COMIC REVIEW: The Illustrated Al: The Songs of “Weird Al” Yankovic

By | December 10, 2022

When I heard that there was a graphic novel covering the works of “Weird Al” Yankovic, I was immediately intrigued by the idea. Yankovic is one of my favorite comedians as well as a brilliant musical performer. I grew up with his work since the beginning of his career, and he’s only improved as an artist since those days. Weird Al is an artist that deserves to be celebrated in comics form, and I was curious to see how Z2 Comics would tackle such a project.

The only lingering question is how they could execute such an idea in a way that honors the legacy of Weird Al. In practice, The Illustrated Al attempts to do this by allowing a wide range of creators to bring a classic Weird Al song to life on the printed page. While this is not necessarily a bad idea, it has the side effect of being a comic that works better while you’re listening to the actual song. Still, the lyrics are fully written by Yankovic, though it isn’t clear who wrote the script or arranged the page layouts. It’s likely that the individual creators probably wrote their own layouts for each segment, based on each Weird Al song they adapted. The interesting side of this approach is how each group of creators interpreted Yankovic’s songs and what they contribute to the book on a visual level.

The song selections in this book represent a reasonable cross-section of Weird Al’s work. This includes many of his classic songs and fan-favorite works, including numerous selections from Dare to be Stupid and “Weird Al” Yankovic in 3D. Most of the segments come from that period of Al’s discography. At the same time, there are selections from his later career that are represented as well, including “Hardware Store”, “White and Nerdy”, “Amish Paradise”, “Smells Like Nirvana”, and other more notable songs. It would have been nice to see at least something from his most recent album, or even a nod to other songs like the Hamilton Polka, but the selection definitely favors Al’s greatest hits. Likewise, Al’s polka medleys are not represented in this volume either; likely this is due to rights issues because they include lyrics not written by Weird Al, but it’s still a slight disappointment to see such a major part of Al’s musical legacy excluded from the book.

What is not a disappointment is the impressive roster of talent that Z2 Comics brought to the project. While the list of creators is regrettably far too long to properly credit in a review like this, I can mention some of the highlights. The book features well-known names from the comics industry and even creators from outside it, including the likes of Hilary Barta, Bill Plympton, Peter Bagge, Craig Rousseau, Ryan Dunlavey, and Mike and Laura Allred, as well as an introduction by comedian Emo Phillips. Bill Plympton is especially a pleasant surprise to see featured here, as he’s known for doing caricatures for major periodicals. To see a name of that renown drawing “One More Minute” (easily one of my favorites of Al’s original songs) with a high degree of storytelling is worth the asking price of the book on its own. Likewise, Hilary Barta is a name I remember mainly for Marvel parody titles, and a good fit on a comedic anthology book like this.

Another point in this anthology’s favor is that even though each of the creative teams embraces Al’s style of comedy, they embrace different influences beyond the comedic. The “Nature Trail to Hell” segment, for instance, draws noticeably from the visual style of EC horror comics while also poking fun at them. “Your Horoscope For Today” takes an approach more influenced by 80’s style television, using TV screens in place of conventional panel layouts. “Mr. Popeil” borrows more from classic science fiction comics of the 50’s and even some influence from 70’s cosmic titles in its visual approach. There are clever visual gags that Al probably didn’t intend that are nevertheless funny; references to a “rabid Wolverine” featuring Logan and unexpected cameo references add to the experience. Other creators take more of a modern style entirely, while keeping the tone of the song they’re adapting. Even the one-page gags are clever, such as portraying “Like A Surgeon” in the style of hospital paperwork. The result is a mesh of an eclectic group of voices, each of which adds something interesting to the blend. The special features are also quite nice, including an alternate cover by Mike and Laura Allred, as well as pinups and collector’s card style artwork featuring songs that weren’t used in the anthology.

If you’re a fan of “Weird Al” Yankovic, The Illustrated Al is a good enough collection to satisfy that itch. While Weird Al himself probably remained largely hands off of the book, the creators involved do a good job of representing his musical library in comic book form. While there are decisions I might quibble about, including the song selection and the glaring lack of polka, none of these truly represents a problem or prevents me from enjoying the fun content that is there. If you’re looking for a Christmas present for that Weird Al fan in your life, this is not a bad collection to look into.

 Score: 4.5/5

Writer: “Weird Al” Yankovic
Artists: Various
Editor: Josh Bernstein
Publisher: Z2 Comics