Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Tarzan Triumphant - Time Has Not Diminished the Jungle Lord's Reign

Dust jacket illustration for the
first edition of "Tarzan of the Apes"
If you haven't read Edgar Rice Burroughs “Tarzan” novels, you don't know what you're missing. The novels are works of art. Reading them, it is easy to understand why for the past 100 years the entertainment industry has continually reinvented Tarzan for different media.

First published in 1912, “Tarzan of the Apes” proved so popular with readers that Burroughs wrote a total of 24 Tarzan novels, spanning into the 1940’s.

Despite the movie, television, comic book, syndicated strip, cartoon and other incarnations of Tarzan, the most rewarding portrayal of the Jungle Lord remain in Burroughs’ original material.

There is a level of detail, insight, and reflection that immerse the reader in the Jungles of Africa, where Tarzan, Jane, N’kima and the Waziri tribe encounter new mysteries and civilizations. Burroughs’ Tarzan transcends a fictional character, so convincing is he embellished as a force of nature.

My pen, ink and charcoal study from "Tarzan and the Lost Empire."
Orphaned on the coast of Africa, John Clayton, Lord Greystoke is raised by apes in ignorance of his human heritage.  Under the rigors of jungle hardships and customs, Tarzan (“white skin” in ape language), develops physical attributes and abilities rivaling man and beast. As he matures, Tarzan’s intellect enables him to progress beyond the limits of his anthropoid family. Although eventually recognizing his ancestry as heir to the Greystoke title, Tarzan remains most at home in the wilderness, sleeping in the "crotch of a tree" or navigating the "upper terraces" of the jungle in his own fashion. Adopting the victory cry of the "bull ape," Tarzan proclaims his superiority as “Lord of the Jungle.”  

Film and TV

Filmation's Tarzan Lord of the Jungle was a staple
of my Saturday mornings in the 70's.
Probably my first real opportunity to embrace Tarzan was with Filmation’s Saturday morning cartoon. Tarzan was stoic, athletic, and unlike most live-action adaptations, he spoke fluent English.

Christopher Lambert's performance in
"Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes,"
was the most chimp-like of all. The first half of the film
is captivating; the second, a snooze fest.
A pivotal adaptation was the 1984 film “Greystoke, The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes.” The epic landscapes and immersive jungle sequences were memorable, including scenes highlighting Tarzan's foster ape-mother and the unfriendly native tribes who attack jungle explorers.  

Disney's "Tarzan" is one of the best interpretations
of the Jungle Lord to hit the big screen.
I was honored to work on the 1999 “Tarzan” film with Walt Disney Feature Animation. Artistic and technical breakthroughs were combined with exceptional storytelling, modified in places for family appeal. I never had an opportunity to animate Tarzan, instead assigned to the bumbling Dr. Porter. Still, it was a privilege to have contributed to this classic Disney film.

The greatest illustrators of the last century have had a hand in visualizing Burroughs’ Tarzan. Instead of naming every artist and how significant their contribution was, I’ll mention three of my favorites.

Hogarth's Tarzan is full of introspection and symbolism, with muscles to boot.

Burne Hogarth did two stints drawing the Sunday and daily strips starting in 1937 and leaving in the 50's. He published two Tarzan graphic novels in the early 70's. I was always impressed with his sensitive portrayal of Tarzan; He ponders the meaning of life, the wonders of the universe, and the superiority that man has over the animal kingdom. Hogarth’s anatomy lessons would become a big influence on me as a young art student.

Master storyteller Joe Kubert drew the definitive "Tarzan of the Comics." 

Joe Kubert captured the DC comic book incarnation of Tarzan with his rich brush strokes, lending a unique visceral quality and mood to the narrative. Many consider Kubert’s to be the definitive illustrated version of Tarzan, and I might agree.

I can stare at Neal Adams' book covers all day.
This gem is from "Tarzan and the Lion Man."
While Kubert's mastery is undeniable, Tarzan gained ultimate stature for me with Neal Adams' mid 1970’s Ballantine book covers. I’m mesmerized by the depth and depiction of the “story moment.” Never has Tarzan seemed so relevant in regards to the source material as he is on these covers.  Adams presents us with a god-like superman, bursting off the page amidst an orchestra of action and determination.

More Adventures

"The Legend of Tarzan arrives in theaters July, 2016. Fingers are crossed.
This summer, audiences will be treated to another Tarzan feature film, “The Legend of Tarzan.” It remains to be seen if today’s moviegoers will embrace Tarzan’s retelling. Regardless, one can be sure that the masterworks depicted in Burroughs’s books will inspire countless interpretations and assure the Lord of the Jungle’s longevity well into next century.