Review: Tarzan in the City of Gold

A comic review article by: Jason Sacks

The thing about Tarzan is that back in the day, he was one of the greatest characters in all of fiction. Tarzan starred in innumerable motion pictures, pulp magazine stories, books and comic strips over the years. And while most Tarzan fiction was pretty good (though opinions differ on some of the later Tarzan flicks), the gold standard for the jungle lord in fiction was in his comic strips – especially the Sunday newspaper strip.

In the day when everybody in society read newspapers, the Sunday funnies were a potent force and the comics rose to that occasion. Especially in the golden age of newspaper strips, between roughly 1925 and the beginning of World War II, the Sunday funnies delivered a veritable idea machine for sophisticated, gorgeously-illustrated material. And as you might expect from my comments above, Tarzan was top in that pantheon of brilliance.

First drawn by the sublime Hal Foster, the Sunday Tarzans were marvels of gorgeous comic art and unique, storybook-style storytelling. When Foster left the strip, the equally sublime Burne Hogarth took it over and gave Tarzan his own unique spin while continuing to deliver the same sort of exquisite artwork that his predecessor had created.

The Jungle Lord was in good hands with Hogarth, a master craftsman and one of the finest realistic illustrators of his era (Hogarth later wrote the definitive text book on anatomy in comics, which goes to show how important he felt that would be. Now availale from Titan Books is a wonderful collection of these Tarzan strips, Tarzan in the Lost City of Gold.

Rather than tell you why Hogarth was so terrific as a way of explaining to you why you should invest in Titan Books's glorious 9x12 inch Complete Hogarth Tarzan volume 1, why not show you excerpts from these Sunday strip pages along with some commentary?

The first thing I noticed reading this book was Hogarth's phenomenal depth of field in his work. Many panels look almost three-dimensional. Take a look at these representative examples:

There's also the two-fisted vitality of his work, a rough-hewn power that both humanizes Tarzan and makes him feel unusual:

And while some of the "acting" in the book is old-fashioned and resembles silent movie acting (not too odd since these stories span 1937 and 1939):

The sense of place and atmosphere is wonderful:

Villains are evil, as they should be (can't you imagine these guys swirling their moustaches sadistically):

Cliffhanger scenes are thrilling (and they come at the bottom of nearly every page in this collection):

A sequence with a group of amazons is especially interesting for the way that characters react to the inversion of gender roles:

The writing on these stories, by journeyman Don Garden, is fine. But this is Burne Hogarth's Tarzan, and if all the examples above excite and impress you, you must buy this book. I'm glad I have this wonderful collection of art in my collection.

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