My earliest memory of Tarzan (I think) is watching the movie Tarzan's Three Challenges on television. (This would have been circa 1969.) By the time I read my first Tarzan comic book, I was already familiar with the Ron Ely television show as well as the Johnny Weissmuller movies. By the time I was in junior high school, I was aware of the bad rap those movies had among ERB fans. (I understand their reasoning, but I don't agree with it.) My first Tarzan comic is a toss-up between 100-Page Super-Spectacular Vol. 1, No. DC-19 (Aug 1973) and Tarzan Vol. 26, No. 223 (Sep 1973), which undoubtedly acquired at the same time.
Of the two, I consider Tarzan #223 to be my actual "first." Although I enjoyed the 100-pager a great deal, it was the Joe Kubert one that really rocked my world (which is to say, my conception of what "Tarzan" could be). Whereas the "Super-Spectacular" was a reprint (of Russ Manning newspaper comics, which I would learn years later), #223 was the last chapter of Kubert's adaptation of ERB's second Tarzan novel, The Return of Tarzan. A year or so later, DC issued two (abridged) "treasury editions" of Kubert's adaptations of ERB's first wo Tarzan novels, Tarzan of the Apes and The Return of Tarzan.
ERB fans are disdainful of the Weissmuller movies, but I tend to cut them a considerable amount of slack. It was the Weissmuller movies (in particular) which led me to the comic book, and the comic book which led me to the novels. I'm certain those same movies led many a fan over the years directly to the books. Yes, the books are "truer," but the movies have a charm all their own. The shame is fans who never move past the movies to discover the books.
Tarzan #223 was the final chapter of Kubert's adaptation of The Return of Tarzan as I mentioned, and it was like no Tarzan I had encountered before (in my nine years). [I should also mention at this point that I had a terrific View Master reel of the original Tarzan of the Apes.] It had William clayton, Rokoff, La and the Beast Men of Opar. the end sees Tarzan and Jane married, Tarzan declared the rightful Lord Greystoke, and him vowing to return one day to Opar. I should note that 100-Page Super-Spectacular #19 also featured La and the Beast Men, they were very "sanitized" versions in comparison to Joe Kubert's (not disrespect to Russ Manning intended).
This is a topic I have been considering for years but have always put it off because it is so huge. At the very least it will stand as a placeholder for when I get to the various comic books and dailies and Sundays until I finally loop back to those Russ Manning comic strips. We'll see how it goes.
I believe my introduction to Tarzan was the first Weissmuller movie when it was shown on one of the local weekend movie shows. I'm thinking I was probably seven or eight years of age. At some point not too long after that one of the local stations began running Tarzan movies on Sunday mornings under the name "Jungle Theater" or something similar. The Sunday color Tarzan newspaper strip was featured in our local paper and I became a regular reader around the same time I discovered the movies.
One of my best friends was a huge Burroughs fan and he got me started on the ERB Tarzan novels when we were in junior high. At that time, ERB's books were readily available at local bookstores. I read the first four books in the series along with a few of the later books. The early books seemed to be kept in stock more so than the later stuff. I now have the entire series loaded on my tablet and have been reading/re-reading the books in order. In this current reading I am up to book #11 Tarzan Lord of the Jungle. Ironically I have never read a Tarzan comic book !
Whn I was a kid, I had this Taran comic digest, where he met the Ant-Men (no relation), and fought a guy who was merging people with animals to recreate the old Egyptian gods.
I don't believe that I watched either the Tarzan movies or the TV show. Later on I did but not as a young kid.
I did have the Joe Kubert comic though especially the 100 Pagers with my first being #233 (N'74) which also had reprints of Congo Bill, Rex the Wonder Dog and Detective Chimp.
Around that time, I lucked out and acquired the first four Kubert Tarzan. Later I regularly watched the excellent Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle Saturday morning cartoon show and by high school, started getting the paperbacks of the novels.
Of course, I still cherish my beat-up, well-read paperback of Tarzan Alive!
I was familiar with MAD magazine's spoof "TVarzan" (from my older brother's collection) years before I ever saw the show in syndication. Speaking of MAD, around the same time as DC's Kurbert Tarzan, MAD was reprinting little reproductions of of their 1950s comics in their Summer Specials, two of which included "Melvin of the Apes!" from the original comic books #2 and #6. Of course, I didn't know at the time that MAD even was a comic book originally; I thought those were just joke "mock-ups" of what a 1950s MAD comic would look like (like Ye Olde Mad they published for the bicentennial, what Mad would have looked like in 1776). But I digress...
I never watched any Tarzan movies or TV shows; I was too uninterested in the character to be offended. About the only comic I ever read was the first two or three issues of Marvel's Tarzan title from the '70s, and the big selling point was the art, pencils and inks, by John Buscema.
Other than "Melvin of the Apes" from MAD, whose big selling point was the art, pencils and inks, by John Severin, I haven't read a Tarzan tale until the just-concluded four-part miniseries Groo Meets Tarzan, whose big selling point was the art, pencils and inks, by Sergio "John" Aragonés and Tom "John" Yeates.
I learned about Tarzan from movies on Saturday afternoons on WREG-TV in Memphis in the early '60s. They were usually Johnny Weismuller movies, but sometimes other actors would barge in. The thing is, the reason I was watching these movies is because my older sisters, who commanded the TV dial on our single B&W TV, were looking for Maureen O'Sullivan.
When I was six, and actually earning money mowing lawns, I joined the Science Fiction Book Club. Mostly, they offered ERB books. Hubba, hubba. I joined, got six books ... then my parents found out, and took my books away and canceled my subscription. They demanded a refund of the money that a company took from a minor. They got it ... and kept it. Along with the books.
In middle school, I started over. I started snapping up Conan books at the bookstore. Or, really, anything with a Frank Frazetta cover. In those bookstores, I discovered that someone was reprinting ERB books. I bought the entire Tarzan oeuvre, and most of John Carter, John Innes, and others. Whatever I could find. I read the 21 Tarzan books in July and August of 1972.
Then I found out that Tarzan and Flash Gordon were not only comic strips in the early 20th century, but that they were MAJOR comic strips in the 20th century. And strips that were the reason comic strips still existed (which was a question in my mind, in the early '60s). But it would be years before I could see any of that work.
But then ERB Inc. allowed the major comic publishers a shot at Tarzan. Marvel (with Big John Buscema) and DC (with Joe Kubert) took their best stabs at it.
But the stories had not improved with time. And the art? Well, it was all stolen from Burne Hogarth.
I vaguely enjoyed the books, as echoes of echoes of echoes of the genres I enjoy. Buy honestly ...
Tarzan was done in the 1970s. And he should be.
I discovered the character through Gold Key comics and some of the old movies on TV. My dad had watched the movies when he was a kid. Fun Great Depression story: he and his buddies would walk along the tracks Saturday morning and find coke/coal that had fallen off the trains, sell it in the neighbourhood, and then go to the movies. But to continue with my far less interesting tale: only later did I try to read one of the source novels. They don't hold up well. Son of Tarzan stays on my shelf as a sample, and because I found it kind of charming.
The old Gold Keys are fascinating, because they'll jump between contemporary-set adventures in Tarzan's impossible version of Africa, TV-show-inspired adventures, and historically-set adaptations of the source material. But why they keep trying to make this character work in the broader media in this century I do not know.
"I never watched any Tarzan movies or TV shows; I was too uninterested in the character to be offended."
I wondered about that, Kelvin, but didn't want to come right out and ask directly. There is an undeniable undercurrent of racism in ERB Tarzan.
"Then I found out that Tarzan and Flash Gordon were not only comic strips in the early 20th century, but that they were MAJOR comic strips in the 20th century."
I plan to move this discussion forward one topic at a time (with minimal comment from myself) at the rate of maybe one a week (?) from the list below.
Tarzan dailies by Hal Foster and Rex Mason - 1929
Tarzan Sundays by Rex Mason, Hal foster and Burne Hogarth - 1931-1950
Tarzan comic books by Jesse Marsh
Tarzan comic books by Russ Manning
Tarzan comic strips by Russ Manning
I may hit other topics (such as comic books by Joe Kubert and John Buscema, and comic strips by Mike Grell) as the mood strikes me and the discussion takes me.
Before I talk about the daily Tarzan comic strips of 1929, I'd briefly like to discuss The Library of American Comics' "Essentials" format, published by IDW. There have been 14 volumes released thus far, but I don't expect to see any others at this point. They are small, 4 1/2 x 11 3/4 inches, making them unique in size as well as content. Each volume present a year of a classic strip (from the years 1916 through 1945), each page a single daily strip printed at the size it would have appeared in newspapers of the time.
I love them, but comics are strange ducks. "Lone Wolf & Cub is too small!" "Barry Windsor Smith's Storyteller is too big!" "The Jack Kirby Collector is too hard to store!" they whine. My retailer informs me that product of unusual size (small or large) doesn't sell for him, and he orders LOAC Essentials specifically for me and none for the shelf.
1929 DAILIES: By the mid-20s, Edgar Rice Burroughs was looking for ways to expand the popularity of his character through media such as movie and newspaper serials. In 1927, Joseph Neebe, an account executive at an advertising agency, approached ERB with the idea of presenting all of the existing novels in daily comic strip format. Each strip would consist of five panels with text below, and each story would run ten weeks. Burroughs was interested, but didn't want to dilute the sales of the serialized versions, so he stipulated that the adaptations could contain no more than 15% of the text of any given novel. Thus, the 150,000-word Tarzan of the Apes was abridged to 15,000 words of text for sixty daily installments.
The job of illustrating the strip was assigned to a young staffer named Hal Foster, with whose work Burroughs was very pleased. Because the format was so different from other daily strips of the day (mostly humor), newspapers were given the option to buy just the first ten weeks, then decide whether or not to continue. In the meantime, Foster returned to his advertising job and the comic strip material was repurposed into book form, and given the unwieldly title "The Illustrated Tarzan Book No. 1 - Pictured from the novel Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs." The "illustrated books" met with little success, yet whenever the subject "What was the first graphic novel?" is discussed I have never seen Foster's adaptation mentioned, despite the fact that "picturized from the novel" is pretty much the same thing.
The early picture book may not have been successful, but the comic strip was. The option of continuing to illustrate future adaptations was offered to Foster, but he was making good money at the ad agency and decided not to enter the comic book field at this time. The work was assigned to Rex Mason, who was illustrating other features for King Features Syndicate. At this point, the number of panels per strip was reduced to four. The 1929 LOAC Essential contains adaptations of the first four novels. The Return of Tarzan was told in 60 dailies, The Beasts of Tarzan 84, and The Son of Tarzan 96. Mason was to stay on the daily strip through 1947. He also drew the first six months (28 weeks) of the Sunday strip beginning in 1931, but that's another story for another time.
THE SUNDAYS - PART ONE: REX MAXON:
When it came time to expand Tarzan into the Sunday comics section, Edgar Rice Burroughs wanted Hal Foster. Instead, the syndicate went with Rex Maxon (not "Mason" as I typo-ed above; that would be Metamorpho) who was already doing the daily strip. Burroughs was displeased with Maxon's work ever since his debut on the dailies, and contacted Max Elser of the Metropolitan Newspaper Service (who hired Maxon in the first place) to complain about Maxon being chosen to illustrate the Sunday pages. Elser assured him, "We have had nothing but compliments on Maxon's work for months and months... Some time ago the head of the Hearst Syndicates, Mr. Jos. V. Connelly, one of the ablest judges of newspaper material in America, spontaneaously told me that he considered Maxon's work for newspaper reproduction much better than that of Foster who drew Tarzan of the Apes."
Not everyone was or is such an unabashed fan of Maxon's work as Elser is, however. No lesser a personage than Bill Blackbeard, founder/director of the San Francisco Academy of Comic Art, wrote an introduction to the Flying Buttress Classics Library series (published by NBM) titled "Artist of the Absurd." What's more, the subtitle of the article is "A Pained and Amused Look at Rex Maxon's Six-Month Stint on the First Twenty-Eight Tarzan Sunday Pages (Which are Not to be Found in This Book), and Other Crucial Matters." If that's not enough, he want on to say, "A tangle-footed zombie, a leopard-pelted golem alleged to be the authentic apeman and appearing under the embarrassed byline of Burroughs for the preceding twenty-eight weeks, had brought unintended snickers to the nostrils of a million Sunday comics readers as cartoonist Rex Maxon did his inept damnedest to move his cardboard-stiff mimicry of a jungle lord into the kind of gripping adventure that would bring comics readers back for more week after week, only to fail pathetically."
Taking a more "middle-of-the road" approach, comics historian Mark Evanier (in his introduction to Dark Horse's Tarzan: The Sunday Comics - 1931-1933 (spotlighting Hal Foster's stint, described Maxon as a "competent craftsman who suffered the unavoidable problem of not being Hal Foster." Henry Frank, editor of The Burroughs Bibliophiles. describes Maxon's work as "the most identified graphic interpretation of the ape-man, more so than the various versions in pulp magazines and in hardcover books" (which, I suppose, is true as far as it goes). I should mention at this point that J. Allan St, John, who provided the spot-illustrations for the Tarzan hardcovers, was also considered as the artist for the Sunday pages. He was interested at first, until he realized what a huge workload it would be with the crushing deadlines and declined the offer.
NBM's Tarzan series collects every Sunday from 1931 through 1950 and I intend to deal with each of the artists in turn. Despite Blackbeard's assertion that Rex Maxon pages would not be found in that series, the first volume does, in fact, reprint the very first one. Beyond that, Blackbeard goes on to describe the rest of Maxon's run in excruciating (and hilarious) detail. As a spot-illustrator of the novels in the daily strips, Maxon was indeed "competent"; but judging from the sample provided and the description of the rest, I think Blackbeard's assessment is closest of those above to the truth.
NEXT: Hal Foster
THE SUNDAYS - PART TWO: HAL FOSTER:
Although Rex Maxson would continue to do the daily strip for many years (until 1947), ERB was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with his work on the Sunday pages. As Mark Evanier put it: "The larger panrls and grander color format made the strip's visual shortcomings all the more evident." Hal Foster was again approached, and this time he accepted. Foster dismissed the lame "cliffhanger" Maxon had left him with in about three panels, then proceeded to make the Sunday page more like the novels, first by re-introducing Tarzan's friend Paul D-Arnot. At first, Foster used assistants from the ad agency where he still worked, retouching their work as necessary. But eventually he took on more and more of the workload, including supplying hand-tinted photostats of each page for the engravers to follow.
[There is an article about the coloring process Foster used in one of Fantagraphics' Prince Valiant volumes. He took into consideration the composition of the entire page, not simply each individual panel. If one were to look at the early pages of the Tarzan Sunday comics, the "willy-nilly" coloring becomes quite evident.]
It had been hoped, initially, that Maxon would "improve on the job," but while he never did, Foster's work improved from week to week. Soon, an increasing number of newspapers across the United States began to buy the feature. Foster became aware that the feature was popular in Europe as well and collections of his stories were being published in France, yet he was seeing no increase in income. Foster had been paid a flat rate ($75 a week, nothing to sneeze at during the Great Depression), and ERB was reluctant to pay him more. Using the fact that newspaper subscriptions to Maxon's daily strip were increasing as well, Burroughs attributed the success of the Sunday pages to the popularity of his own character, not Foster's writing or art or coloring.
Foster argued for a larger share of the profits and was, reluctantly, granted a modest raise. He knew that he would never make good money working on a strip he did not own so, own his own time he spent two years developing a new Sunday feature which would become Prince Valiant. When it was ready, he gave his own syndicate first refusal rights, suspecting that they would turn it down to keep him where he was, which is what they did. As soon as he sold it, though, he left Tarzan for King Features Syndicate where he would have ownership and complete control. Much is made (and rightly so) of the fact that, in 1947, Milton Caniff left the wildly popular Terry and the Pirates to do a strip of his own, Steve Canyon, for another syndicate, but Hal Foster did pretty much the same thing a decade earlier.
Hal Foster's six-year run (1931-1937) is collected in its entirety in five and a half volumes of NBM's Tarzan in Color series. In addition, in 2013, Dark Horse released a single volume (collecting 1931-1933) in full size. Of the two, the Dark Horse volume certainly has the advantage of size, but they used a kind of "semi-glossy" paper stock that doesn't appeal to me. This is a mere quibble, though; you can't go wrong with either version of Hal Foster's Tarzan.
NEXT: Burne Hogarth