There were quite a few tie-in comics that were released as part of the Little Mermaid franchise, and on this page I list out the ones that I'm aware of.
An official movie adaptation comic book/graphic novel written by Tom Anderson was released in 1990. It follows the entire plot of the movie, though it simplifies it some. The original cover is the first one on the right, with the two other covers being the 1991 Cartoon Tales variants.
More images are in the movie adaptations gallery.
In 1992, Disney's The Little Mermaid the television series premiered on TV. Around the same time a limited 4-issue comic series was released, with storylines written by Peter David that fit in with the TV series, and even used some of its characters. It makes sense to think of each issue of the comic book series as "episodes" themselves.
To kick things off with the comic book series, they've got an opening scene with Eric and Grimsby on board a ship (hey, just like the movie!) followed by Ariel's introduction. I don't think they ever said how old Ariel was in the tv show, but she's fifteen in this issue, and already making surface visits like it's going out of fashion.
At the palace, Triton's daughters are having music rehearsals with Sebastian, but Ariel is once again absent because she's busy doing her own thing. Arista, ever the nice one, points out that Aquata, the eldest, is supposed to be in charge since Triton's away but she can't even control that one mermaid.
That one mermaid, by the way, has discovered a mysterious chasm of dark water, and swims through it to discover a race of Moray, who are pretty much like merpeople, except they are half moray eel and their skin is green. Ariel is treated like a frightening freak of nature and captured by Celia, Princess of the Moray. Things get sticky when Aquata, feeling guilty for her lack of authority, tries to find out what's happened to Ariel herself and ends up being captured as well. All that happens in the first issue, with a cliffhanger leading into the next.
Besides being released individually, these first two issues were also bundled together under the title Ariel and Sebastian, which was sold alongside the movie's official comic book adaptation, and that was how I bought my copy. The artwork in these two issues is gorgeous, the more so when compared to the 1994 comic series that was not as fluid and tended to be more obvious in their referencing of stock art and images from the film.
I would've loved to see this episode animated properly, because it's got a wonderful adventure story and pits Ariel against Celia, who's a great new character. They're very similar, stubborn princesses who believe that rules are made to be broken, but Celia is what happens when rebelliousness isn't balanced out by a decent moral compass. Other things that are great about these two issues are that there are plenty of throwbacks to the movie (eg. Eric's appearance, Ariel's thingamabob collection, the origins of Ursula's home), the writing is pretty sharp and plenty of characters get to be awesome, among them Aquata and King Triton himself.
While the first two issues had a lengthy adventure story, this third issue contains three short stories. They're just as fun as the debut (which remains my favourite comic of them all) by being and have awesome throwbacks to the movie, though Flounder does get a tad out-of-character.
The main story is Guppy Love, where Ariel befriends a little pink guppy named Jenny (short for Guinevere) who has a crush on Flounder. Ariel tries to get Flounder to be nice to Jenny, but Flounder's fish friends Snorkel and Fantail tease Flounder about it. The peer pressure makes Flounder act quite rude towards Jenny, which disappoints Ariel. When a fierce shark named Scarface enters the area, that's when Jenny shows exactly what she's made of. It's rather jarring to see Flounder with fish friends his own age, but I suppose that if Ariel can hang out with fellow mermaids (Gabriella, Pearl) Flounder ought to have his own mates as well.
The second two-page mini story looks at Eric meeting the Princess of Glowerhaven, who was mentioned briefly in the movie. The princess isn't quite how Eric or Grimsby expected her to be.
The third story focuses on Scuttle and Chef Louis, who do tend to be neglected since they're not under the sea and all. In this story, Scuttle has his own comedic rivalry with the French chef, much like Sebastian's.
Alongside the Limited Series, there were two issues of a Sebastian mini-series released in May and June 1992, also written by Peter David. I don't have these, so can't comment on their content.
The first issue of the second series is a lighthearted and fun story that features an appearance by the Evil Manta.
One of the duties that comes along with being royalty is to make appearances at special official-type events. When Triton and his daughters are attending one such event, during the speechifying bits Ariel nods off to sleep, embarrassing her father. Triton declares, "Can't you do anything right?"
Ariel runs away from the palace, hoping to find a job and prove to her father that she's not useless, leaving behind a note to explain her actions. After she leaves, who should drop by but the Evil Manta (wait, he's swimming right by her bedroom window but doesn't get seen?) and he modifies the note to make it seem that Ariel has been kidnapped, with the ransom being King Triton's crown.
I wish this issue had been the debut of the new series, because the story is adorable and makes me squee throughout, plus Ariel's extended family (Triton, her sisters and Urchin) are all there.
While out riding her seahorse (who looks like Stormy, not Sea Biscuit, *cough*) Ariel realises that her saddle is ruined from overuse. She asks Triton for a new one, but happens to catch him at a wrong time, because he's stressed out about an important treaty that needs to be signed, and Ariel's six other sisters had just been badgering him for new jewelry. Ariel, ever the creative one, decides to make new jewelry that she can use to trade for Arista's shiny unused saddle.
Meanwhile, the other half of the treaty signers arrives in the kingdom, namely, the King and Queen of Pacifica, plus their son Prince Waverly. Ariel witnesses the second royal family's fancy arrival and finds Waverly quite the dish. (I always laugh at this bit, because I find Ariel unexpectedly acting her age hilarious.) But unknown to her, Lobster Mobster and Da Shrimp want the treaty talks to break down for their own nefarious purpose, and recruit Pearl to their cause by appealing to her desire to get Waverly's attention for herself.
Pearl is initiating Adella into her exclusive "Daredevilfish Club", which is only for the bravest of the brave who willing to do whatever dare Pearl can think up with. Adella and Attina are already in the group, and Alana wants to join. You'd think that Ariel would be a shoo-in for a club that has to do with "courage", but Ariel is initially uninterested because she (awesomely) doesn't like taking orders from Pearl.
As can be predicted, one of Pearl's dares goes awry. She dares Alana to swim past the lair of the Seaclops. Alana does it, but she is caught by the ancient Seaclops and hypnotized to follow his bidding. (In this comic, the Seaclops is an intelligent, lucid creature much like the Evil Manta, unlike the rampaging monster he was in the episode Calliope Dreams.) Alana tricks Pearl into going right into the Seaclops' clutches, and she, too, gets hypnotized.
By then Ariel has had enough, and is bursting with curiosity about what the club members are getting up to, so she agrees to one dare. Hypnotized!Pearl dares Ariel to steal Triton's trident, which the Seaclops wants.
It's adventure time! Ariel gets into an argument with Arista and leaves the palace in huff. She decides to ride her giant seahorse Sea Biscuit, and ends up getting sucked by a massive whirlpool, ending up in a new place called Aquaria. Ariel even says: "Golly, Sea Biscuit, I don't think we're in Atlantica any more."
In Aquaria, merfolk are divided into two factions: the
Sharks Bluefins and Redfins. Since Ariel is neither (she's technically a Greenfin, I
guess) she is welcomed by Scallopa, a Redfin mermaid, and her family. The Redfins and
Bluefins have been suspicious of each other and fighting for as long as anyone can remember.
In secret, Scallopa confesses to Ariel that she is in love with Indigo, a Bluefin. There's only one way this story can go forward, which is with a big confrontation between the two factions, with Ariel and the star-crossed lovers right in the middle. But all's well that ends well, and it doesn't turn out to be a dream in the end. King Triton also shows up to adorably give Scallopa's father some good advice: "I've always found that if you give in on the little things, you can be firmer about the really important things."
This issue introduces a brand new member of the Atlantican royal family, Ariel's Great-Aunt Crustacea. King Triton is too busy with duties to show his Aunt Crustacea around, so Ariel offers to be her tour guide for the day. Flounder joins in (for fun), as does Sebastian (as ordered by Triton).
Aunt Crustacea is a lovely little old merlady who has a cheerful disposition and terrible eyesight. She needs her reading "crystals" (translation: glasses) to see, but often forgets them, which causes her to Mr. Magoo her way around. This becomes difficult when Ariel, Flounder and Sebastian take Aunt Crustacea to the market, and she wanders into Hatchet-Fish Alley, the "toughest part of Atlantica".
Aunt Crustacea doesn't realise what sort of trouble she's in, and cluelessly befriends the rough 'n tough fishfolk. Ariel, Flounder and Sebastian come to her rescue, but Crustacea happily thinks it's just another fun outing in Atlantica.
King Triton orders his seven daughters to clean up their stuff that has been littered all over the palace. They do, and Ariel is left with the problem of figuring out what to do with all the stuff that she doesn't need any more.
At this time, Spot the killer whale arrives in Atlantica as part of his regular migration. He tells Ariel about a special holiday that the humans celebrate. Though Spot doesn't know that it's actually called Christmas, he teaches her in his own way what humans do during the celebration... Namely, exchange presents, decorate a tree that they put in their house and so on so forth. Ariel decides to have a celebration of their own under the sea modelled after the humans' celebration.
While Ariel is learning about Christmas, Urchin is acting suspicious and unlike himself. Food has also been disappearing from the palace kitchens. (By the way, their Atlantican chef is the underwater version of Chef Louis.) Ariel and Flounder make the connection that Urchin has been stealing food, and get to the bottom of it... which just turns out that Urchin has been snagging food for orphans. Just in time for Christmas, too!
It seems that drama always turns up in Atlantica whenever King Triton is away. In this issue, Triton and Sebastian leave on business, and Dudley the sea turtle is left in charge.
The moment they're gone, a merman named Sir Figmond turns on the Flooglefish, a bunch of noisy party-hardy fishfolk, declaring that they cause too much noise and have to leave the city. Poor Dudley takes so long to speak that nobody hangs around long enough to hear his explanation about why the Flooglefish are important: they keep the Floogleweed population down by eating it. So without the Flooglefish around, Floogleweed quickly overgrows everything.
Ariel quite reasonably suggests that they apologize to the Flooglefish and invite them back to Atlantica, but Sir Figmond is having none of it. What follows is a chain reaction where replacements are invited in to take over the task of the Flooglefish, but they only make things worse, and have to be dealt with, and so on so forth.
King Triton and Sebastian arrive back from a trip to Olympia, and he has presents for all his daughters. Ariel in particular gets an elaborate necklace that reminds King Triton of a necklace his own mother wore when he was a merbaby. It's hate at first sight for Ariel when she sees the necklace, but Triton is so happy to see her wear it that she can't bring herself to say what she really feels. (Shades of Calliope Dreams, right there.)
Completely by accident, Ariel ends up losing the necklace. King Triton misinterprets Ariel's angst on the lost necklace and declares that no one shall rest until the precious trinket is found.
Meanwhile, Sebastian is reunited with his beloved Crab Scouts, and they head out on a camping trip which proves to be most fortuitous.
It's time for the Sea Horse Tournament in Atlantica, an event where sea horse riders get to show off their skills in various events. Ariel wants to participate but her father is having none of it. Ariel would have let it pass but her hackles are raised when a cocky participant, Snapper, brags about his skills and confidence that he'll win.
Donning a costume that includes a full-face helmet, Ariel sneaks off from the royal box in the audience and enters the tournament as a mystery participant, challenging Snapper. At first she only intends to enter a single event, but she gets caught up in the excitement and the chance to prove a point, and along the way she uncovers that not only is Snapper a braggart, but he's also a cheater.
The Blowfish Ball tournament is just around the corner and the Atlantica sea lions aren't the favourites to win against the Atoll Octopalls. Ariel, Flounder and Urchin are rooting for their team, but the Octopals with their many arms have quite the advantage.
In order to stop worrying about the match, Ariel decides to check out a cave she's heard is haunted. Flounder comes along too, though he's terrified that Ariel's decided to visit the cave at night, since that's when the scary moans and groans come from within the cave. To their surprise there's a purple sea monster named Caliban inside the cave, and he's only groaning because he's lonely and sad that no one wants to visit him. Ariel declares that she and Flounder will be his friends and visit him. Ariel also sets off on a mission to figure out a way to get the Atlanticans to stop being afraid of him.
News arrives that King Triton's childhood friend, Queen Coralani of Tropicala is visiting Atlantica. The news is overheard by the minions of Pirania, a sea witch piranha-mermaid. She comes up with a scheme to seduce Triton and take over the kingdom so that she can consume it all. As part of her plans she uses her enchanted spray to transform herself into a beautiful mermaid, since Triton doesn't know what his childhood friend looks like now. The ruse works, except for where Ariel keeps seeing glimpses of Pirania's true nature, and Pirania isn't always able to control her piranha instincts.
This issue introduces a spiffy villain I would've loved to see in the television series. Pirania is similar but not quite like Ursula, and it would've been interesting to see the sea witches have history together, or work together, or face off against each other.
The Comic Hits series, also produced by Marvel, was an anthology series featuring stories from various animated films including 101 Dalmations, Aladdin and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. This series ran for 16 issues from October 1995 to January 1997.
In 1997 Acclaim Books launched a series of tie-in comics for various film franchises, mainly as two lines that sadly didn't last long: Enchanting Stories (5 issues), Action Club (4 issues), plus single-issue tie-ins for Hercules, The Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast. The ones I have that are relevant are included here.
This clever "double-sided" comic features two stories that overlap pretty niftily, and feature some spiffy homages to the animated canon.
Ariel's story starts while she and her family are watching the Atlantica Olympics. Ariel is bored out of her mind and wants to go exploring with Flounder, but she sees an opportunity when the top athlete, Aquarius, dedicates his win to her and invites her for a ride in his newly-won mussel car. (Snerk.) At Ariel's suggestion they go to Stingray City and get caught up in a stingray turfwar, which is suddenly crashed by a human wearing a scuba-diving suit...
Eric's story starts with him at a fancy dinner with King Harold and his daughter, Princess Penelope of Glowerhaven (AHA) when the party is crashed by pirates who hold Penelope hostage. Their goal is the Golden Wheel of Glowenhaven, which had been lost to the depths of the sea but the pirates recently discovered its location. They want a volunteer to brave the stingrays to get the wheel. Eric may not be interested in marrying Penelope, but that doesn't mean he can't volunteer for the task...