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Film

The sci-fi comic book that inspired the John Carpenter film 'They Live'

@Russellisation

With an incomparable effect on the legacy of 20th-century horror, John Carpenter’s knack for cult filmmaking allowed films such as Halloween, The Thing, The Fog and Village of the Damned easily suffuse into the mainstream conscience. 

Remembered for his ongoing Halloween franchise featuring a town as defiantly postcard-American as David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, John Carpenter’s film brought a sense of unease to every small town US suburb, suggesting something fantastically abnormal could be lurking in the shadows.

In fact, Carpenter had a fondness for infusing this paranoia throughout many of his films, with the 1988 cult classic They Live also displaying this same unease, following two friends, Nada and Frank, who discover sunglasses that allow them to see the lies beneath modern society, as well as the aliens that are running the show from under our noses. Overtly anti-consumerist, Carpenter’s movie has become synonymous with stories that reject modern capitalism and expose the troubles that lie beneath the lies of consumerism.

Based on the short story Eight O’Clock in the Morning by Ray Nelson, the original tale was first published in the November 1963 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and was later adapted into a comic book named Nada.

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At just seven pages long, the comic appeared in Alien Encounters #6 and follows Ray Nelson’s original story pretty closely whilst providing much of the visual inspiration for Carpenter’s 1988 movie. Certainly, the most significant difference in the comic is the lack of Hofmann sunglasses that made the movie adaptation so iconic. Putting the glasses on in the city centre of Los Angeles in the film, advertisements are revealed to say ‘consume’, ‘buy’, ‘conform’ and ‘obey’ behind the facade, exposing the truth behind the lie of everyday consumerism.

Instead, in Nada, the protagonist, George Nada, goes to watch a live hypnosis act, and when he leaves the theatre he realises that he’s surrounded by curious aliens named ‘Fascinators’, many-eyed creatures who communicate in a croaking language which tells humans to “obey” and ‘work”. 

Another rather peculiar difference between the comic and the movie is the cruelty Nada shows towards others in an attempt to ‘awaken’ them from ignorant bliss. Beating people up, particularly women, in order to try and bring them round to his point of view, there is one moment in the comic when he steals a car and leaves a woman bound and gagged on a bed, screaming and terrified. 

Thankfully, Carpenter made sure not to include this disturbing sub-plot in his own movie, preferring something camper and joyously enjoyable. With some dodgy ‘80s fight scenes and classic cheesy iconography, there’s nothing quite like Carpenter’s They Live, but it would never have existed without Nada.