Welcome to the Jungle as Susan Omand runs out of superlatives to describe the comic strip collection Tarzan and the Lost Tribes from Titan Books...
I guess I must have been a bit of a tomboy as a kid. I had a cartie made out of a wooden crate on pram wheels, a den built out of branches in the wood behind the croft we lived on and a rope swing in a big tree that hung out over a gully, which required the obligatory Tarzan call every time I played on it. I loved the Tarzan stories. From the TV re-runs of the classic Johnny Weissmuller films to the 1970’s cartoon series to the glorious words of the original books, I was a fan. And that adoration for all things Greystoke hasn’t diminished as I’ve gotten older (but no wiser) and not just because Christopher Lambert was in the 1984 film and Alexander Skarsgård was the lead in last year’s outing for the Lord of the Jungle (my excuse and I’m sticking to it). So I was very surprised that there was something Tarzan related that I knew nothing about when I got the chance to read Tarzan and the Lost Tribes thanks to Titan Books.
This is a collection of three newspaper adventures by the artist Burne Hogarth, first published in Sunday papers as comic strips between December 1947 and October 1949. And they are BRILLIANT! This really is the Tarzan of my childhood. The stories, co-written by Hogarth and his script collaborator Rob Thompson, are the Tarzan of Rice Burroughs’ books, intelligent and well-spoken, not the “me Tarzan, you Jane” Tarzan often portrayed. And the three tales in the book are all action Boy’s Own style excitement with “great white hunter” bad guys as well as natives and Jungle beasts for Tarzan and Jane to contend with. Yes, I need to mention Jane because she is not the helpless damsel in distress that you might expect (even though she gets kidnapped in the first one) and she can certainly hold her own in a fight. And I really like the way the stories are laid out, not relying on the usual speech-bubble communication vehicles of modern comics – these are more like lavishly illustrated narratives, with the story divided into the panels.
And the illustrations really are lavish! This is the first time I’d come across the work of Burne Hogarth and it is superb. Each page is full colour and highly detailed but the thing that really stood out to me, from an art point of view, was Hogarth’s understanding of anatomy – both human and animal. There is a realism here that is often lacking in comics art and a stunning sense of movement in the musculature, especially evident in the fight scenes. I also love the fluidity of line and high contrast of shading that is almost Art Deco in appeal. You only have to look at the cover image above to see what I mean. Look at the black lines delineating the muscles and the strong stylisation of the trees in the top of the cover and the sleek shapes and amount of explosive animation in Tarzan, the tiger and in the movement lines around them in the lower part of the cover. It’s just sublime. Now take that level of art and put it on each and every panel of the three stories in this book, add in the incredibly high production quality that you always get from Titan Books, and you realise what a treasure this book is and well worth the expense.
Tarzan and the Lost Tribes is volume four of a five volume set and you can guarantee that I will be saving up to get the rest of them as these are must owns for any comics art fans as well as being outstanding stories for fans of Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle.
Image - Titan Books