Tarzan is 100 years-old this year and to celebrate, Titan Books is releasing “the only official commemorative illustrated history” of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ iconic Lord of the Jungle on November 20 with “Tarzan The Centennial Celebration.” Burroughs expert Scott Tracy Griffin takes readers through all of Tarzan’s appearances from books to comics to movies to cartoons to musicals throughout over 300 pages of lovingly detailed artwork and insight.
For our part of wishing the wildman a happy one, author Griffin has shared with us his favorite “Tarzan” comics of all time. So without further ado, let’s let Scott take it away.
1. “Tarzan the Terrible” by Russ Manning and Gaylord Dubois, Gold Key Comics, 1967
In 1965, Russ Manning assumed artistic chores on Gold Key Comics’ Tarzan of the Apes title, and, with scripter Gaylord Dubois, embarked on an ambitious quest to illustrate authentic adaptations of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novels, a first for the comic book medium. Among the best is Tarzan the Terrible, in which Tarzan battles dinosaurs, saber tooth tigers, and pithecanthropi (tailed, primitive men) across the lost land of Pal-ul-don in a quest for the missing Jane. The prehistoric perils offer even greater challenges than that of Tarzan’s jungle, and the ape man rises to the occasion. This novel also showcases an increasingly self-reliant Jane, who escapes her captors and uses the woodcraft taught by Tarzan to survive. In addition to ranking alongside Hal Foster and Burne Hogarth in the triumvirate of great Tarzan comic artists, Manning’s storytelling ability and attention to the details of Burroughs’ stories is unparalleled.
2. “The Return of Tarzan” by Thomas Yeates, Dark Horse Comics, 1997
Dark Horse Comics launched its Tarzan title by assigning an adaptation of The Return of Tarzan to Thomas Yeates. Serialized strips were collected into a three-issue mini-series recounting Tarzan’s return to Africa, following his unsuccessful pursuit of Jane Porter in America. Tarzan, who previously waged war on the African cannibals who killed Kala (his mother ape), has been influenced by his time in civilization, and befriends the Waziri, a fierce, martial tribe that joins him on subsequent adventures. This tale also introduces La of Opar, High Priestess of the Flaming God, whose unrequited love for Tarzan imbues romantic tension into the proceedings. Yeates’ pen-and-ink work recalls the era of classic illustrators; his passion for the Burroughs franchise is evident in every panel.
3. “Tarzan of the Apes” by Joe Kubert, DC Comics, 1972
In 1972, DC Comics won the Tarzan comics contract, thanks to a promise to grant Joe Kubert artistic and editorial chores on the title. DC began its run with a lush, four-issue adaptation of Burroughs’ original novel, which was reprinted in an oversized Superspecial edition. Kubert’s Tarzan has a dynamic, heroic quality, with line work and designs reminiscent of his early idol, Hal Foster.
4. “Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar” by John Buscema and Roy Thomas, Marvel Comics, 1977
Marvel Comics launched its Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle title with a nine-issue adaptation of Jewels of Opar by “Big” John Buscema and “Rascally” Roy Thomas (nicknames were de rigueur in the Marvel bullpen of that era). Having illustrated Robert E. Howard’s Conan property for years, Buscema proved ideal for depicting the ape man’s feral savagery, while veteran writer Thomas offered a partnership steeped in Burroughs’ lore. Marvel’s first issue featured a Buscema cover homage to Clinton Petty’s original 1912 All-Story magazine art.
5. (Tie) “Tarzan/John Carter: Warlords of Mars” by Bret Blevins and Ricardo Villagran, scripted by Bruce Jones, Dark Horse Comics, 1996; “Tarzan in the Land That Time Forgot/The Pool of Time”, by Russ Manning, Dark Horse, 1974, 1996; “Tarzan vs. the Moon Men” by Thomas Yeates and Al Williamson, scripted by Timothy Truman, Dark Horse, 1997-98
My top four comic stories are all adaptations of early Tarzan novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs; conversely, these mini-serializations offer original stories set within ERB’s literary universe, taking Tarzan to Barsoom, Caspak, and a future Earth dominated by aliens. The result is three gripping crossover tales that all Tarzan fans should experience.
“Tarzan The Centennial Celebration” hits stores on November 20.