Everyone knows who Tarzan is, right? We’ve all pretended to swing through the jungle on vines while yelling. Heck, Steven Spielberg even had a little homage in his last Indiana Jones film, what with Shia LaBeouf doing a Tarzan impression amidst the treetops. What few people know is exactly how different the character was originally. Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan: The Sunday Comics, 1931-1933 gives us the chance to see the pulp hero as he was seen in times gone by.
While I am reviewing this book based upon a digital version, I know that the physical edition is going to be a gorgeous specimen. The strips will be hardbound in a beautiful 15″ by 20″ perfect bound collection. Printed on very high quality paper (unlike the original newspaper editions) and colored exactly as they were before, this will be a worthy addition to the true collector. Written by George A. Carlin (no, not the comedian…he wasn’t even born yet) and illustrated by Hal Foster (who later went on to create the still ongoing Prince Valiant comic strip) this compilation of the Sunday strips is an amazing series of adventures that still grip the reader to this day.
I suppose I should say that many people don’t consider this to be a comic at all. Instead, they look at it as an illustrated story. The reason being there are no “thought” or “word” bubbles anywhere. The story is embedded into each frame and we find the strip itself has a classic three by four page layout with the banner above. Our hero of yesteryear was given his first strip in 1929 but it wasn’t until September of 1931 that the world was given a full sized Sunday series. Running independent from the daily strip, this weekly Tarzan series was leaps and bounds beyond almost every other comic strip at the time. This book collects ten storylines in the form of over a hundred strips to give us a full two years of Tarzan and his adventures. Whether he is rescuing lost airplane crash victims or fighting the local slave traders, our hero is confident and decisive in the way he sets about the task at hand.
You can definitely feel the energy of this bygone era while reading this strip. Everything is put together to give the impression of Tarzan being the ultimate action hero and an all around he-man. A lot has changed in the last eighty years and I do not think that this version of the Ape Man would have the same appeal as he did then. You can still feel the vitality of the comic, though. There’s no doubt about that. It’s the classic story of how hero overcomes odds to save the day but with more of a fantastical twist each time. I think my major problem isn’t with the hero himself but rather with the fact that while you know what Tarzan is, you never really get a sense of who he is. Small glimpses are give of him as Lord Greystoke but the vast majority of the book is spent on his adventures as a jungle hero. Then again, taking into account when these were published, readers really liked their pulp heroes in classic form. Maybe I’m just nitpicking…
Overall though, this is an impressive collection of stories. Foster was the obvious reason the strip did so well. Not to discount the great writing of Carlin but Foster brought what I would call a Silver Age style to the strip, even though this was decades before the official start of the Silver Age of Comics. His classical training in art helped push the newspaper comic genre higher than it had ever been before. Combined with Carlin’s stories this strip was unstoppable for years to come. And now you can own this first volume of Tarzan’s early years in the Sunday papers. I wouldn’t say this is for everyone but I know there are a lot of Edgar Rice Burroughs fans that would love it. Plus, historian Mark Evanier contributed essays on Tarzan and on Foster for this book to really give the reader a well rounded view of the series. I enjoyed the history lesson almost as much as I did the series. Give it a try, it’s worth the read.