On History: First Video Game Comic?

By | Friday, August 08, 2014 7 comments
My question of the moment: what was the first comic book based on a video game? What was an actual video game that was successful enough to prompt someone to publish a comic book based on the same character(s) and concept(s)?

Obviously, we don't have to go back more than a few decades since video games weren't really commercially available until the late 1970s. But nonetheless, I don't see a definitive answer online anywhere offhand. So this post is me doing some research.

Here is a list of comics from ComicBookDB when I do a search on "video games." The earliest one cited here is Atari Force from 1982. But while that was used to promote video games, there wasn't an actual Atari Force video game itself.

The next oldest one on the list after that is a Double Dragon comic from 1991. The original Double Dragon game debuted in 1987. But those dates seem awfully late to me. A full decade of popular video games before any were popular enough to warrant their own comic? That just doesn't sound right to me.

So how about searching some specific titles on the Grand Comics Database? Pac-Man? Nothing. Donkey Kong? Nothing. Galaga? Nothing. Pitfall? Nothing. Space Invaders? Nothing. Centipede? AHA!

There was indeed a lone Centipede promotional comic produced in 1983. The plot, according to the GCDB, was fairly simple: "Oliver, the littlest elf, and his friends rescue the town from the evil Wizard's plan to turn all of the mushrooms (elves' main food supply) into poisonous toadstools." I believe it came packaged with the Atari 2600 version of the game and is thus a little smaller than your typical newsstand comic. I had a copy of the game back in the day, but I don't ever recall seeing the comic; I suspect it was not included in the original release of the game in 1982 and only added to later editions.

Granted, I'm going from memory in these searches, but it stands to reason that the game IPs most likely to cross over into other platforms would be the most popular (i.e. memorable) ones, so I think it makes sense to focus on those. Frogger? Nothing. Pong? Nothing. Asteroids? Nothing. Q*bert? Nothing.

So is that it? We got one issue of Centipede in 1983 and nothing else for almost a decade? Surely, I'm missing something. Help me out here, internet!
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Britt Reid said...

The SwordQuest comic tie-in (written by Roy Thomas with art by penciler George Perez and inker Dick Giordano) predates Centipede by a year.

While the Atari Force themselves didn't appear in the video games, each issue of the 1982-83 mini-comics utilized elements of the game's plot in the storylines.

In 1984, Marvel did a tie-in series with the multi-platform game QuestProbe that used a different Marvel character in each issue as well as within the game itself.

I didn't consider QuestProbe since the game itself was based on the comics in the first place.

But I had forgotten about SwordQuest! Good call there! I think I had the first issue but failed miserably at the game and didn't get the next two.

Britt Reid said...

QuestProbe was a joint multi-media venture between Marvel and Scott Adams.
The comics and games were developed and issued simutaneously.
The game wasn't "based" on an existing comic.

The plan was for Adams and comic legend John Byrne to collaborate in the creation of a universe and narrative that would work as a 12 part computer game and comic book crossover.

Each issue would feature one (or more) Marvel superheroes, but instead of the game being a retread of the comic book, it would serve as a sister story, adding to the overall narrative. Basically, the comic book and game could have been read/played independently, but together they gave the full Questprobe story.

Icecypher said...

I also immediately thought about Sword Quest, although I was not sure it would be from an earlier date.

I had the Water World game/comic as a kid, beautifully illustrated by Mr. Pérez.

But I was too young to realize I could bug my parents to get the other two games...

BTW, I also had the Asteroids Atari Force pack. It was really interesting to see how the graphics were translated between game and comics.

Shano said...

Atari Force was in the Liberator arcade game but it may have actually came out after the comics.

Britt Reid said...

The regular-sized Atari Force series was a sequel to the mini-comics series, so the minis ended before the normal-sized issues began.
DC considered doing a normal-sized reprint album of the minis, but the regular book's sales were falling after the first story arc and the project was cancelled.

The "Yars' Revenge" comic book has a 1982 copyright: http://www.atariage.com/comics/comic_thumbs.html?MagazineID=48