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John Coleman Burroughs
Carson of Venus
Part of our ERB C.H.A.S.E.R.
Commentary by David Adams
||What would have been plain old Tantor, the elephant, in the Tarzan
Series has here through the magic of ERB’s process of cut and splicing
become a gantor, in fact a pair of them, marching along in tandem with
their howdahs, wearing red and green blankets with a modern city
of skyscrapers in the background. It’s a great idea for a book cover,
and JCB fully reveals his usual great style in illustrating his father’s
strange beast collages.
A gantor, in ERB’s own words, was an “animal larger than an African
elephant and had legs very similar to those of that animal, but here the
likeness ceased. The head was bull-like and armed with a stout horn
about a foot long that grew out of the center of the forehead; the mouth
was large, and the powerful jaws were armed with very large teeth; the
coat, back of the shoulders, was short and a light tawny yellow marked
with white splotches like a pinto horse; while covering the shoulders and
short neck was a heavy dark mane; the tail was like that of a bull; three
enormous horny toes covered the entire bottoms of the feet, forming hoofs”
Interior Illustration #3 gives another view of the beast,
this time with the ladder used to climb up into the howdah. Gantors
seem to be as nice to ride as elephants, and the really nice thing is the
fact that JCB chose to illustrate them as well as the more ferocious beasts
that usually attract artists who want to create dramatic dust jackets.
JCB does use the dramatic, thousand foot rotik, sea monster
for his Frontispiece, “I saw monstrous creatures of the deep.”
“It has a wide mouth and huge, protruding eyes between which a smaller
eye is perched upon a cylindrical shaft some fifteen feet above its head”
(286). Somehow I like his version with the Noah’s ark sail boat as
well as the two Frazetta’s versions for the Ace editions. The early
Frazetta has the third eye on a stalk, which is for some reason left off
the later version. JCB’s rendition has an old story-book quality
that is appealing, and a curl of its tail on the other side of the boat
gives a greater impression of its great length than the leaping Frazettas.
Illustration #2 “The beast charged”
Lula, the Samary, faces a tharban with a pitifully inadequate spear.
“About his throat were several necklaces of colored stones and beads, while
armlets, bracelets, and anklets similarly fabricated adorned his limbs.
His long black hair was coiled in two knots, one upon either temple; and
these were ornamented with tiny, colored feathers stuck into them like
arrows in a target. He carried a sword, a spear, and a hunting knife”
(25). Again, JCB gets in all the details, however, the tharban
should have very pointed ears, while this one’s are quite rounded.
This illustration has a quaint, old-fashioned, fairy-tale quality about
it. The tharban should be cast in bronze on the pedestal upon which
it is already standing and sold as a piece of sculpture. I’d love
a pair of them as bookends.
Despite his usual animal depictions -- the gantors of the cover
and Illustration #3, the rotik of the frontispiece, and the tharban of
Illustration #2 -- all of which could conceivable have been made for other
Venus books, JCB did approach the more serious aspect of this novel, that
is the parody of Nazi Germany. This more serious intent is shown
in two disturbing pieces: Illustrations #4 and #6.
Illustration #4 is called “Kord, Jong of Korva, sank
lifeless to the floor.” It is a depiction of an assassination,
or more specifically, the wanton murder of one man by another. The
man with the pistol is Mephis, a thinly veiled Adolph Hitler, head of the
Zani Party. He is shown firing point blank into the body of the hereditary
ruler of his country.
This picture like the other is very dark, almost appearing to be a scratch
board work due to its mostly black surface. The figures are
the usual almost naked bodies of ERB’s description, but the white surfaces
make them as skeletal as the bones on the ground and those hanging from
the hooks of the torture chamber. The primitive mask hanging above
Mephis takes on an eerie Picasso-like meaning, and one gets the impression
that this scene is one that became all too familiar during the holocaust.
It has great power and a feeling of horror that raises this illustration
to quite another level than the other pictures in the series.
Illustration #6 called “In the palace there is a secret
shaft” continues this agony in the same dark style. Here
a man who appears to be in great pain carries a fairy tale princess down
a crude wooden ladder. It is almost a descent from the cross, and
like the other picture in this great series of two seems charged with symbolic
meaning. One might think of it as a hero descending into hell with
the last real princess of story books upon his shoulders. She is
still hopeful and young, while the naked man is so burdened with his own
grief that he hardly knows what he is carrying.
Unlike Illustration #5, “Our blades shattered the silence
of the little room,” which is an ordinary heroic fencing match
by good and evil (only competently drawn) the two dark paintings have real
mythic power that goes beyond the simple story told in this novel.
JCB accomplished his task of illustrating this book in a masterly
fashion, giving us both the quaint Burroughsian beasts and the darker side
of a parody, which in retrospect was not funny at all. It was
a estimable achievement for which he deserves much praise.
May 3, 2000
Click for full-size collage poster
CARSON OF VENUS ~ Art by Michael
JCB's Art Adapted for a UK Paperback
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