Christmas 2012 was very good. And one of the reasons it was so good was that among the presents that Santa (in this case my son, J. Michael) left under the tree was a hard-cover, coffee table-sized book entitled Tarzan the Centennial Celebration: The Stories, the Movies, the Art. Published by Titan Books, it is an eye-dazzling, mind-blowing collection of cover art and descriptive essays all about the world’s most famous fictional character. Author Scott Tracy Griffin, a Tarzan expert who is said to live within vine-swinging distance of Tarzana, Calif., has done a magnificent job of putting all this together.
Once you get past the high resolution full page reproductions of works by Neal Adams, J. Allen St. John, Boris Vallejo, and George Wilson, and settle down to read this massive book, you immediately are impressed with Griffin’s knowledge of his subject and the substantial amount of research that went into writing it.
The book begins with a thoughtful essay by former TV-Tarzan, Ron Ely, who says right out what so many reviewers and critics seem to find difficult to put into words. “Edgar Rice Burroughs was a creative genius, a statement I don’t make lightly . . .” He notes that some critics suggest his books did not reflect the polish of other novelists of the time; “however, there is no arguing with the brilliance of his ability to tell a tale.”
Ely also makes a good point that most of the films and even his own television series misplaced Tarzan in contemporary settings. Tarzan, he believes, belongs to the world of 1912 when communication and travel were protracted and challenging, and Africa was a Forbidden Continent where only a few dared risk the dangers. Burroughs created “a place so full of wonder that it exposed by comparison the flaws of the real world.” Through Tarzan Burroughs “emphasized integrity and nobility in the face of a world turning away from such values.”
Following the introduction ,there is a short biographical section that gives the vital facts of Burroughs early years, including some photos I’ve never seen before. It covers his early years as a failure at nearly everything to his rise as a novelist and his self-incorporation and creation of his estate called Tarzana. Next is an essay on Burroughs early works that includes a full page reproduction of the cover of Minidoka, a tale that precedes A Princess of Mars, but was never published until 1999. A section on The Pulps includes the cover of Argosy All Story Weekly’s serialization of Tarzan and the Ant Men.
The book then chronologically covers every Tarzan novel that Burroughs wrote, with a presentation of a variety of covers for each title, including the original St. John covers and later paperback covers by Neal Adams and Boris Vallejo. In addition each section includes covers of the comic book versions of each of the books. Frankly, it almost becomes exhausting trying to absorb everything that is in these pages.
One thing that immediately strikes you about the art work is how much detail the artists put into these paintings. Especially the Gold Key Comics cover art by Wilson. When blown up to 10 x 12, and with the high resolution possible now on the printed page, the art work is amazing. Wilson’s covers on the original comic books never impressed me that much, but as presented here, they are terrific. But as good as they are, they pale in comparison to the later work done by Adams and Vallejo. Adams’ cover for Tarzan at the Earth’s Core is a masterwork. As are the covers for Tarzan and the Leopared Men, and Tarzan the Invincible. Similarly Vallejo’s covers for Tarzan the Magnificent and Tarzan and the Castaways never looked so good.
There are chapters on Tarzan on the radio, and of course Tarzan in films. Here again, while the text is fascinating, it is the still photos that Griffin was able to obtain, that alone make the book worth having. Shots of all the actors who played Tarzan from Elmo Lincoln to Jock Mahoney and Gordon Scott and even Caper Van Dien are included.
One of my favorite parts of the book is “Tarzan of the Funny Pages,” which tells us that Tarzan’s first appearance in a newspaper strip came in 1929, with Hal Foster’s five panels with text underneath. It was preceded by cryptic ads in the newspapers that ran them, that said, “The Apes Are Coming.” Included in this section are sample of not only Foster’s work, but also the art work of Rex Maxon, Burne Hogarth, Bob Lubbers, and Russ Manning. I was particularly pleased that the book also includes a Sunday page (alas, this one in black and white) drawn by John Celardo. Celardo is often overlooked in discussion of Tarzan art, but he was an excellent artist who worked on strips published by United Features Syndicate in the 1950s. I remember those quite well as a kid, delivering my local paper house to house, after first checking the day’s Tarzan installment. A good memory.
There is so much more in the book, but the final pages detailing the end of Burroughs life are noteworthy. In his sixties during World War II he served as a War correspondent in the Pacific. From the deck of the U.S.S. Cahaba, a fleet oiler, he witnessed a kamikaze attack on a nearby ship. He covered 11,000 miles by sea and 5.000 by air and his dispatches were printed by the Honolulu Advertiser. But all this took its toll on his health. He suffered angina pectoris and other heart ailments thereafter.
He returned to the U.S., bought a small two-bedroom house in Encino, Calif., not far from the huge estate he once owned in Tarzana, and died in bed on a Sunday morning in 1950 reading the day’s Tarzan comic strip. He was cremated and his ashes were placed under a Walnut tree in front of his Ventura Boulevard office, where Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc., is still located. Shortly before his death he wrote, “If there is a hereafter, I want to travel through space to visit the other planets.” That sounds suspiciously like the lead-in to a possible Volume Two: The Science Fiction Stories and Art of Edgar Rice Burroughs.
If you are a Tarzan fan, or a fan of Burroughs’ writing this is a must have book. Tarzan, Celebrating the Centennial is a book that Tarzan and Edgar Rice Burroughs fans will treasure for years to come.
Tarzan the Centennial Celebration, the Stories, the Movies, the Art, Titan Books, 320 pages, $39.95.
Available from Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/Tarzan-Centennial-Scott-Tracy-Griffin/dp/1781161690/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1337980369&sr=1-3.
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