Wednesday, June 02, 2010


Obscurity of the Day: Best Seller Showcase

Adapting popular novels to comic strip form has rarely been a recipe for success (see Book-of-the-Month for one example) and Best Seller Showcase ran true to form. As with previous attempts, newspaper editors seemed to take an initial interest, then after the first few adaptations the feature lost clients at a steady clip.

Universal Press Syndicate, no stranger in the 70s to throwing features against the wall to see what might stick, distributed Best Seller Showcase with a considerable marketing push before its debut. Part of the supposed attraction was that the adaptations would only be eight weeks long,  which of course did no favors to the book being adapted nor to the quality or depth of the strip. Notice above in the samples from The Chancellor Manuscript adaptation that artist Frank Bolle desperately tries to maximize his paltry space by sometimes shoehorning two scenes into one panel. You've got to hand it to Frank for doing his best to show a cohesive narrative despite the restrictions.

Elliot Caplin, that comic strip ghost writer with a list of credits as long as your arm, is said to have written all the adaptations for the series. The ever-capable Frank Bolle and Gray Morrow took turns at the adaptations (with one possible exception). The adapted stories are as follows:

Raise the Titanic by Clive Cussler, art by Frank Bolle, 8/15 - 10/9/77
Storm Warning by Jack Higgins, art by Gray Morrow, 10/10 - 12/4/77*
The Chancellor Manuscript by Robert Ludlum, art by Frank Bolle, 12/5/77 - 2/12/78 (10 weeks)
The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks, art by Gray Morrow, 2/13 - 4/9/78
The Second Deadly Sin by Lawrence Sanders, art by Frank Bolle, 4/10 - 6/18/78 (10 weeks)
Illusions by Richard Bach, art by Gray Morrow, 6/19 - 7/30/78**

* The art on Storm Warning is unsigned, and I've heard it being credited to Winslow Mortimer or Jack Sparling, but it looks like Morrow to me.

** End date corrected as per Mark Taylor, based on run in Chicago Tribune.

Some sources claim that this Sunday and daily strip ran until 1979, but I've never seen any further adaptations after Illusions, and it took me years to find a paper that even ran the feature that long. Would love to hear from you if you know of a later run of the strip. I'm told that an adaption of James Herriot's All Things Bright and Beautiful followed Illusions.

Booksteve's Library has reprinted The Sword of Shannara storyline. Here's a link to the first post.


Thanks for the listing. My memory was always that there was a Barbara Cartland story in there somewhere but I see not. Did she perhaps have a strip of her own? Or rather one adapting her books?

I had completely forgotten the ILLUSIONS adaptation even though I remember clipping it out because I thought it was a particularly odd choice to adapt! If I still have it, though, I don't know where it would be.

As I've pointed out elsewhere, part of the problem in developing a loyalty to this type of strip was the fact that one who enjoyed spy strips might dislike fantasy strips, etc.
I'm in the Win Mortimer camp for artist on the Storm Warning adaptation. While not a great art identifier, it is undeniably Mortimer to my old eyes.
Hi Booksteve --
Barbara Cartland Romances was a separate strip, which we'll cover one of these days as an obscurity.

I don't think this helps any on the art question, but the Birmingham News ran the strip from 9/19/77 to 4/1/78 with a credit for Frank Bolle and Elliot Caplin, so Caplin wasn't particularly ghostly on this one.
Interesting! I didn't think the official byline included Caplin.

As a boy who grew up wanting to be the next Alex Raymond (hasn't happened yet), Gray Morrow's adaptation of "The Sword of Shannara" was one of the most thrilling things I'd seen in newspapers for a LONG time. As I recall, we had a blizzard that year and I missed several installments, but wow ... great stuff. I'm sure I still have those strips, yellowing away in a photo album somewhere.
I have three further Sundays;
"All Things Bright and Beautiful" with art by Frank Bolle dated 6-Aug-1978, 13-Aug-1978 and 20-Aug-1978.
Hi Mark --
Uh-oh, that means the end date on Illusions is incorrect. Can you tell me what paper ran your samples? Does the August 20 episode end the adaptation?

Thanks, Allan
Yeah, I think there is an error with the "Illusions" dates. Those three "All Things Bright and Beautiful" came from the Lake County News Herald. Unfortunately I do not have the surrounding Sundays. August 20th does not end the adaption.

"Illusions" concluded on Sunday July 30th 1978 (confirmed via the Chicago Tribune).
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