Who Framed Roger Rabbit – The Official Comics Adaptation

Comic Adaptation by Daan Jippes
Dialog by Don Ferguson
Pencil and Ink by Dan Spiegle and Daan Jippes
Lettering by William Langley
Cover Design by Cindy Kruhm
Published by Marvel Comics
Assistant Editor: Dwayne Mc Duffie
Editor: Bob Budiansky
Editor in Chief: Tom De Falco
dated 1988

The cover to my copy of WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT - THE OFFICIAL COMICS ADAPTATION. Copyright 1988 The Walt Disney Company and Amblin Entertainment, Inc.

The cover to my copy of WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT – THE OFFICIAL COMICS ADAPTATION. Copyright 1988 The Walt Disney Company and Amblin Entertainment, Inc.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit is my favorite film. Let’s just get that out of the way now. When Amanda found out that it would be playing at the Palace Theatre as part of PlayhouseSquare’s Cinema at the Square, there was no question as to whether or not she should buy tickets. Watching the film at the packed Palace, a space very similar to the theater that Eddie Valiant and Roger Rabbit hide out in during the film itself, was amazing.

Also present at the Palace was local vintage pop culture store Star Pop. I’d been meaning to go check out the store for some time, so after grabbing a flyer I resolved to head over the next chance I got. The following Friday I did, exploring the incredible collection and making a purchase that I think was quite appropriate: Who Framed Roger Rabbit – The Official Comics Adaptation

Published in 1988, “The Official Comics Adaptation” is based on an early draft of the script which, through technical limitations and story pacing, would be transformed into a somewhat different animal presented in the completed film (also released in 1988). While the movie is not without minor technical imperfections, I am still willing to say it may be the most perfect film I have ever seen. I do not bemoan cut sequences, script changes, a complete divergence from the original book (I have read Who Censored Roger Rabbit? and do recommend it as an enjoyable experience if divorced from your preconceptions created by the film), or other material that fell by the wayside which some may clamor to see put back as a “Special Edition” or “Director’s Cut.” I don’t desire to see the Who Framed Roger Rabbit as it could have been – the film is perfect as it is.

That said, those who do want to get a taste of “the film that could have been” had the script not been changed can see into that alternate universe thanks to Who Framed Roger Rabbit – The Official Comics Adaptation.

I first want to compliment the art team. Don’t let the image on the front cover or the stills on the back fool you, this is a completely hand drawn comic (one scene shown in the back cover stills is so different between movie and comic it essentially doesn’t even exist in the book). In a story where the difference between human characters and cartoon characters is a central plot point, great care was made to differentiate them through art style. Human characters have thin lines and cross-hatched shading to accentuate fleshy imperfection, and big motions happen between panels so our perception of real physical limitation is not broken. Toons have broader lines, flat colors, and more exaggerated body language. This differentiation in art style is passed on to the structures and vehicles found in Hollywood and ToonTown. Dan Spiegle and Daan Jippes are deserving of praise for taking a story that depended so much on the medium it was planned for, film, and interpreting that in graphic novel form.

A disappointment you should prepare for is that no characters not original to the film are present here. Betty Boop does not waitress at the Ink & Paint Club, Donald Duck and Daffy Duck do not duel with pianos, Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse do not cameo, and ToonTown is eerily devoid of any toons. The closest we get to any cameo is Dumbo’s shadow and a couple penguin waiters (assuming they are the ones from Mary Poppins). Stranger still is that Marvin Acme is renamed Marvin the Gag King. When watching the film’s credits the other night I had noticed that ACME was listed as under ownership of Warner Bros., a detail that surprised me then but helps explain the change in Marvin’s name here; absolutely no licensing is used within The Official Comics Adaptation.

Between film and comic the broad beats of the story remain the same. Roger can’t see stars, Eddie takes pictures of Marvin and Jessica at R.K. Maroon’s request to wise him up, Roger freaks out, Marvin is murdered, Judge Doom resolves to catch/try/Dip Roger, Marvin’s will is searched for, and the story concludes with the highway planning revelation and confrontation in the gag factory.

While some changes to the story must have come from the job of condensing a movie script into a 44 page comic, the big original scenes and pacing missing from the film are present here – and be warned, some of these are spoilers. As the mystery unfolds plenty of story details are filled in by a classic noir narration delivered by Valiant – I don’t know if that was always the plan, but I am very glad that was cut from the film. Most of the story from the interrupted cartoon opening to Eddie arriving at Marvin’s murder scene remains essentially the same (although the introductory Maroon Cartoon is far more violent, with Baby Herman acting as an active antagonist to Roger’s attempted babysitting). The introduction of Judge Doom involves the dissolution of a portable hole instead of The Most Unsettling and Unexpected Animated Sequence In Film History when Doom Dips the shoe. It’s at this point the movie and the comic story lines really begin to diverge.

Back at his office Eddie’s handcuff debacle with Roger and the Weasels happens before Baby Herman confronts the detective, and Roger is able to remove his own toon handcuffs without the pair having to go to the Terminal Bar. It is while en route to the bar, and hiding Roger in his jacket, that Eddie is confronted by Roger’s costar, who doesn’t think Roger is innocent so much because he is a good guy but because the rabbit is too dumb to murder someone. There is no “Is that a Rabbit in your pocket?” joke to be had by Dolores, but she is drawn so young that the line would actually be creepy if said to the clearly older Eddie Valiant. After Eddie stashes Roger at the bar he heads to Jessica’s changing room to search for the will, where he is caught by Jessica, Doom, the Weasels, and the Gorilla Bouncer. Following this is the infamous “Pig Head Scene” which is available as a deleted scene on some DVD copies of the film. Let’s just say Eddie’s continued meddling is not appreciated by the Weasels and he leaves with a reminder of his stubbornness.

After returning to the office and showering off the cartoon abomination the famous Jessica seduction moment happens, and after Eddie and Dolores return to the bar Eddie and Roger are found by Judge Doom – who walks in during Roger’s song-and-dance performance and does not need to do the Shave and A Haircut trick. For some reason not even explained in the comic instead of trying to Dip Roger in the bar Doom has the rabbit and detective arrested, and they drive out to a hillside for the trial. Eddie uses his flask to create Roger’s distraction. The tipped Dip sends Doom and the weasels running down hill, while our heroic pair free Benny the Cabby and escape in a more drawn out chase sequence featuring a very peeved Judge Doom.

Hiding out in a theater Eddie reveals the fate of his brother Teddy to Roger and makes the connection between Marvin’s murder and mysterious company Cloverleaf. While being questioned by Eddie R.K. Maroon is shot, and it is the Weasels who Eddie and Jessica have an extended shoot-out with in ToonTown. Doom sneaks up on the pair and catches them, and Roger’s capture back at Marvin’s Gag Factory is much less heroic than his movie entrance. Raised high above the floor on the hook, it is up to Eddie to save the Rabbits and keep ToonTown from being Dipped off the face of the Earth. While the Weasel’s penchant for laughing is not fatal in the comic, Eddie uses it to distract them and Smart A!s Weasel’s convulsing guffaws cause him to accidentally spray his henchmen in Dip.

Lacking the film’s sword cane as a weapon Doom tries to run Eddie over with a steam roller, although this time the choice makes no sense as Eddie is not trapped but freely running around the factory. Knocking Doom off the vehicle Eddie viciously murders the judge when he uses portable holes to trap Doom in the floor, allowing him to be crushed to death while Smart A!s watches and laughs.

That’s right, instead of Doom being crushed thanks to the compiled circumstances of a fight where Eddie was desperately defending his life, our hero sadistically arranges a horrible end for him. Keep in mind that at this point Eddie has no idea Doom is a toon, and doesn’t know that Doom killed his brother. Yes, Doom is planning on erasing ToonTown, and he does casually admit to “a murder or two” – but he doesn’t specify who, there’s no proof presented yet, and it was actually the Weasels who shot R.K. Maroon (which we later learn wasn’t even a fatal wound). The comic’s Doom has not been portrayed as the Dip-happy sociopath we see in the film. No one likes Doom, and overall he may deserve to die, but Eddie gleefully arranging such a gruesome end without due process and only partial knowledge of Doom’s sins is very disturbing to watch unfold.

Of course, the flattened Judge Doom gets up, revealing himself to be the toon responsible for Teddy Valiant’s death. There is no extended fight scene here. Doom punches Eddie once, and unfortunately for the toon antagonists Eddie flies right into the back of the Dipmobile (literally what Doom calls it earlier). Eddie grabs the release valve and Doom and Smart A!s are dissolved away in the Dip. The story closes out with Roger cleared of the charges, Roger’s love note to Jessica revealed as Marvin’s will, and Jessica giving Roger a kiss which causes him to rocket through the factory, bang his head, and finally see stars. “Th…th…that’s all, folks!”

I am very glad that this was not the tale put to celluloid. I’ll admit that without the immersion of toon cameos to make you feel like the world of Maroon Studios and Marvin’s Gag Factory are all connected to an actual Hollywood the mood of the story is already lacking, and this is a shortcoming the film would have fixed. But I also feel that the actions taken by characters in the comic (the hillside trial, getting the steam roller, crushing Doom) make far less sense than the way things play out in the movie. Some of this may be a side-effect of compacting the script for the comic, but even parts like the Pig Head Scene that were drawn almost exactly as they were filmed were really better left in the editing room.

So what is my final opinion of Who Framed Roger Rabbit – The Official Comics Adaptation? Fans who are obsessed with the creative process that went into the movie’s production should be looking all over the place for this. It is an incredible insight to how Who Framed Roger Rabbit could have turned out. I didn’t even touch on all the tiny changes within scenes that were 90% the same as the film. Again, the art team is due praise for capturing the (sometimes early) character models identifiably and consistently, and using a range of artistic styles to help differentiate between toon and human. For a fan of movie and comic production there are a lot of great things to be found in this book.

However, if you are just a casual reader who is happy with enjoying the film, I would not recommend picking up this graphic novel if you find it. Its value is as a window to “what could have been” and the story within is not really that great. The best Who Framed Roger Rabbit experience is already easily available as a movie, which is the medium it was truly meant to be experienced in. Save your money for the DVD.

Scott T. Hicken is the Web Manager and Editor of EXIERN. He welcomes your comments and feedback!