The 13th Floor

Four Color PSYCHO! The One And Only Time Norman Bates Appeared In A Comic Book

It’s amazing how much horror has infiltrated our general, mass culture. Nowadays, you can easily track down an action figure, collectible, comic book or any significant version of memorabilia for any one of your favorite horror icons. But there was a time where such a thing was in the minority!

I believe it was the late ’80s/early ’90s when I was at the height of my comic book fandom. (For the first time, that is. Like most readers, I quit and came back.) I stuck primarily to the big guns at Marvel and DC Comics, with some straying occasionally for independent books here and there. But when Innovation Comics launched in late 1988, I was in love. Here was a new upstart comic book company that featured gorgeous paintings and illustrations for all their published titles, and they licensed some of the best and most recognizable horror properties to tell brand new stories about. CHILD’S PLAY. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. DARK SHADOWS. LOST IN SPACE. INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE. And eventually, right at the tail end of their run… PSYCHO!

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Believe it or not, despite multiple sequels, both in film and in the novel-verse, Norman Bates had never actually appeared in comic book form, unless you count the PSYCHO II spoof in MAD magazine.

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Released as a 3 issue limited series between February and September of 1992, Innovation’s PSYCHO comic book was actually a fairly faithful recreation of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece. In fact, the credits on the first page of the first issue read: “Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, Screenplay by Joseph Stefano, From the novel by Robert Bloch. Adaptation and paintings by: Felipe Echevarria.

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Beating Gus Van Sant’s shot-for-shot remake by about 6 years, the comic book version pretty much retold the movie version of PSYCHO, shot-for-shot, in the order that it unfolded. Echevarria’s work is stunning, and as a PSYCHO fanatic, I would gladly frame just about any page out of this entire 3 issue arc, because they’re all wonderful pieces of art. But I’m fascinated by the creation of this particular comic book.

For starters, why stick with the original PSYCHO as the basis as opposed to telling a new story? Granted, Innovation had adapted movies such as FREDDY’S DEAD and CHILD’S PLAY into limited edition series before jumping off with original stories in on-going series. But alas, PSYCHO never got beyond this 3 issue adaptation.

The versions of Marion Crane, Sam Loomis, Arbogast and even Sherriff Chambers are all extremely close to the likenesses of the actors that portrayed them in the film, with one notable exception. Norman Bates looks nothing like Anthony Perkins.

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When I began pre-production on THE PSYCHO LEGACY documentary, I had briefly been in touch with artist Felipe Echevarria about potentially shooting an interview with him.  We also spoke regarding an article I wrote on Icons Of Fright about this comic series, about which he emailed me and answered my Norman Bates related quarry.

According to the artist, he had begun adapting the PSYCHO movie into comic book form and had insured that the likenesses for all the characters were accurate to their on-screen counterparts, including Anthony Perkins’ version of Norman Bates. Somewhere mid-way through the project, word came back from Perkins’ representation that he no longer wanted to be associated with the character that made him a household name, and that they would not grant permission to Innovation Comics or its artist to use his likeness.

While I don’t doubt that’s exactly what happened, I often wonder if the request ever made it to Perkins himself. I recall a story once told to me by my friend and mentor, the great Tony Timpone from Fangoria magazine, where he had inquired with Perkins’ representation about coming to a Fango-inspired Horror Hall Of Fame awards ceremony. They had told Timpone that Perkins was uninterested in further doing “horror” related events and they declined on his behalf. Then, Timpone bumped into Perkins in person and asked him directly, and as expected, Perkins was more than happy to make an appearance. Hell, he’d come to Fangoria Weekend Of Horrors shows whenever asked, so why wouldn’t he?

Regardless, using the actor’s likeness was prohibited in the comic book, and hence, we have this strange, alternate version of PSYCHO: one that plays out exactly like the movie, but substitutes Norman Bates with his book counterpart, as he’s described in Robert Bloch’s original text. The Norman of the comic book is balding, older, unsympathetic. Basically the opposite of Anthony Perkins, so again, thinking ahead to Van Sant’s remake, it’s interesting to yet again get another look at this classic story, and see how difficult it is to fully & truly appreciate without the presence of Anthony Perkins.

Still, it’s a super cool comic and gives some fun alternate perspective to shots and sequences we’ve memorized since PSYCHO attacked the psyche of the general public upon its release. For example, how do you adapt the shower scene for a comic book? See for yourself below:

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How about the shocking murder of Arbogast?

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And then, of course, there’s the reveal that (SPOILER) Norman is in fact Mother.

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Innovation’s PSYCHO comic book is a fun and interesting part of the PSYCHO legacy, one that’s not talked about or celebrated as often as it should be. If you check out eBay, tracking down all 3 issues shouldn’t be too difficult, and if you’re an appreciator or fan of both PSYCHO, and some damn fine art, I strongly recommend adding these to your collection.

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All artwork by Felipe Echevarria for the Innovation Publishing release, PSYCHO. Visit Echevarria’s websites both here and here.

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