What was the name of the man who invented Paul Bunyon?
Who created King Arthur?
Can anyone name the person who conceived a jolly fat man giving away gifts, gratis. . .
. . . and named him Santa Claus?
Did Edgar Rice Burroughs create Tarzan?
Or did Mr. Burroughs serve as the connection between a typewriter and a folk hero waiting to be born? Did mankind's collective consciousness become aware of an unbalance, an overemphasis on some one aspect of our makeup, and as it has in the past, adopt a folk hero to fulfill a deeply felt need?In our scientific age the close affinity of man to other animals, in fact the basic animal nature of man himself, is apparent. The sub-conscious levels underlying our entire race has always been aware of our animal nature, but social-cultural aspects of our lives have at times denied and smothered complete realization of all instincts. During historical periods when spiritual-intellectual, rather than animal, qualities in man were being overemphasized, symbols of man's desire for balance were at time evident.
Animal-headed gods appeared in Ancient Egypt where the entire life of the people was based on an intellectual and spiritual preparation for a hereafter. During the medieval ages, when man's "baser" instincts were drastically over-ridden in the struggle to assert spiritual guidance to man's every effort, werewolves welled up from a deep racial realization of need. The beast-man to balance the angel-man.
Then came the machine. . . the industrial revolution. . . and mankind was subjected to another anti-instinctual unbalance. Almost immediately animal man tried to come to the rescue. Rudyard Kipling created Mowgli. But somehow the folk hero was incomplete. Mowgli is not mankind operating at the level of animals. . . and Mowgli's animal friends are intellectuals, almost philosophers. . . not true animals. Mowgli and his friends think too much.
Then from the hands of Edgar Rice Burroughs came an animal-man, suckled at the breast of man's nearest kin. . . a man knowing nothing of machines, and needing them even less.
Tarzan. . . folk hero. . . the end result of a need that shoved itself in the Egyptian animal-headed men, gradually refined and distilled through the centuries. All credit to Mr. Burroughs, when he created Tarzan, he created him perfect. . . fifty years have seen no improvements. Like Mowgli, Tarzan might have come to us flawed, and the race of man caused to divide up between two blurred symbols the chore of relieving the strains of the machine age.
Did Edgar Rice Burroughs create Tarzan? If allowing a basic need of our race to flow from his fingers free of stylish vagueness and unmarred by murky philosophy. . . if allowing a folk hero to leap fullborn and vital, deep into the consciousness of the entire world, can be merely called creating. . . then Edgar Rice Burroughs created Tarzan.
Burroughs Bulletin (original series) No. 14
By Russ Manning
There may be a Tarzan fan somewhere who has no particular favorites among the various interpretations of the ape-man - but he isn't seated at THIS typewriter. A Tarzan movie, or comic strip, or illustration that "just ain't the ape-man" causes me as much anguish as seeing may own name misspelled.The Register, Orange, California ~ June 25, 1972
As to so many others, to me Tarzan EXISTS. Now, I don't think that I, or anyone else, could go to a tree-house in Tanganyika right now and shake his hand -- I mean that he has a separate, distinct, and completely defined world all his own, and not matter what happens in Tshombe's Congo, or how many housing developments they throw up in Kenya, Tarzan's Africa will not be much harmed or altered. But a poor drawing, or a poorly done movie, will eventually ruin him.
So far we've been lucky. There have been enough fine interpretations to outweigh the incompetents and the Jungle Lord still lives. But we've all been too inclined to tolerate the bad and merely adequate renditions, and I believe we should become more critical. A good solid base of constructive criticism almost always produces a better product.
Here, then, is my countdown of the various interpreters whose work I have seen, from those mighty talents that have done so much to make the ape-man REAL, to those who have almost killed the legend.
First must come Burroughs' Tarzan. Yep -- BURROUGHS' Tarzan. As I've stated elsewhere, if ERB hadn't created Tarzan, someone else would have. A folk hero was crying to be born -- an animal-man raised by animals, who with only his bare hands and his animal friends can handle any situation anywhere on earth -- and Edgar Rice Burroughs got the call. The idea has been tried before and since, but nowhere is the image so universal, so powerfully compelling, and so simply understandable. So Burroughs' Tarzan stands first -- perfect, unimprovable -- and all since have been either interpretations or copies.
Of all the VISUAL Tarzans, Hal Foster's rates highest, both as fine art, and because it comes closest to Burroughs' description of the ape-man. It is Foster's conception of Tarzan -- the lion or leopard skin trunks; the shape of head, hair and features; and the mature, capable, manly figure that seems to hit exactly the universal image that comes with the thought of an ape-man, and all successful renditions of animal-men since have followed his lead. Among the one or two other visual Tarzans that come close to Foster's for "rightness" was Johnny Weissmuller's portrayal (of which more later) and since the movies and the comic strip both produced their greatest Tarzan at the same time (the early '30s) I'm uncertain to what extent each influenced the other. I do believe I detect a strong influence of Tom Mix in the way Foster drew Tarzan's face.
Tarzan was lucky. Foster is one of the finest storytellers and illustrators of our time, and the Jungle Lord hd drew is perfectly believable, in a jungle better than real-life ones. His Great Apes are completely bestial, yet somehow near-human.
In this respect the movies have always failed, usually miserably. The better films must omit the Great Apes entirely, and one of the several reasons that the comic strip is a better Tarzan vehicle -- and Hal Foster drew the greatest Tarzan in comics.
Of the Tarzan movies, only the earliest and best of those starring Johnny W. can compare with Foster's Tarzan. Foster, in the comic strip format, had the advantage of being able to depict anything that Burroughs could describe -- but the movies had the incredible Johnny W., with his perfect ape-man head, half civilized, half throwback.
Two Johnny W. movies, TARZAN THE APE MAN, and TARZAN AND HIS MATE, with their wonderfully pagan stories and better than real-life sets, are almost outside Burroughs and competing with him, they are that great. But since they are at least based on ERB's creation, they must inevitably only follow him.
Next comes a very hard choice. Three artists, each of whom illustrated enough of Tarzan for us to be sure what the Jungle Lord meant to him, and each is distinctly different. They are Jesse Marsh, Hogarth and J. Allen St. John. Jesse comes closest to Burroughs and the universal Tarzan, Hogarth blasts us with a strong forceful image, and St. John shows us an unique Tarzan.
Jesse Marsh's Tarzan is a massive monolithic figure more primeval Cro-magnon than English lord, as if the boy's early environment overshadowed his heritage and imprinted more of the animal on the man. Though Jesse has suffered from bad scripts more than any other of the illustrators, his fine sense of design and storytelling have made the Tarzan comic book stand out in quality among all the other on the stands. In fifteen years, Jesse has illustrated almost every Tarzan story in over 150 comic books. He may well have drawn more Tarzans than all the others COMBINED!
Hogarth's Tarzan seems to wander away from Burroughs. Dynamic, strong, visually exciting and full of superbly drawn action, still Hogarth's drawings are too stylized in a manner that never seems real. Of the two or three really well drawn Tarzans, his seems the furthest from having an actual existence. Here I do not refer to realism, or the world we live in -- neither Foster nor Marsh are slavish realists, but are rather CREATIVE, their drawings creating a complete, believable world. Hogarth's drawing is so powerful and interesting that his images stick forcibly in our mind. but Foster and Marsh come closer to the ape-man that Burroughs gave us.
St. John's Tarzan is a romantic in the 19th century tradition. Fanciful, imaginative, and not of this world, we'd feel an undefined something missing if St. John had never drawn the ape-man. He put the fantasy, the other-worldliness into Tarzan that everyone else missed, except the master, Burroughs. To St. John's illustrations goes the mind's eye for what the ant men look like, or the earth's core, or any of the off-beat touches so much a part of the legend. His style was perhaps too much of the 1920s, while Tarzan is timeless, but how we would miss each magnificent masterpiece if he had never painted them.
Next I would lump all of the Tarzan movies, except those mentioned earlier. Then back to the comic strip -- and if the ape-man had depended upon Maxon, Rubimor, Barry, Lubbers and Celardo to keep life in him, he'd have been long gone. The original books and the films must have sustained him while the above worked on the strip.
Maxon never seemed to clean up his drawings -- Tarzan had a harder time swinging through all the black ink smudges than he did through the foliage.
Rubimor's Tarzan was an attenuated, sickly neurotic in a fetid atmosphere.
Barry was just too young, or inexperienced. His David Innes is a callow fellow and his Tarzan a poor copy of Hogarth. He's done much better since on the daily Flash Gordon.
Lubbers rushed it.
Celardo, too, suffered from terrible scripts -- and his drawing is still and unimaginative.
None of these latter illustrators and movie makers seemed to realize that Tarzan is that inspiring, perfection-demanding creation -- a folk hero. Only the very best will suffice to keep such a creature vital, because he epitomizes some deep-felt need for greatness that we can associate with, an inspiring height to which each of us might aspire. Poor quality in depicting such a symbol degrades it.
We seem to be on the verge of an improvement in some of the visual Tarzans -- the movies, the comic strip, and comic books, and plenty of constructive criticism can only help this movement along. So let the producers hear what we thing of their efforts, stressing quality in their interpretations. And let's REALLY BLAST them every time poor renditions kick our hero in the teeth.
Russ Manning Letter to the Editor
In Portland, Ore. when the chairman of the Black Caucus, Dr. Lee P. Brown,
noted the possible racial slurs in the Tarzan movies, he showed his
understanding of the situation by attacking the movies, and not Tarzan
himself. Dr. Brown has evidently read the original novels and know that
Tarzan is above prejudice and intolerance, that Tarzan mistrusts the entire
human race, particularly "civilized" man and put his trust in the
individuals, black, white or animal, who have proved themselves worthy of
While I don't particularly admire the TV Tarzan (not enough like the hero
created by Edgar Rice Burroughs in the books, which is the one I recreate in
the comic strips), at least the TV series tried not to repeat the early
movie scenes wherein Tarzan single-handedly battles and defeats whole
villages of African natives.
Tarzan has become accepted as a folklore the world over, including Africa
not by insulting people, but by being the heroic, capable person that
everyone can dream of being.
All Sundays and Daily Tarzans
with Fran Frazetta
Unreleased Comics Art I
Unreleased Comics Art II