John Lennon’s “Imagine” & Paul McCartney’s “Yesterday” Adapted into Smart, Moving Webcomics

Would John Lennon’s “Imag­ine” have been such a big hit if it had come from an unknown singer/songwriter instead of one of the most famous rock stars in the world? Impos­si­ble to say. Maybe a bet­ter ques­tion is: could any­one else have writ­ten the song? “Imag­ine” has become much more than a soft rock anthem since its release in 1971; it has become a glob­al phe­nom­e­non. Among the innu­mer­able big events at which the human­ist hymn appears we can include, since 2005, New York’s New Year’s Eve cel­e­bra­tion and, just recent­ly, a per­for­mance by pop star Shaki­ra at the UN Gen­er­al Assem­bly just before Pope Fran­cis’ his­tor­i­cal appear­ance.

It seems an odd choice, giv­en the song’s appar­ent anti-reli­gious mes­sage. And yet, though Lennon was no fan of orga­nized reli­gion, he told Play­boy mag­a­zine in a 1980 inter­view that the song was inspired by “the con­cept of pos­i­tive prayer” in a Chris­t­ian prayer book giv­en to him by Dick Gre­go­ry. “If you can imag­ine a world at peace,” said Lennon, “with no denom­i­na­tions of religion—not with­out reli­gion but with­out this my God-is-bigger-than-your-God-thing—then it can be true….” As if to under­score that par­tic­u­lar point in his adap­ta­tion of “Imag­ine” in the video above, car­toon­ist Pablo Stan­ley includes such reli­gious­ly diverse, yet ecu­meni­cal fig­ures as the agnos­tic Albert Ein­stein, Protes­tant Mar­tin Luther King, Jr., Hin­du Mahat­ma Gand­hi, and Rasta­far­i­an Bob Mar­ley, along with less-famous free­dom fight­ers like Har­vey Milk and mur­dered Russ­ian jour­nal­ist Anna Politkovskaya.

Stan­ley’s “Imag­ine” orig­i­nal­ly appeared in web­com­ic form, sans music, on his blog It seems that sev­er­al peo­ple took excep­tion to an ear­li­er, most­ly black-and-white draft (which also includ­ed what looks like the once-very-South­ern-Bap­tist Jim­my Carter), so Stan­ley issued a mul­ti-point dis­claimer under his revised, full-col­or ver­sion. He states that this “is NOT an anti-reli­gion/athe­ist pro­pa­gan­da comic”—charges also unfair­ly levied at Lennon’s song. Stan­ley does­n’t address the fact that most of the famous peo­ple in his com­ic, includ­ing Lennon, were assas­si­nat­ed, though this blog post offers a sug­ges­tive the­o­ry with inter­view footage from Lennon him­self.

In every respect, the com­ic adap­tion of “Imag­ine” hews pret­ty close­ly to Lennon’s call for world peace. In anoth­er Bea­t­les-penned bal­lad-adap­ta­tion, how­ev­er, things take a much dark­er turn. Stan­ley uses his per­son­al expe­ri­ence of near-sui­ci­dal depres­sion in his com­ic real­iza­tion of Paul McCart­ney’s song of lost love, “Yes­ter­day.” (See a video ver­sion above, web­com­ic ver­sion here.) This is grim stuff, to be sure, but Stan­ley assures us that he “over­came that sit­u­a­tion.” His com­men­tary offers a hope­ful take on the painful end­ing: “Look­ing at the yes­ter­day reminds me that I should thrive for the tomor­row.” I’m sure McCart­ney would agree with the sen­ti­ment.

For many more smart, moving—though non-Beatles-related—comics from Pablo Stan­ley, see his blog, Stan­ley Col­ors.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The John Lennon Sketch­book, a Short Ani­ma­tion Made of Lennon’s Draw­ings, Pre­mieres on YouTube

Hear John Lennon’s Final Inter­view, Taped on the Last Day of His Life (Decem­ber 8, 1980)

The Rolling Stone Inter­view with John Lennon (1970)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.