Tarzan of the Apes: The Original Dailies: LOAC Essentials Vol 7
“moving and deeply beautiful art illustrating stories of risk, choices, loss and life.”
The strips collected in Tarzan of the Apes: The Original Dailies: LOAC Essentials Vol 7 portray the original Tarzan. The one that has quickly become one of the most recognizable characters in the history of fiction.
First published on January 7, 1929, the very same day that the Buck Rogers daily strip debuted, these are the first nationally syndicated comic strips based on Tarzan. They are also some of the most adventure-filled and exciting strips to ever grace the pages of a newspaper.
In keeping with the previous volumes of their Essentials series, The Library of American Comics has reprinted these strips in their original format and original dimensions. Each page is exactly as you would have read it in a newspaper almost 100 years ago.
In 1912 the continent of Africa was a deep, dark, unexplored part of this amazing planet. The mere thought of such a foreboding, dangerous, and hidden world filled millions with fear and fascination. When the first Tarzan story hit newsstands as the cover feature for All-Story magazine (October 1912) it was an immediate hit.
The public took to Tarzan like few other characters in the history of literature. The idea that an orphaned baby could be raised by apes struck a nerve with readers. It said something on both a primordial and personal level.
Edgar Rice Burroughs’ writing incorporated the idea of man vs. nature as well as the concept of the noble savage into one thrilling adventure-packed ride. He also wrote of a love that echoed the ideals of ancient chivalry.
In the original stories, separated from the simplification of Hollywood, the story of Jane grows as Tarzan does until a couple of books in, they become united. Tarzan’s love for Jane was immediate and made readers wish for a deeper connection with their own mates.
This collection reprints adaptations of the first four Tarzan books as written by Burroughs. As Henry G. Franke points out in his introduction, Burroughs had previously allowed local newspapers to serialize the original story of Tarzan. It wasn’t until he was approached by an outside source that the idea of a nationally syndicated newspaper strip crossed his path.
To take an established character, especially one who was essentially adult-based, involved risk. The concept of adventure based material in a sequential art format, especially ones aimed at an adult readership, hadn’t really come into its own. The success of the strips collected in this volume are a big reason why the format of adventure newspaper strips was able to advance.
These strips are not in the conventional newspaper comic format of word balloons inside single panels. In these dailies the illustrator creates a separate drawing that sits atop a condensed version of Burroughs’ narrative work.
The art by Hal Foster and Rex Maxon is among the most beautiful ever seen in an adventure strip. The 300 illustrations drawn by Foster for the first Tarzan book serves as a stunning prequel for his later work on Prince Valiant.
Foster works across five panels a day and the rhythm of his work is intoxicating. You simply become carried away. It is like the visual equivalent of Dave Brubeck’s song “Take Five.” In two panels he moves from the dense packed jungle into the open air of a wide plain and leave you breathless as he does.
Artist Rex Maxon takes over as the format moves from five panels a day to four. He uses space in a different way than Foster. In his hands the claustrophobic feeling of the jungle opens up, and the focus moves toward the individuals inside the scene. While Burroughs was never completely happy with Maxon’s take on Tarzan, fans loved him and he continued on the daily for years.
To those who only know the Ape-Man from the movies, reading this adaptation of Burroughs’ first novel will come as a revelation. His original take on Tarzan was that of man who masters his environment. One who teaches himself to read and understands that he is in fact different from everything around him. This Tarzan is miles away from the mono-syllabic grunts of Johnny Wiesmuller.
There are moment of both savage brutality and savage beauty. The jungle, as created by ERB, has laws of its own. The apes may eat raw meat, but they do not eat members of their own tribe. It is a tough place with death at every corner. Large cats plot murder and apes attack other tribes. It is life at a basic Darwinian level of survival.
In these modern times it has been argued that Tarzan is “part of his time,” a relic portraying embarrassing standards from a century ago. While a reader may wince at the portrayal of certain characters (the big-lipped native Africans, certain descriptive phrases in the narrative), there is also an often forgotten adherence to a code of nobility and what is “right” in life.
In the first panel of Foster’s adaptation of the first novel, Tarzan’s father Lord Greystoke “. . . had been commissioned to investigate alleged atrocities on black subjects in a British West Coast African Colony.” This is how he and his wife eventually come to be abandoned in Africa.
Scenes such as this do not minimize the more uncomfortable aspects. They do lead to a deeper understanding of the time that Burroughs was writing in.
Modern adaptations of Tarzan have managed to reinvent the character for the modern world. These strips reminds us of who Tarzan originally was.
This is deeply personal, classic adventure at its finest. It is also historically important work inside the world of newspaper comics. Above all it is moving and deeply beautiful art illustrating stories of risk, choices, loss and life.