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Volume 0315
Presents


1998 Edgar Rice Burroughs Calendar:
A Spiritual Analysis By Nkima
Images and Layout by Bill Hillman
Click for full-size images


Cover illustration of Tarzan rescues the moon
from Jungle Tales of Tarzan
(also reproduced for September)

This is the ultimate Tarzan painting.  Here Jones obviously echoes the famous Arting silhouette, which remains one of the finest renditions because of its dark, illusive portrayal so necessary to grasp Tarzan's true nature.  Yet, Jones' vision is so superior that it nearly erases the power of the original.

Jones' Tarzan so fills the frame that he overflows in all directions but one, the direction he is facing.  The pose of the legs is similar to Arting, but where Arting's Tarzan is relaxed and almost effete with his dangling leg and limp wrist on a little branch barely large enough to bear the weight of his hand, Jones has given us a block of human power and majesty.  Tarzan's thighs have become Burroughs' mighty thews instead of the skinny pipe stems of Arting.

Arting's little hand on a twig has become with Jones the fist of a blacksmith connected to forearms that appear to be strong enough to propel his entire body through the trees.  Yet here is an Apollo rather than a Hercules as Burroughs described him.  The curve of his deep ridged back rests against a curving limb while his foot is placed solidly against the wood like a man who is familiar with a life amid the branches.

Arting's moment is one of discovery.  Tarzan peers into the dark jungle for a vision of what is there, and this is a true picture of the ape-man.  He is hunched and feral, yet he is a man we view with a single human perspective.

Jones' Tarzan is a solid force that lives between two worlds.  His right side with the fist and bent leg may cause him to leap from the frame at any moment, yet his left side is relaxed into a pose that causes him to stay.  His left arm is relaxed upon the bough and the stone-tipped spear almost dangles from the finger-tips we cannot see.  The right side is tense and poised to leap.  The left side is nearly at rest.  It is indeed a telling psychological portrait.

Arting's silhouette is seen straight on, and the revelation of a slight pot belly is a bit disconcerting.  Jones' Tarzan is twisted into a riot of curves that both reflects and becomes part of the twisted tree.  Only the circular moon in the background holds all of these body lines into a whole that is calming even as they try to tear themselves from the page.  Imagine this picture without the moon if you can, and you will see what I mean.

The head of Jones' Tarzan is an extension of the tree limb, so that the line that curves from the tree to Tarzan's left arm to his solid black mass of hair is all one thing.  Tarzan is truly a man of the trees, his head jutting like a branch, his features half-hidden.

In my opinion this is the finest portrayal of Tarzan of the Apes ever made by human hands, and I can't imagine another coming close to its compelling grace and power.


January

Tarzan of the Apes

Tarzan, the spirit of the woods, comes out of a yellow fog upon a strangely barren forest bole.  Over his head a black panther extends another limb of the arboreal giant.  Tarzan's body is as contorted as the tree of which he is its most natural growth.  The power of this image is almost overwhelming.  Human limbs and tree limbs are linked in a primitive conjunction.  This is a dark forest god emerging from the depths of the human psyche.  Dream-like, he almost disappears before our eyes like the shadowy beast above.  Tarzan is a denizen of a woods that flies away like a Rackham's witch --  a sprite, god of Caliban, ghost of our nightmares.  Tarzan's soul has never before been captured with such telling force.


February

The Cave Girl

Jones is the painter of stone, and here the stone-age man and woman are wrapped into a ball of living stone.  She is pale and white, an ample, full-bodied Madonna of the Rocks asleep across the back of the red man Adam, a bearded troglodyte.  They are in a cave together with strange stick-men painted on the walls.  Yet she is of another race, a modern woman held in thrall by the primal man-thing.  A human skull lies upon the floor of the cave, but it is not gruesome -- just a memento mori of the philosopher's cell. There is no terror here, but the rest of a woman untwined about the ancient man she loves despite his ugliness.  He is at bay for we have found him at home, and he too loves her with the blind love hidden behind his blinded eyes.  They sleep peacefully together in the stone cave, a little life rounded by a dream.


March

Tarzan and the Lost Empire

Tarzan and Nkima stand upon a jutting spur of stone.  Before them a gateway. a single slit of light, opens through this narrow passage they have been traveling together.

Both man and beast are angular pieces of flesh hung on bone.  Tarzan's right arm that holds the tooth of his knife is bandaged, for he has won through a battle to this point in time, and now it finally opens into another world.  His left arm disappears into a tree as though he has plunged it there to grasp the strength that only trees can give him.  Tarzan looks ahead into the light, the way of a man, and Nkima looks the other way, perhaps for something to eat or drink.  They are together, yet separated by their natures.  Yet look again, and you will see that the man is poised like the ape he is by nature's gift.  Look again, and you will know that only the man can lead the way through the slit of light, through the crack in the stone that promises an escape from the walls of stone that hold such creatures in.  I have never before seen such a powerful explanation of what it means to be a human caught in the body of a beast.


April

Pellucidar

The giant brontosaurus peers at the crouching woman.  Like all of the paintings in this series it is done in the warm browns and subtle blue-greens of earth.  The beast does not threaten the woman but remains a pellucid stone of what it is.  She bends beneath the mountain of the beast, interior and watching the monster until it will finally decide to move away.  She is dressed in the aqua marine of the tree that stands beside her, hair scratched by the quick strokes of the artist's brush to reveal the same light of the eternal sun, the everlasting light of the sky.  We are nearly blinded by the light coming from the back of the beast, yet she does not turn away from looking at its passing.

Although the beast stands above her, she is the stone peak of this little knoll.  Even though she is prepared to spring away, we know she will never do so, but wait until the moment passes, then roll away like the circling sun of Pellucidar.  If she should turn her face towards us, we would surely be turned to stone as well.


May

Jungle Tales of Tarzan

Tarzan rides the great rolling stone of Tantor, the elephant.  All the stones move toward us with inexorable force, yet the man seems unconcerned that we will be crushed by their coming.

Tarzan's spear is simply a mahout's pole of guiding placed horizontally with the elephant's ears.  He does not need to direct traffic in this wilderness  because they are simply going from one place to another.  The man on the beast is relaxed when he sees us standing in this barren zone.  He seems to be saying, "Who are you, little thing upon the ground?"  He is not in the least concerned, for he is a man who moves upon a mountain.  All the stones roll forward, and we will soon be covered by the gait of the great grey clouds and the great grey stones and beast that passes and rolls on unaware that we have ever been here.


June

Tarzan and the Lion Man

Tarzan completely dominates a lioness, who is lying upon her side, by placing a leg over her body while a large male lion strides away without a concern.  This is such an odd painting that it makes one wonder at the story scene it must portray.  There is a bestial eroticism to the painting that cannot be gainsayed.  In the upper half of the canvas a gigantic escarpment rises with an S-shaped path rising to its summit.  The sun pours white-hot light into the valley that illuminates the scene as though Tarzan were performing a sacrifice upon the dead lioness.  It is a masterly work of art, yet very disturbing, almost occult in its hidden meaning.


July

Back to the Stone Age

A warrior poses, pointing his spear, while in the background, his spiritual shadow a great, prehistoric pterodactyl files away through the misty sky.  The bottom of the picture, which takes up nearly half of the painting appears to be a wave-washed shore in which the man is standing nearly to his knees.

Of all the painting in this collection, this is the only one that one might mistake for a Frazetta because of the almost theatrically posed figure.  The one give-away that makes this Jones rather than Frazetta is the oddly contorted stance of the warrior's body.  I do not state this as a negative factor of Jones' work since it is another of his strengths in portraying the human body,  a creature struggling within its case of flesh against a primitive and dangerous existence upon this planet.

About the body of the warrior, who stands as a golden figure between the grey, leathery bird and the foamy white of the shore, is a rope, loosely wrapped as though he were a mariner guiding a rescue at sea.  The design in this scene is impeccable, which makes it one of my favorites in the series.  Despite its violent action -- once can almost hear the screams of the monster on the storm mingled with the crash of the waves - - it is a peaceful, almost hopeful scene as the man leans forward into the wind, his bound hair blowing straight back.  He seems to be reaching, reaching, reaching with that spear into a great beyond,
pointing it to the place he longs to be.


August

Tarzan and "The Foreign Legion"

Man and rhinocerous are rolled into a single creature.  The strength of the picture is in the close-up rendering of the scene.  The canvas can barely contain the primitive power of the horned monster.  It is a strong design and very painterly in its  impressionistic application. Jones brushed-in his oils, rough and ready, befitting the topic.  I recommend taking a magnifying glass to this one to see the subtleties of his work.


September

Tarzan Rescues the Moon
(See cover description above)


October

The Monster Men

A tall, naked man rises from the mud of a swamp washed in the thinnest of pastels.  The eerie phosphorescent yellow-green of his skin, the mud and slime dripping from his face and limbs declares him a primal force of nature.  Three storks calmly fly away behind the man -- messengers of a terrible birth slouching forth -- this Green Man still rooted in the primal ooze to his knees.  He is another root of the tree of life, dimly seen through the mists of time.  His face is the skull-mask we normally wear below the surface.  This body so muscular and lean is a perfect specimen of heroic strength and grace, but for the twisted leg, which is indeed but a limb of a vegetative world, echoed three times across the bottom of the painting.  It provides a startling contrast to the golden Tarzans of the set.  It is very Burroughsian though - - a picture of the man underneath the skin of mankind.


November

Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle

Gnarly man Tarzan is a golden branch in a tangle of gnarly branches. He is a portrait of The Golden Bough.  The tree is the hero in this picture, but as Tarzan is another branch of this tree, he is also the one, the root of our imagination. Jones has balanced him well.  Tarzan can move quickly either in or out of the frame at will.  It is truly another magnificent Tarzan illustration, worthy to be placed with the arboreal Tarzans of January and September. Jones avoided the temptation to allow the tree its golden leaves, thus presenting Tarzan with the clearest of definition.  Both the Ape-Man and the tree are muscular and bent, although here only the tree partakes of any distortions.  The man is perfect in proportions and intent.  He is the Golden God of the forest.


December

At the Earth's Core

A naked man sits upon a raised, flat stone, his head turned to watch two hairy mammoths cross the barren land in the distance.  It is a contemplative scene that says farewell.  I can see the reason Jones placed it at the end of the series.  Like some his other paintings in this calendar, the man is a tightly rounded form, a stone upon a stone, yet here the figure is more man than myth.  Nothing is twisted or distorted.  The clouds that scud across the sky are filled with light and hope.  Nothing is threatened in a world that passes away.



Summary

The work of Jeffrey Jones in this calendar is surprisingly contemplative and reserved despite the twisted limbs of his figures.  The scenes are painted in the subtle hues of the earth, and the human figures extend themselves from stone and trees naturally as though they were a natural part of the things around them, which of course, they are.  His rendition of light leaps from the canvas and burns our flesh away.

The calendar as a whole is a tour de force upon natural man.  It is much more than a series of Tarzan book covers.  The thing I most enjoy about Jones' work is the fact that it does not have to be Tarzan or any other creations of ERB we see in his pictures.  Jones is an artist of figures and form in nature, and any literary connotations we apply to his illustrations are completely unnecessary to their full appreciation.  His paintings stand alone as great works of art, and we are grateful that we have been allowed to share his magnificent visions.

Nkima 2000.02.09

JanuaryFebruaryMarchAprilMayJune
JulyAugustSeptemberOctoberNovemberDecember

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