By Andrew A. Smith
Scripps Howard News Service
Happy birthday, Tarzan!
The legendary Ape-Man first saw print100 years ago in the pulp title The All-Story Magazine, and Titan Books is celebrating with a gorgeous hardback, Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration ($39.95). Written by Scott Tracy Griffin, one of the foremost Edgar Rice Burroughs experts extant, Centennial covers aspect of the fabled adventure hero from print to movies and everything in between.
To tell you the truth, I never considered myself much of a Tarzan fan. For one thing, when I became old enough to become aware of the world, the idea of white guy being better at everything in Africa than the black people who lived there began to feel a little uncomfortable. And for another, let’s face it: The idea of jungle adventure wasn’t terribly exciting after space exploration made jungle tales a trifle stale, after automatic weaponry made death by lion far-fetched, and after satellite surveillance made lost civilizations implausible.
But as I read this book I realized that there’s a reason why Burroughs is referred to as “the grandfather of science fiction.” While he was preceded by Mary Shelley, Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and many others, it was Burroughs whose wildly popular Tarzan of the Apes, John Carter of Mars and David Innes of Pellucidar made science fiction and/or fantasy part of the tapestry of pop culture. Tarzan isn’t just an adventure character; he informs every character that came after him, from Buck Rogers to Superman, and created the atmosphere in which other characters came to exist. He is the air other characters breathe.
Which is why, I realized to my own surprise, I’d absorbed so much Tarzan over the decades. As a child I’d slavishly watch whatever Tarzan movie (usually starring Johnny Weissmuller or Lex Barker) the local CBS affiliate would schedule after the cartoons every Saturday. In middle school I inhaled all 24 Tarzan novels, which were being re-released as paperbacks.
And there were the comics! I wasn’t born yet for the Dell Tarzan comic books (1940s and ‘50s) and missed out on the Gold Key run (1960s), but I’m snatching up hardcover collections of those books as fast as Dark Horse prints them. And I managed to collect all the later comics based on Burroughs characters, from DC (1970s), Marvel (1980s) and Dark Horse (1990s to present).
But even so, there’s tons of Tarzan I didn’t know about, an itch this book thankfully scratches. Griffin gives a chapter to each to the novels, along with sidebars on various aspects of Burroughs and his Ape-Man, from how Burroughs pronounced his hero’s name (TAR-zn), to “How to Speak Ape,” to the history of the legends of dinosaurs in Africa that informed the lost land of Pal-ul-don in Tarzan the Terrible. Roughly the second half of the book is individual chapters on Tarzan in comic strips, comic books, radio, TV, movies, collectibles, conventions and the many other facets of the Ape-Man and his creator.
All of this info is lavishly illustrated with book covers, frontispieces, movies stills and other art, both familiar and scarce, that is simply arresting. The illustrations alone are worth the price of admission, from familiar names like Neal Adams, John Buscema, Frank Frazetta, Joe Jusko, Joe Kubert, Roy Krenkel, Russ Manning, Jesse Marsh, J. Allen St. John, Boris Vallejo and George Wilson, to new favorites like Phil Normand and Robert Abbett. And where else are you going to see so many pictures of Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan in loincloths?
This book will remind those of us, like me, just how much we have always loved Tarzan. Here’s to another 100 years, Lord Greystoke!
Another fond look back at an American institution comes in the form of The Art of Betty and Veronica (Archie Books, $29.99). And, while I enjoyed the cheesecake in this glossy hardback as much as any heterosexual male, that’s not what I found to be most interesting – which is the history of the characters.
As I’ve written in my many reviews on my website of Dark Horse’s “Archie Archives” (which is reprinting the Riverdale gang’s stories chronologically), the girls in the early Archie strips were drawn relatively realistically, whereas the boys were all cartoons from the get-go. We see that here, and then experience the girls’ permutation into cartoon characters themselves.
And there are a lot of versions! Archie has always relied on a “house style,” wherein most artists work in the style of the firm’s designated superstar. Early Archie Comics all emulated the style of the first Archie artist (and likely creator), Bob Montana. When I was reading Archies regularly in the 1970s, Dan DeCarlo’s style – and his utterly gorgeous B&V – dominated.
And those two artists are, indeed, represented here. But Archie Comics has had a lot of wonderful artists, many of which are spotlighted here, including Al Fagaly, Harry Lucey, Samm Schwartz and even Flash artist Irv Novick. DeCarlo gets the lion’s share of pages -- as he should – but near the end you get some current artists, including DeCarlo protégé Dan Parent.
There’s not a lot of behind-the-scenes anecdotes or historical data in The Art of Betty & Veronica, but what the title promises is what the book delivers. We can fill in the blanks ourselves, as we pour over page after page featuring America’s sweethearts in everything from bikinis to Parisian haute couture.
Or, as the girls themselves say in a famous gag: “Betty, do you think short skirts make girls look taller?” “No, but it makes boys look longer!”
Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at firstname.lastname@example.org.