Blade Runner: The Comic Book Adaptation by Williamson & Garzon

April 20, 2021|In General

Blade Runner came and went during the summer of 1982, neither a hit nor an outright flop. The film would garner its audience and appreciation in the years that followed, aided by the growing home video market. Today it’s regarded as one of science fiction film’s best.

But let’s go back to 1982. While Blade Runner didn’t get the marketing tie-ins of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial or Rocky III – that summer’s hits – it did get a comic book adaptation from Marvel Comics, and they assigned the highly-regarded Star Wars adaptation and comic strip team of writer Archie Goodwin, penciller/inker Al Williamson, inker Carlos Garzon and letterer Ed King to the job. Long-time Marvel house artist Marie Severin added the colours. When time began running short, inkers Dan Green and Ralph Reese were brought in to help finish the back half of the book.

As a late period Marvel movie adaptation it was published in two forms. The first was as Marvel Super Special No. 22. While the Super Specials were usually done in magazine format, the growing popularity of Baxter books (better, whiter paper) was a good choice for the lush illustrative work provided by the team. The adaptation ran 45 pages with another 14 pages of stills and behind-the-scenes info. The cover was illustrated by Jim Steranko.

The second release was as two regular comics, dividing the adaptation in half. No. 1’s cover was by Williamson and Garzon, while No. 2’s was by Brent Anderson. No. 2 also had a title page of new art by Williamson and Garzon added.

Now, 1982 was still very much the era of a limited colour palette provided by hand-cut separations, and it was done under tight deadlines. Looking at it with what we know the film to actually look like – it’s one of the better documented films of the era – and what we can do with colour in comics now got me thinking.

I’ll save the work notes for the images below, but once I had the samples ready I sent them off to Titan Comics in the UK. They have the comic book rights to Blade Runner and have produced some good material in Blade Runner 2019, Blade Runner 2029 and Blade Runner Origins. Releasing a remastered version of the movie adaptation for Blade Runner‘s 40th anniversary in 2022 seemed like a perfect tie-in.

However, in their response to me:

“Unfortunately we have no plans to republish the original Marvel comic adaptation. In the past we have reprinted Marvel comics, most particularly the Gil Kane and Jack Kirby unpublished The Prisoner comic strips from the 1970s, however it’s usually our intention to publish the material as was and not to update them, so it would be extremely unlikely that we would recolour the original Blade Runner movie adaptation comic.”

Disappointing, to be sure, but they were kind enough to reply.

Here’s what might have been.

The Overall Package

Titan likes to run multiple covers on their Blade Runner books, and thankfully there are a number of great pieces of key art for the film. They’re done up here with re-creations of Titan’s trade dress and a new Blade Runner 40th anniversary logo by myself.

Blade Runner Cover A by Jim Steranko

Cover A – The cover from Marvel Super Special No. 22 by Jim Steranko.

Blade Runner Cover B by John Alvin

Cover B – The original movie poster by John Alvin.

Blade Runner Cover C by Drew Struzan

Cover C – Drew Struzan’s 2003 poster.

Moving inside, this is the inside front cover, title page, introduction text crawl and a scan of the first page of art.

Blade Runner Title Page

Credits and titling have been re-set in their film-accurate typefaces, and are laid over a high-res screencap of the opening shot of the film.

Blade Runner 1

The opening introductory text crawl is re-set to match its appearance in the film, sitting opposite the opening page of the adaptation. Framing the pages in black, and similarly filling in the gutters was the first step in being closer to the feel of the film.

The adaptation would continue this way for the remainder of the story. The back of the book would have some behind-the-scenes info, Titan’s cover variant gallery and some ads.

Blade Runner cover gallery

As Published

Blade Runner 26a

As published in Marvel Super Special No. 22.

Blade Runner 26c

Scan from Heritage Auctions.

Blade Runner 26d

Cleaned up and ready for colour.

The Colour Approach

The colour would begin with available reference to the film. For page 26, here are the photos and screencaps I used to get started.

Blade Runner Rachel

Blade Runner Screencap 1

Blade Runner Screencap 2

Blade Runner Screencap 3

Blade Runner Screencap 4

Blade Runner Screencap 5

Blade Runner 26b

A finished page. After knocking in the basic colour schemes from the reference, colour tones were adjusted to bring a focus to each panel and unify the page as a whole.

An Unpublished Page

This page by Williamson and Garzon is possibly a rejected cover for No. 2 of the regular comic version (hence the redraw by Brent Anderson that was published). I’ve set it up here to be the back cover of the 40th anniversary edition.

Blade Runner 52a

Scan found on the web.

Blade Runner 52b

Cleaned up, bleeds extended and colour ready.

Blade Runner 52

Final colour and layout.

Possible Edits

Production art by Scott Dutton

There are differences between the script the adaptation team used and the final edit of the film. These can be corrected like this most famous of ad libs from Blade Runner. On the left, as published. On the right, as in the film.

Like What You See?

Tell Titan Comics! (And please be nice about it. They’re good people.)


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