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Month of Art Stars: Artist’s Choice – Jesse Marsh

Every day this month I’m going to feature the work of a great artist, only instead of me picking the artist to feature, they will be picked by their peers, fellow professional comic book artists who are picking out artists (from the past and present) who they think deserve special attention. Do note that most artists I asked about this gave me multiple answers and I picked out one choice out of a number of suggestions, so these are not definitive answers, like “Artist X likes Artist Y and he thinks all other Artists are terrible!” Here is an archive of the artists featured so far!

Today, we have the pick of Paul Gulacy, who is, of course, practically a comic book legend, having been a star artist for the past three decades, ever since he began an acclaimed run on Master of Kung Fu with writer Doug Moench. Here is his website.

Paul’s pick is Jesse Marsh.

Like the late, great Carl Barks, Jesse Marsh also got his start working for Walt Disney. Marsh began as an artist working on animating Disney cartoons, but soon moved on to working more as a story writer for Disney, assisting on such classic Disney films as Pinocchio and Fantasia.

In the late 1940s, Marsh got a gig that he would do for basically the rest of his life, taking on the ongoing comic book based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ classic adventure character, Tarzan. Besides Hal Foster (and Rex Mason on the Sunday strips), Marsh became the first artist to draw Tarzan regularly. Marsh would do the book from 1948 until 1965, staying with the title when it went from Western Publishing distributing Dell to when Western did their own comics (Gold Key).

Here are some pages from Tarzan #1 by Marsh…

As you can see, Marsh was an excellent storyteller who also put an unbelievable amount of detail into his work for a guy who produced a vast amount of work (in his early days as a freelance comic book artist, he even maintained his gig at Disney!!!).

He was also, as Gulacy notes, particularly known for how well he drew animals. Here’s a great dynamic pin-up from #1 that shows off as much…

Sadly, Marsh died from complications due to diabetes in the mid-1960s (he was succeeded on the title by his friend, the great Russ Manning). In the later issues (particularly the Gold Key issues), Marsh clearly was not the same artist, but Marsh at 80% was still better than most other artists at 100%.

Here are some of his Tarzan issues from that period…

and…

and…

To give you a better idea of what Marsh was like in his prime, though, here are some pages from Gene Autry Comics (a title that Marsh also did for many years, and was actually the first comic book project he did, even before Tarzan)…

and John Carter of Mars (another Burroughs character)…

I especially love how naturalistic Marsh makes aliens look!

Marsh passed away in 1966, just shy of the age of 60, from complications from diabetes. He was sorely missed.

Here‘s a fan site devoted to Marsh.

Thanks to Paul for the pick!

8 Comments

Andrew Collins

June 23, 2009 at 11:45 am

I’ve been reading the Jesse Marsh Tarzan collections that Dark Horse is putting out and they’re just stunning work. I usually associate Golden Age art as being kind of stiff looking, but there’s a certain fluidity to his work. Plus, as you pointed out, every panel is so detailed!

I wasn’t aware that he also worked on some John Carter comics. If so, I hope Dark Horse also gets around to reprinting those. Maybe when the new movie comes out (next year?)…

I can’t see the appeal here – sorry. But then I can’t see the appeal of Paul Gulacy’s art either

Marsh was underrated in the pantheon of Tarzan artists. Sometimes, it’s easy to see why. He was, after all situated among a group of pencilers who have gained god-like status for their work on the Tarzan character… Hogarth, Foster, Kubert, Manning, Buscema… that’s some pretty lofty company. Still, even if Marsh’s figure work isn’t quite as standout as his colleagues, he has his undeniable strengths. The animals he draws (that leopard and crocodile in the opening panels above are breathtaking) are, as pointed out, superb. His backgrounds and sense of mood are stellar too. All and all, an unexpected but welcome choice of Gulacy.

Marsh was actually on multiple artists’ lists.

Thanks Brian,
And thanks to Paul as well for pointing towards the consummate mastery of Jesse Marsh.
I have long admired this fine artist’s work and as a kid in the mid 1950s, I grew up in the
imaginary world of Paul Don which Marsh brought to life.
Marsh’s work will undoubtedly never resonate with the broad base of appeal like that of the
the other great visualizers of Burroughs’ Lord Greystoke: J. Allen St. John, Hal Foster, Hogarth,
Russ Manning or Kubert. And yet with all the respect due (and as an artist /illustrator myself, for
35 years I’ve got a LOT of respect for these gentleman) they were merely illustrators of Tarzan.
Marsh brought him to life, and more importantly created an entire world for him to live in.
Unlike his predecessors (with the exception of St. John) Marsh was a painter rather than a
graphic artist, and his subtle laid back approach, which eschews the flash of the romantic,
requires more of his audience. He was an artist’s artist and whereas all those who followed the
great Hal Foster attempted to emulate his Howard Pyle approach, only Marsh diverges toward
Caravaggio, Milton Canniff and realism. Marsh is so rare because he was so far beyond adolescence
and super heroes.Tarzan is made an actual man because of the skill of a comic book illustrator
whose depictions of humanity and animals are rivaled by few in this field.
One also has to respect Gaylord Dubois, who in my humble opinion was a far better writer than
Edgar Rice B., and the fortuitous meeting of Marsh and Dubois.
And I was also quite sorry to recently learn that Jesse Hamm’s wonderful website honoring Jesse
Marsh was no longer completely intact. His was a true labor of love.
Thanks much
David Haynes

Jesse Marsh was my uncle, my Mom’s brother. I would like to know more about him

Hi!

As a kid, I kindly remember the very excitement of awaiting for the new issue of Tarzan´s Dell Comics which
was published in my country by a major publishing house named EBAL Comics.Each book had a completely
new cover displaying sometimes a stunning painted illustration or a reproduction of a photograph of Lex Barker,
Gordon Scott, and many other Tarzan impersonators on the big screen.
I never liked the approach some other artists gave to the apeman, excepting Lubbers and Manning; who were
exceptional designers like Marsh himself.
Cellardo was great as well .Those were and still are my favourites artists who brought to life, the masterpiece
of the unfortunately underrated writer Ed Burroughs.

Dell Comics, and later Gold Key, were, along with Eagle and Century 21, a major part of my childhood. The painted covers were brilliant, especially Tarzan and Twilight Zone. When I first started reading Tarzan, Jesse Marsh was the artist – I knew none of the others, like Hogarth or Foster, because none of the strips were published in my country. So Marsh was my visual introduction to the character. He wasn’t as amazing as Frank Hampson or Frank Bellamy or other Eagle artists but he had a style that intrigued me. I was fascinated by what I didn’t see! Like a book or radio play, Marsh’s illustration allowed the reader to visualise what lay within his shadowy panels, what lay over the lightly sketched hills, the almost childishly drawn mountains, brooded over by heavily brushed clouds. This was true of both his work on Tarzan and John Carter. His use of light and shade was always exceptional, his action was never frantic but there was a sense of tension about his characters and they were always moving… He brought a mature, fine art eye to the comics. Note the abstract paintings that feature in John Carter; they didn’t need to be there, not in some situations, at least – it’s as if Marsh was trying out ideas in thumbnail. I don’t know if he ever painted or what his “style” was, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he did. Easily overlooked amid a pantheon of “dynamic action” showmen, Marsh rewards careful analysis.

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