The Original Astro Boy is a 1987 comic book adaptation, made by the independent American studio NOW! Comics. The comic ran from 1987 to 1989 for 20 issues, and mostly drew from the first episode of the 1963 anime. Most of the characters take their names from the English dub of the 1963 anime, while some characters are modeled off of counterparts in the 1980 anime series (i.e. Astro's parents, and Nuka/Niki). While a large number of Osamu Tezuka characters appear re-envisioned in the comic, it was not officially authorized by Tezuka or his family.
Somewhere in the future, Dr. Boynton creates a robotic replica of his deceased son Astor. When the replica is far too robotic and emotionless, Boynton rejects the robot and plans to wipe his memory and sell him off. Astor begins to develop his own personality after getting into fights against other robots, and rebels. A now terrified Boynton implants a robotic bomb spider named Bruno into Astor, and sells him to Cacciatore's Robot Circus under the name "Astro Boy."
There, Astro meets a humanoid robot named Simon, who tells Astro about the injustices that human-like robots and cruder robots alike face against humans in the rest of the world. With Simon as his only friend, Astro becomes bored with having to fight robots for humans' entertainment. Cacciatore informs Boynton about Astro's behavior, and out of desperation, Boynton triggers Bruno's bomb function just as Simon has pulled it out of Astro. In light of Simon's death, Astro lets the other robots destroy the circus, but can't bring himself to let Cacciatore die.
Astro and the other robots wind up leading a robot revolution, with the intention of confronting the Institute of Science. This spirals out of control into a fight between the military and robots from the city, and Dr. Boynton has a mental breakdown and attempts to kill Astro. Suddenly, Boynton has a flashback to his son's death, and breaks down, hugging Astro and letting go of his fear of him. Soon after, Dr. Elefun arrives with word of upcoming robot rights, and rescues Astro from the scene. Now under the care of Dr. Elefun, Astro begins to live with robot parents and a sister as he goes on more adventures.
NOW! Comics's owner, Tony Caputo, received an overwhelming amount of reader suggestions for an Astro Boy comic series after the immediate success of NOW!'s Speed Racer series. The American comic license to Astro Boy was not directly acquired from Tezuka Productions, but through the distributors of the 1963 anime of the time, Suzuki & Associates. This was at a time when Osamu Tezuka's media was still in a legal tangle, mostly overseas at the time.
The comic went through a number of artists and writers between 1987 and 1989:
- Michael Dimpsey (writer, issues #1-8)
- Ken Steacy (artist, issues #1-16; writer, issues #9-17)
- Andrew Pratt (letterer, issues #10-16)
- Brian Thomas (artist, #17-20)
- Additional staff: Debra Marks, Rodney Dunn, Paul Rivoche, Marc Hansen
The comic series production was plagued with problems, mostly relating to NOW! Comics' finances at the time. Ken Steacy was slated to be only the cover artist, with Brian Thomas as the illustrator, until Steacy offered to be paid the expected wage in Canadian dollars. Tony Caputo went with this as an option to save money.
The comic suffered through budget problems and staff pay problems, the reasons of which have never been publicly announced; accusations have risen in the years since that Caputo would purposely shift series budgets to NOW!'s higher selling comics (such as Rust or Speed Racer), or delaying employee paychecks.