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Sunday, May 16, 2021 

Why hasn't there ever been an official Lord of the Rings graphic novel?

That's a question being asked by propagandist Graeme McMillan on leftist Polygon. There may have been one based on the Hobbit, but while there may also have been animated cartoons based on that and LOTR in the late 70s (the former from Disney producers and the latter from Ralph Bakshi), there hasn't really been one based on Tolkien's classic trilogy, even as Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder had significant adaptations as RPG concepts inspired by the kind of fantasy fare LOTR represented. However, we're also told to buy into something that's been alleged at times, but sounds exaggerated:
Comic book adaptations of known properties can mean big business for publishers, something that’s been the case since Star Wars saved Marvel from financial disaster in the 1970s. In the years since, entire companies have been built on the success of adaptations and spin-off material created around existing movie and book properties — look at what Aliens, and to a lesser extent, Predator, did for Dark Horse in the late 1980s, bringing a new audience to what had been a mid-level black and white indie publisher and transforming it into one of the largest U.S. comic companies — while characters and concepts created as part of this ancillary material can help a property grow in popularity even when it’s offscreen. Consider, again, what happened to Star Wars as a result of Dark Horse’s publishing program in the 1990s when paired with Del Rey’s line of novels.
I'm still not taking this claim SW rescued Marvel from potential bankruptcy during the Bronze Age at face value. All that would do is allege that the revived X-Men was never the success it became for Marvel at the time. Let's also consider that, after nearly a decade of SW comics, Marvel's series were discontinued, and by the end of the 80s, the license was acquired by Dark Horse. I'm sure there is plenty of money in licensing for comic publishers, but what good does it do when you have a history of merchandise adapted to comicdom where the license is stopped by the franchise owner and transferred to another publisher, which for a long time led to complications that make it difficult to reprint the older material, and even the newer material may not be in the most secure spot at most modern publishers? It's also crucial to note many comics based on merchandise today sell laughably little compared to prior efforts. Now, onto some fascinating info about the Hobbit adaptation at the end of the 80s, and the guy who penned it:
The Hobbit: An Illustrated Edition of the Fantasy Classic was originally released as a three-issue series by indie publisher Eclipse Comics, launching in August 1989 and selling surprisingly well, based on contemporaneous sales charts. The first issue outsold that month’s Sandman, G.I. Joe, and Suicide Squad, amongst many others, ranking 63rd on the chart for the month. (Another book it sold better than was the first issue of DC’s Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, which feels only fitting, really.)

The series was written by Chuck Dixon, the same guy that also wrote DC’s Nightwing and Robin for years in the 1990s, but the real star of the book was David Wenzel, a former Marvel creator whose lush artwork pulled from such influences as Howard Pyle and Arthur Rackham, and who’d go on to illustrate greetings cards and childrens’ books based on the success of this project.

This was, oddly, the second time The Hobbit had been serialized in a comic, although the first wasn’t a comic strip; British publishers Fleetway ran an abridged version of the story, accompanied by spot illustrations by Ferguson Dewar, across 15 issues of the anthology series Princess and Girl in 1964. Tolkien had reservations about the project, complaining in a letter from August of that year that Dewar’s illustrations of Gandalf were “fussy and over-clad,” and lacking in dignity. “He should not be styled ‘magician’ but ‘wizard,’” he wrote.

Dixon and Wenzel’s comic strip version of The Hobbit lived on far beyond the initial run of the series; it was collected a year after its serialization by British publisher George Allen & Unwin, which had been Tolkien’s U.K. publisher for a number of years by that point. A U.S. collection was released in 2001 by Del Rey, with Harper Collins releasing an extended edition in both countries in 2006 that remains in print today.
Now that's certainly amazement to know Dixon was the assigned writer for the 2nd Hobbit adaptation. Though I wonder if artist Wenzel's being emphasized at Dixon's expense (realizing McMillan's of very questionable character, this essay notwithstanding, that's why you gotta wonder). Let's not forget Dixon has long been blacklisted by the Big Two based on his conservative positions, after all the hard work he did for them, penning some of the last moments where Batman was worth the price of admission. This is clearly one of his early efforts that few in the US industry are giving him proper credit for, but the UK sources in charge of the material thankfully do by keeping it in print. And even McMillan's not advocating on Dixon's behalf to ensure he'll still get jobs based on talent and merit, rather than politics.

All that aside, is it mysterious why no LOTR comic adaptations have been officially greenlighted and produced? Certainly, but if the Tolkien estate would approve of one today, they'd have to make sure liberal ideologues don't get their mitts on the guy's creations, and turn it all into a political soapbox. That would only ruin what made the famous tales work in the first place.

For now, some could wonder if a LOTR adaptation in comicdom just hasn't happened because all sorts of projects inspired by it pretty much made it to the publishers long before LOTR could, effectively mooting the prospects. But if the opportunity ever comes about for adapting LOTR to comics, it'd have to include the best possible talents, and couldn't be watered down. Such "commercialism" is why various projects of this sort don't hold up well years after they've first been produced.

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The answer to the question is probably that Tolkien and the Tolkien estate were reluctant to allow comic book versions. Few fantasy novels outside of the sword and sorcery and horror sub-genres have been adapted to comic books: no Harry Potter, no Witch World, no Earthsea, nothing by McKillip or Garner. They have adapted The Last Unicorn, one or two other books.

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