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Saturday In The Jungle

One of my favorite literary characters just had a birthday not too long ago. Tarzan of the Apes turned 100 years old in October.

Tarzan's first appearance in the October 1912 issue of ALL-STORY MAGAZINE, and the first book edition from 1914.

I am a huge fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs in general and Tarzan in particular, and I’ve done columns about the ape-man and his various imitators before– here, here, and here, for those who came in late. But those were written a few years ago, and there’s quite a few Tarzan-related items of interest that have appeared since then– many of them this year, as part of the centennial celebration. Some are ‘official,’ sanctioned by the Burroughs estate and done in tandem with ERB Inc., and others are not.

Actually I don't blame ERB incorporated for jumping on this. I'm totally okay with seeing new Tarzan stuff.

One of my favorites is the new Lord of the Jungle monthly comic from Dynamite Entertainment. I have a hunch this one is not sanctioned, because Dynamite has been very careful not to use the word “Tarzan” in its promotional material, or even in the book’s title. (“Tarzan,” the name, is trademarked; but a number of Burroughs novels have fallen into public domain, including the early Tarzans. Which makes them fair game for new editions and adaptation.)

I don't think leaving the name off is really hurting them; who else could that be on that cover? All the OTHER jungle lords are blond.

It’s a shame Lord of the Jungle doesn’t get the official seal of approval from ERB and the resultant publicity push, because I just read the first trade, collecting the first eight issues, and I thought it was terrific.

At first glance you’d think it’s YET ANOTHER adaptation of Tarzan of the Apes, the original novel… and it mostly is. In fact I dismissed it as such when I first heard about it. My reasoning was that I already own comics by, variously, Burne Hogarth, Russ Manning, and Joe Kubert adapting that same tale, and how many more do I really need?

Not in these particular editions; but these are the collections put out by Watson-Guptill, DC, and Dark Horse respectively. My Joe Kubert DC version is here in the single issues, but I'd love to have the big tabloid version. The Manning reprint from Dark Horse was, sadly, at digest size, but it did have an incredibly lush new cover by Mark Schultz.

I’m glad I changed my mind, though, because this new Lord of the Jungle may be my favorite comics version to date. Arvid Nelson is writing it and he is doing a great job of making the old and familiar feel new and fresh. In particular, he’s hitting parts of the novel that tend to be glossed over in most adaptations. He gets in the beginning that most of us already know, the mutineers dumping John and Alice Clayton on the African coast, and John doing his best to make a home for them. In quick succession, we get the birth of baby John, the fight with the apes that results in the deaths of John and Alice, and the baby claimed by Kala the she-ape to raise as her own. This is all sketched in quickly, just a few pages, but there’s enough there that you don’t feel like you’re getting short weight.

He even gives his artist, the excellent Roberto Castro, some room to do a really stunning couple of spreads featuring the jungle landscape.

And then Mr. Nelson skips over a lot of the boyhood of Tarzan, which is something I think is a very wise choice; every other comics adaptation lingers on this, and no matter how well you do it, it’s still going to be old news to most readers. Instead he moves us quickly to the real story– Tarzan’s meeting with Jane Porter and her expedition, and their impossible romance. In doing so, Nelson also makes a couple of changes that I thought were really inspired.

For one thing, he deals with the frankly overt racism in Burroughs’ original text by making Jane’s maid Esmeralda a smart Haitian girl instead of a comedy relief character, and even better, he changes Burroughs’ original cannibal tribe into the same kind of “beast men” that Tarzan would later fight in the city of Opar.

Tarzan rescues Paul d'Arnot from the evil Mangani.

This neatly accommodates all the scenes of mayhem from the novel, while subverting the racist overtones by showing that these evil cannibals prey on black and white alike.

You can tell Mr. Nelson's done his research-- he clearly has read Philip Jose Farmer's TARZAN ALIVE, and puts Farmer's idea of the Mangani being a lost tribe of missing links to good use here.

I also like how he included the subplot about Jane’s arranged marriage to the vile Robert Canler.

It's all very Victorian, but Nelson really makes it work as a real conflict.

Again, this is something most adaptations hardly spend any time on, but Nelson not only includes it, but doubles down by making Canler not just a cad but an actual mobbed-up criminal; even better, he follows up on this with a little two-part ‘bridge’ story that takes place between Tarzan of the Apes and The Return of Tarzan, also included in this collection.

I don’t mean to slight the art in all of this. I’ve never heard of Roberto Castro before but he turns in the hell of a job here, ably assisted by Alex Gumaraes on color. In this digital age I can’t quite tell who did what but the overall look of the thing is incredibly lush and rich, without that weird plastic sheen that some digital colorists give to a book.

It's a little thing but I also really like that Nelson incorporated Farmer's idea that since Tarzan can write English but not speak it, he would sign his name as WHITE SKIN, the English translation of Tarzan. Which of course confuses the hell out of the Porter expedition.

Because it’s Dynamite, there are naturally all sorts of variant covers and whatnot, included as pinups in the paperback collection.

All Dynamite books seem to come with at least four covers. These two are from Paul Renaud on the left and Lucio Parrillo on the right.

There’s also a writer’s commentary from Arvid Nelson on #1 and his deliberations on what to leave in and what to skip over when he was adapting the book. (And may I just say that I much prefer Dynamite’s format of an eight-issue trade collection like this with extras; this feels like a real book and not just a comics annual on steroids. –Yes, Winter Soldier trades, I’m looking at you.)

All of this has convinced me that the latest comics version of the Jungle Lord is in good hands; as I write this, the adaptation of The Return of Tarzan by Nelson and Castro is in full swing and it looks every bit as good as the one I’m talking about here.

Again, I love how Nelson doubles down on the villain-- Nicholas Rokoff is even nastier here than in the original novels.

I may even break my rule about waiting for the trade and start getting the monthly, just because I am eager to see what’s next. Either way, you should check it out. (It’s also available digitally from Comixology, if that’s how you roll.)

There are other recently-released Tarzan items that may be of interest to you all, as well…. for one thing, I’m very pleased that you can finally get non-bootleg DVDs of the Ron Ely Tarzan television series. The first season, anyway.

This is a pretty good show-- not much Burroughs to it, there's no Jane, no Waziri, no mangani, and not a lost city in sight-- but I still like it. Straight-up adventure, no camp, and Ely does right by Tarzan. Anyway, this was my first Tarzan, and you never really get over your first.

It’s split into two sets, fifteen episodes in the first and sixteen in the second, and these are no-frills Warner Archive sets without any extras at all. But I’m glad to have them and to see that the show mostly holds up.

Another new offering that delighted me is Robin Maxwell’s new novel: Jane, the Woman Who Loved Tarzan.

This is a really good time.

You may have heard about this one, it’s one of the ‘official’ Burroughs estate things and has been getting a fair amount of play in the fan press; I gather that author Robin Maxwell even made the pilgrimage to San Diego to do an appearance at Comic-Con promoting it.

My copy arrived a month ago or so. I’m just getting round to it and so far I’m liking it quite a bit. The tagline is “The Tarzan story as told by Jane,” but there’s much more to it than that. Like Arvid Nelson in Lord of the Jungle, Ms. Maxwell isn’t afraid to do a bit of retooling here and there to the legend to make it work better for a modern audience, and also to make it a more plausible fit with history. Here is an excerpt that gives you an idea of what I mean. Worth your time if you’re a Tarzan fan, or even just an adventure fan.

And I admit to feeling a warm glow of nostalgia when I saw that Dark Horse has finally gotten up to Russ Manning in its hardcover Tarzan reprint series.

These were the first Tarzan comics I ever saw and I will always have a soft spot for them. They are a great introduction to the character if you have a bright kid around who likes adventure.

Those were my first encounter with the REAL Tarzan, the Burroughs character– it wasn’t until I found these comics that I gathered that there was a guy named Burroughs who wrote actual Tarzan books.

I have to admit, though, that my strongest memories aren't of the comics as much as they are those incredible George Wilson covers.

Today I have to confess that I prefer the more sophisticated treatment on display in Lord of the Jungle…. but these Manning adaptations are classics in their own right and deserve to be preserved in hardcover.

Simple, but classic.

I’m glad to have it in the library for the younger folks that we occasionally have here, and to take to school for my students. These stories were a gateway drug to Burroughs for me when I was a sprout, and I see no reason why they wouldn’t still be one for kids today.

Probably my favorite piece of the Tarzan centennial boom/revival/whatever, though, is the stunning new art book specifically devoted to it.

That's my favorite Neal Adams Tarzan pic they used for the cover, too. Nice.

Scott Griffin’s Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration is a magnificent compendium of Tarzan lore. Though the book is largely focused on Edgar Rice Burroughs and the books he authored, it also exhaustively documents the ape-man’s appearances in films, television, children’s books, and comics, in a really lovely coffee-table art book hardcover stuffed full of color paintings from Tarzan pulps and paperbacks and comics.

Just as an artifact the book is a thing of beauty.

I know a lot about Tarzan– well, compared to most people, anyway– but in comparison to Griffin I’m a piker. He covers EVERYTHING.

The film coverage is mostly the back end of the book, and it's as thorough as everything else.

Best of all (well, for me) there are pages and pages of Tarzan cover art and comics art reproduced in loving detail, often larger than it originally appeared. I adored seeing George Wilson’s old Gold Key cover paintings reproduced at tabloid size, without cover copy. And the Neal Adams covers. And the Boris Vallejo covers. And Roy Krenkel’s, and Frazetta’s, and J. Allen St. John’s.

I could spend days just looking at this. I have been, actually, ever since my review copy arrived.

It’s pretty much the final word on everything Tarzan to date, from the early days of the pulps and silent film on up. And Griffin even got Ron Ely to write an introduction. It retails for $39.95 and I’d say it was well worth it– but you don’t have to pay that much, because right now you can get a copy for a little over twenty bucks on Amazon.

With the Tarzan centennial renaissance in full swing, though, I am left to wonder…

…where is my DVD set of Filmation’s Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle?

I'm serious. Why aren't the ERB centennial people all over this?

Considering the time it was made, and the hellaciously stringent requirements in place for Saturday morning television back then, this was a cartoon series that still managed to evoke the Burroughs Tarzan.

Lost cities and all-- they adapted TARZAN LORD OF THE JUNGLE, TARZAN AND THE CITY OF GOLD, and I think they took a swing at the Leopard Men and the Ant Men, too.

It was a little uneven– there were certainly a couple of episodes that were wince-worthy– but overall it was one of the better efforts at adapting Tarzan to film. I could understand no one putting it out when Disney was saturating the market with their own animated version, but enough time has passed since that was current that I’d think there’s room for both.

But that’s just fanboy carping, really… it’s not as though there isn’t lots to enjoy right now.

And I certainly am enjoying it. Happy birthday, Lord Greystoke. Nice to see you around these parts again. I hope your latest comics and prose incarnations are as successful as the best of the previous ones have been.

Everyone else… well, I’ll see you next week.

24 Comments

I do own the Kubert Tarzan tabloids. That amazing art double-sized is just amazing. One of my favorite comics ever.

Tarzan of the Apes is one of the first books I remember reading. I read every one that followed. Easily one of the greatest fictional characters ever created. Right up there with Sherlock Holmes and Dracula.

Seconded on the Filmation Tarzan series. I’ve wanted to see how those held up to my inner four year old’s memories of them since the 1990s.

Clarification: I’ve been wanting the Tarzan video since the 1990s when I started wanting all the old toons I watched in the 1970s and ealry 1980s. My inner child is screaming at me that it was 1976-77 when it was on.

There are a couple of the Filmation Tarzans up on Youtube.

Let me add my love for all things Tarzan. As a kid in Florida, on Sunday afternoon they would run Tarzan Theater, where they would run one of the Johnny Weissmuller movies, followed by an episode of the Ron Ely series, and more often than not I would be glued to the set. I was also a big fan of the Gold Key comics, and had a special love for the Korak series, because who wouldn’t want to be Tarzan’s kid? Very nice piece Greg and as always thanks for the memories.

And since I see him up above the comments, a hello and a happy Christmas to my old friend Louis Bright Raven. I hope that life is treating you well.

My memory’s a little fuzzy on this point, but I’m pretty sure it was the Filmation cartoon that got me interested in reading the comics and, very soon afterward, the books – which at the time were being published with those stunning Neal Adams (and Boris Vallejo) covers. Meanwhile, Marvel had the comics license at the time, and for me that series, with art by the brothers Buscema, is still the definitive comics version of Tarzan. Given the 100th anniversary, I wish someone would publish a nice full-color omnibus of that entire series (like the John Carter omnibus Marvel released recently).

Y’know, Greg, I had no idea about this! Thanks for pointing it out.

In January, I was in New England and found an old Tor paperback of Tarzan of the Apes for $2; reading all your Tarzan columns makes me want to track the next book down!

Also, it’s funny you brought up a Dynamite comic; my copy of Masks #1, their new teamup series–and the first Dynamite book I’ve ever read–arrived in the mail last week; I LOVE it! What did you think of it? And what else of their stuff would you recommend to a newcomer?

Also, it’s funny you brought up a Dynamite comic; my copy of Masks #1, their new teamup series–and the first Dynamite book I’ve ever read–arrived in the mail last week; I LOVE it! What did you think of it? And what else of their stuff would you recommend to a newcomer?

I love MASKS too– it’s based on my favorite Spider pulp adventure ever.

As for what I think about Dynamite, well, mostly I like it a lot. More here — scroll down a bit.

http://www.leylander.org/intercom/tarzan/

As Burroughs explicitly provided an explanation for Tarzan’s lack of aging (Kavuru pills, treatment from a witch doctor), I find it odd that more Tarzan pastiches did not ensue.

nice article and proof how much a fan you are of Tarzan to keep track of all that history as for the old tarzan cartoon not being on dvd yet . its proably due to who owns the filmation library has not gotten around to put it on dvd yet or haven’t gotten the clearance to do so yet from bouroughs estate yet.

I barely remember the Filmation Tarzan cartoon, except that it was the first time I recognized whatever they were calling “motion capture” at the time. Rotoscope?

They would use the same few clips over and over.

No memory of the stories, but the images of Tarzan running or swinging are burned into my brain.

When I was a kid, they showed Tarzan movies on TV every saturday morning. When they showed Tarzan’s New York Adventure, all of us would be out climbing drain pipes and falling off roofs later that afternoon.

But this all still leaves one huge hole in term of availability of past adaptations: the legendary comic strip!

No licensed strip had more stellar talents working on it over the years: Grand Master Hal Foster for many years (once reprinted but long out of print), and later Burne Hogarth, Gil Kane, Mike Grell (I’d LOVE to see those reprinted) and Gray Morrow… but most importantly, the amazing Russ Manning years.

Manning’s Gold Key comic-book adaptations of the novels are amazing, and I’m glad that they’re getting nice new editions, but he reserved his best art and writing for the mostly adult-audience comic strip. I would say that not only did he do the best Tarzan strip, but that Manning’s Tarzan is one of the best adventure strips of all time, period. They’ve never been reprinted in America at all, and were only available briefly in Europe, and even those albums lacked the beautiful and story-packed Sunday strips.

We’ve recently had the absolute weakest Tarzan comics material republished and even those got a surprising amount of praise (I’m looking at you, Jesse Marsh), but if more people could see the comic strip, it would totally blow their minds.

Tarzan is an odd blank spot for me, given my lifelong love of pulp adventure stories and such. Despite having read tons of that kind of stuff, including a good bit of ERB’s work, I have somehow managed to never see a Tarzan movie or TV show, or read any of the stories. The wonderful (and unfortunately savaged) John Carter film reminded me of this, so I’ve gotten ahold of a few of the books during the past year, but I still have yet to get around to reading any of them. I did read the first issue of the Dynamite series when it was released, and I liked it enough that I decided to get the trade, but it slipped my mind. Thanks for the reminder! I’ll have to get my hands on it. (and make time for those ERB books soon.)

We’ve recently had the absolute weakest Tarzan comics material republished and even those got a surprising amount of praise (I’m looking at you, Jesse Marsh), but if more people could see the comic strip, it would totally blow their minds.

I somehow had the vague idea that Fantagraphics had reprinted a bunch of those a few years ago– the Foster and Hogarth, at least– but I think I must have somehow conflated their Prince Valiant books with the Hogarth original hardcovers. There ARE some reprint books out there, but long out of print and pretty pricey.

I’m right there with you on the Jesse Marsh. I’m a HUGE Burroughs fan and still have a little fannish OCD thing going on (although I’m getting better) but I have no desire for any of those.

The thing that seems like a no-brainer to me is getting out the rest of the DC Tarzan– Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez!– and the Marvel Tarzan. I mean, the Thomas-Buscema “Jewels of Opar” is the perfect length for a nice trade paperback and it really is the best work John Buscema ever did, especially the early issues inking himself.

Couldn’t find them on Fantagraphics’ website, but those Foster collections still are out there, but incredibly expensive: http://www.amazon.com/Tarzan-Color-Volume-1-1931-1933/dp/1561631787/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1355717325&sr=8-2&keywords=tarzan+hal+foster

Dark Horse’s website also has up for pre-order a hardcover collecting a short Charlton series from the ’60s. Seems kinda neat: http://www.darkhorse.com/Books/22-411/The-Unauthorized-Tarzan-HC

Aw man, I liked Marsh. He’s obviously not as good as the other guys who have drawn Tarzan over the years, but I think he did some real quality work on Tarzan.

@ The Mutt:

Yes… and no. While Filmation did use a lot of rotoscoping techniques (tracing animation frame by frame to superimpose onto a different cel backdrop) in TARZAN and much of their other work, what you’re specifically referring to is when they simply relied on specific stock footage to an arguably excessive degree for the purposes of keeping to a limited budget, like Tarzan’s swinging through / climbing trees and other jungle backdrops. Filmation did this a lot on all of their shows, because of time and money constraints.

Louis, I think you’re somehow confused on what The Mutt meant. He is referring to two separate things. He first points out that the Tarzan show had a lot of rotoscoping. Then he points out that they reused scenes a lot. I don’t think he’s trying to say that rotoscoping means reusing scenes a lot. He is simply making two separate, unrelated observations.

I guess if I can’t have a Marvel Tarzan omnibus, I’d settle for the Jewels of Opar adaptation. But then it would also be cool to have a trade collecting that Blood Money & Human Bondage story that ran for about 10 issues (#s 15-24 I think). And then I just go back to thinking an omnibus would be much better.
By the way, since you noted that Jewels featured John Buscema’s best work (which is kind of a big claim: he did so much spectacular work during the ’70s, especially in Conan, Savage Sword, even Thor… Though for me to say which is the best), I would say that the latter part of the series when kid brother Sal took over the art chores featured arguably Sal’s best work – and I’m saying that as a really, really big fan of his.

As a big fan of Big John Buscema, I’m beginning to really wanna see that Jewels of Opar adaptation. If it truly is his best work, as you guys say, that is saying something! I need to get my hands on that.

I can’t believe I’m the first one to mention this. There’s a new Tarzan strip in production right now, written by Roy Thomas and drawn by Tom Grindberg. It appears only online, at http://www.edgarriceburroughs.com/comics/ and a subscription is $1.99 a month. It started recently, and all the reviews I’ve seen have been good.

I can’t believe I’m the first one to mention this. There’s a new Tarzan strip in production right now, written by Roy Thomas and drawn by Tom Grindberg. It appears only online, at http://www.edgarriceburroughs.com/comics/ and a subscription is $1.99 a month. It started recently, and all the reviews I’ve seen have been good.

Oh man, got excited but then you lost me at ‘Roy Thomas’

Is Roy Thomas also the ghostwriter of the newspaper Spidey strip? I feel like he is.

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