size allows for greater detail in the artwork.
Since Alien: The Illustrated Story remains faithful to the original film, there is very little to recommend this graphic novel from a storytelling perspective. However it is ideal for Alien fans who may have very easily missed this graphic novel the first time it was released. Additionally, it is a fantastic example of pre-digital comic artwork.