By Cheryl Addams
|MODJESKA CANYON -- Edgar Rice Burroughs, the
adventure author who made Tarzan the popular hero of readers all over the
world, has been dead for 20 years. But the dashing ape man, along with
his ever-faithful Jane, are alive and well in Orange County thanks to the
imagination and skillful fingers of illustrator Russ Manning.
Manning, a canyon resident for the last 11 years, is responsible for the Tarzan comic strip which runs each Sunday in The Register and scores of other newspapers both in the United States and in foreign countries. He, along with part-time helper Mike Royer of Whittier, is the man who must draw six black and white comic strips a week for those papers which use the daily strip and one color strip for those papers who use the Sunday strip. Tarzan, for Manning is a six-day-a-week, nine-hour-a-day job.
Manning isn't sure just how many newspapers run his strip. Placement is handled by the United Features Syndicate on behalf of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., the company which holds all rights to the Tarzan name. He believes, however, that the strip is more popular in other countries for most of his and Tarzan's fan mail comes from foreign countries, particularly from Europe, Central and South America.
Manning averages about one letter a day, and almost all are complimentary. He can recall only one derogatory letter from a reader complaining about a nude woman who had appeared in the strip. Tarzan, to Manning, is a "natural man." "He has a wife and son, no hang-ups, is superbly capable and is above prejudice and intolerance of any kind," says Manning. Manning believes the Tarzan seen in movies and on television in recent years is a "cardboard characterized Tarzan," a different man than the one first created by Burroughs. And so he has tried to bring the "real" Tarzan back to life.
He confesses that he hasn't read all of Burroughs' Tarzan adventure books. "His earlier books are marvelous bu the later ones aren't easy to read at all. H was making so much money from the books, he got in a rut," Manning says of Burroughs.
So the Tarzan in Manning's comic strip is recreated from the first Burroughs books. Since Manning began drawing the strip in 1967, the content has changed. Though Manning's stories are originals , his characters are original Burroughs creations. Manning reintroduced Tarzan's son, Korak, who had disappeared from the strip over the years. Manning also uses as much as possible the "ape language" which Burroughs created. Of the many actors who portrayed Tarzan on television and in the movies, Johnny Weissmuller was the classic, said Manning.
Manning is an unusual artist in his own field. "Nowadays adventure-strips are written by one man, drawn by another, inked in by a third and colored by a syndicate." Manning, with the help of his part-time assistant, does it all. "A lot of reading - all kinds of adventure stories" -- is what gives Manning background. He follows the adventure story "pattern" and adds variations to make each story different. He makes up the story for the comic strips as he goes along. "I know where each story will end up," he says, "but week to week I don't know what people will say and what accidents will happen."
The comic strips are drawn in a small office located next to Manning's canyon home. He is responsible for creating two different stories each week, since the tale told in the daily strips is different from that in the Sunday strip. His tools are simple -- drawing boards, a pencil, india ink, a brush, white ink for possible corrections and colored pencil to provide the Sunday strip with its vibrant hues. The drawing of the Sunday color strip is complicated by the fact that Manning must draw it differently for three different types of runs. Some papers run it on one-half of a page and such a strip requires more panels than the papers using only one third of a page. Manning also draws a tabloid size Sunday colored strip.
The length it takes to complete a story in the comic strip varies. Once or twice Manning has told a whole story in a single strip. The longest story continued for six months in the daily strip. Manning and his assistant must always keep two months ahead on the drawing of the strip. "If I want to take vacation time, I have to work ahead of ti me." But the longest he's ever managed to get ahead is four days.
He manages to find time, however, to help out the Modjeska Canyon fire department, to work in his garden, and to make home movies. He grew up in the small town of Orchid, near Santa Maria, and has been drawing since youth. He attended Santa Ana Junior College, studying art and literature, then went on to classes at the Los Angeles County Art Institute.
In 1952 he began to work for Western Publishing Co. drawing for the Dell and Gold Key comic books. His field was adventure comics and he drew Tarzan, Sea Hunt, Wyatt Earp, Danny Thomas, Ricky Nelson, and 77 Sunset Strip, plus Rob Roy and a Hayley Mills adventure for Disney Comics. Manning believes there are different types of cartoonists. There are animators -- the type which draw Disney characters such as Donald Duck -- what Manning terms "big foot comedians" -- the type which draw such strips as Peanuts. Then there are adventure strips illustrators like himself.
The man Manning most admires in his own field is Hal Foster, the illustrator of Prince Valiant. "He is a superb story tell," says Manning, "He is the only one I consider better than me in the field."
In September 1967, Manning was chosen by Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc. to write and draw the Tarzan comic strip. "There was one stipulation," he recalls, "I was to make the strip as much like the original Tarzan novels as possible." In forty years the strip had "wandered far from the Jungle Lord that Edgar Rice Burroughs had given us," he said. His assignment was to "write and draw the strip the way I believe Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote the original stories." The first six months, Manning had to complete a comic book each month as well as finish the strips. The work became too much for him and he gave up the comic book.
Manning is happy in his work. He believes, "there are other things I could do to make more money probably" but adds, "this is what I always wanted to do." In addition, he has just been contacted to work on treatment of a script for a new movie to be based on the original Tarzan character as created by Burroughs and to be called, probably, "Tarzan of the Apes."
THE MENOMONEE FALLS GAZETTE
Volume 4 Number 186
July 7, 1975
LET'S VISIT RUSS MANNING
(An Interview with Russ Manning)
by Shel Dorf
DORF: As we approach the 100th celebration of Edgar Rice Burroughs' birth, what are your thoughts concerning the various media which has handled the Burroughs books? (Books, films, comic strips and books, TV) Which have been the most successful in terms of popularity? Which have been the least popular with t he Burroughs purists?
MANNING: My first remembered exposure, at 10 years or so old, to Edgar Rice Burroughs was a "Tarzan Big-Little Book: "The Beasts of Tarzan." The same strange shudder goes through me today when I re-read where the crocodile pulls Tarzan down into the water and to its lair beneath the river bank. That croc and what it tried to do to Tarzan had to be one of the most shocking, unimaginably horrible things that could come on a pre-teen small town boy! Especially a boy in a town so small it did not have a movie theatre, and wouldn't know its first TV set for another ten or twelve years. I soon found the Tarzan novels in the county library and read all they had, of course; and eventually discovered Hogarth's Tarzan in the Sunday L.A. TIMES. It wasn't until much later that I saw a Tarzan movie (unimpressed), Jesse Marsh's Dell comic books (bought them all) . . . and I have yet to see a single episode of the Tarzan TV series. Based on the foregoing exposure, I feel that the first dozen books written by ERB himself off the COMPLETE Tarzan WHOLE . . . no one since, in whatever medium, has added one single iota to the person, character, milieu, whatever. . . of the folk-hero ERB conceived. Foster's heroic homo sapiens, Weissmuller's superb primitive athlete (1st two movies), Hogarth's monolithic machine, St. John's romantic vision, Frazetta's rank savage. . . my own version. . . are all no more than variations on a theme.
If we Burroughs purists rank ERB's early novels as the finest Tarzans, then the work of certain of my fellow graphic story creators must rank as the poorest. . . lower even than the last, fattest Johnny W's! But sixty years have passed since the ape-man was whelped on that lonely African coast, and Tarzan is very much with us. . . even, at this moment, once more surging in popularity. The entire world knows and NEEDS this supremely capable man.
DORF: When did you first decide to follow a career as a cartoonist? Who was your inspiration, and what was your early training?
MANNING: The moment of decision may have been when I decided, after two years, to drop out of college; to no longer worry about having teacher's credentials in case I needed something to fall back on. To be honest, I really don't know. . . sometimes I suspect that I reach important decisions by osmosis. I have always drawn, of course, and being the "best" artist in high school tilted me toward a career in art. . . as opposed to music, say, where several classmates outblew me. I found out in art school and college that I wasn't fad/chic-oriented enough to make it in advertising art. . . and I was still buying comic books long after my buddies had switched to beer.
DORF: What was your first sale? Can you recall the first rejections of your work, and what motivated you to keep trying?
MANNING: First sale? In high school I won a California-wide contest to design the Bus of the Future. . . paid me $100.00. Tom McKimson, West coast art director for Dell Comic Book, turned me down three times in six months and hired me the fourth trip. I kept going back because I was convinced he was mistaken. Later, he said that he wanted to know if I REALLY WANTED to draw comic books.
DORF: What types of jobs did you have to take until cartooning and illustrating took over on a full time basis?
MANNING: Nothing to speak of. . . just jobs while I was going to school. Comic book illustration (with a comic strip as ultimate goal) was the only career I ever put all my energy toward.
DORF: Have you taken any writing classes? Do you read much science-fiction?
MANNING: No writing class, to my possible sorrow. I was very heavy into science-fiction during the '40s and early '50s . . . very little now, except for anything by Andre Norton, and DUNE once a year. I wonder if we would still buy comic books if we weren't in the graphic story field, but certain comics still seem worth buying, if only for the artwork. Anything by Barry Smith, Corben and Crumb. . . most of Toth, Redondo and Giraud. The genius of Jack Kirby is recognized and admired, but I don't buy comic books for the things that Jack puts into them. I am NOT an admirer of the current style of comic book OVER-writing.
DORF: Can you estimate how many people you reach with your Tarzan newspaper strip?
MANNING: How about one-tenth of those who read it?
DORF: Does audience reaction influence your writing?
MANNING: Sure! There seems to be almost complete acceptance of whatever it is I'm doing, so I'll continue to do it.
DORF: Do you write out a complete continuity before each story, or do you adlib as the story progresses?
Also, what excites you most and is the most fun as you get behind the drawing board each morning?
MANNING: I know in broad generalities where each episode of the Sunday page will go and achieve along the way, but I do not write ahead of each page. The chance to wing it as you go, increasing the possibility of unexpected tension and accidents, is one of the joys of creating a comic strip. But the 46 page Tarzan albums are a whole 'nother bucket of worms! I've just finished number four, and I've had to do some pioneering in this format, since these Tarzan books are among the very first of a new breed. 46 pages is LONG . . . much too long to handle like a 15-20 page comic book story, and certainly not like a sometimes meandering comic strip. A good album must be carefully crafted, with definite pacing of story line, information, density, characterizations, and where possible, even color. I'm still learning about this format, of course. . . but the way I'm handling them seems to have evolved into something closer to movie-making than to any of the usual methods of comic book / strip creation. I block out a rather complete plot and page breakdown, then begin writing and illustrating anywhere I feel like it throughout the 46 pages. If, in writing and illustrating a certain sequence, I feel it needs emphasis, it gets more pages than shown on the story board, . . . realizing, of course, that there must be a corresponding reduction elsewhere. Then, as completion nears, and even AFTER completion, it becomes necessary to edit. And, I must admit, there have been out-takes. . . on the studio floor. . . panels, pages, that didn't fit or were too irrelevant. Wasteful, perhaps, but this method allows the maximum freedom to create. These albums are very exciting to do. . . they're a real challenge, trying to realize the potential inherent in this, the next logical step for class graphic stories.
DORF: What do you do for relaxation away from the board? Hobbies?
MANNING: I'm quite involved in civic affairs of our small mountain community; and ours is a family that gets involved in each other's interests and activities.
DORF: How many characters have you personally created, and which are the most popular?
MANNING: Tough, irascible little Joiper, the ant man warrior, is the character I've created that gets the most requests to bring back whenever he is absent from the page.
DORF: Have you been well received by European comic buffs? How do their publications differ from ours?
MANNING: I surely can't complain about ANY reception my version of Tarzan has had (except by the person doing the DC comic book adaptation). It was the very impressive European hard-cover, fine paper, beautifully printed well written and illustrated albums that inspired our Tarzan albums. . . and, incidentally, are well on the way to revolutionizing ALL comic books, including those in this country.
DORF: Does it bother you that the top panels are left out when your Sunday Tarzan page is used as a one-third page? Why don't you follow Milton Caniff's layout? His mot complete page is the one-third size.
MANNING: No, it doesn't seem to bother me. . . maybe a case of never missing what you never had. . . but I don't believe Caniff's format would work as well for me as the UFS layout. As often as my story allows, I like to use odd-sized panels, dropped borders, and intermeshed vignettes. . . difficult to crop, as every panel must be cropped for the half and tabloid pages in the Caniff format. Nor would I relish having my big splash panels cropped. So I have fun with the top two panels, and give the papers astute enough to carry them a little extra in the way of action or girls or story.
DORF: Do you see the need for better treatment of newspaper comics by local editors?
MANNING: It seems to me that all of the popular comic strips are treated as well as most editors can afford to do so. . . EXCEPT by those foolish few who cram more than three Sunday strips on one page. . . and print dailies only four columns wide. In all probability, the bad-mouthing of adventure strips was deserved, up to just recently. But not NOW! Look at most papers. The bland, insipid, realy-dull adventure strips are almost all gone. There's a new crop of well-written, exciting adventure stories (including a couple old-timers that have always been top-notch and popular). . . and I look for the public and editors to begin realizing it.
DORF: Would you enjoy scripting a Tarzan television show? Have you had any offers? Many of the fans I've spoken to think your stories would make a most exciting television series.
MANNING: The chance to try anything and everything in my field of interest and ability sounds great. But seeing my own work reproduced as much as possible as I created it seems to be a very strong part of me. . . and TV's emasculations are not appealing. In fact, TV doesn't appeal to us at all. . . not since 1962 when we threw the set in the garbage pail.
DORF: Any personal beefs about the comic strip industry? What do you most enjoy about your job?
MANNING: I have heard one comment, allegedly from newspaper editors, including the comic strip editor for the Los Angeles TIMES, that disturbs me, because of its biased, let-someone-else-think lack of logic. The comment: that buying the Tarzan comic strip might antagonize black people. I won't discuss, here, whether the Tarzan of ERB's books, or the movies, comic books, or past comic strips might have been distasteful to blacks. . . but if those bigoted editors mentioned above would read the Tarzan comic strip since 1967, they would discover that ALL blacks therein are HUMAN BEINGS, distinguishable from the other races of humanity by their color and physiognomy. . . but INDISTINGUISHABLE from any other human as to heroic or dastardly characteristics, or as to their ability to handle their own affairs with or without Tarzan. It may be as stupid to reject the 1975 Tarzan because of attitudes of the past as if would be to throw out Blondie, Steve Canyon, Peanuts, Prince Valiant, Rick O'Shay, etc., because those strips rarely even show a black person, let alone one in a stellar role.
All Sundays and Daily Tarzans
with Fran Frazetta
Unreleased Comics Art I
Unreleased Comics Art II