Tarzan swings into new century

  • Article by: ANDREW A. SMITHSCRIPPS HOWARD NEWS SERVICE
  • Updated: January 3, 2013 - 2:44 PM

The Ape-Man first saw print 100 years ago.

"Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration"

Happy birthday, Tarzan!

The legendary Ape-Man first saw print 100 years ago in the pulp magazine "The All-Story," and Titan Books is celebrating with a gorgeous hardback, "Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration" ($39.95). Written by Scott Tracy Griffin, one of the foremost Edgar Rice Burroughs experts extant, "Centennial" covers aspects of the fabled adventure hero from print to movies and everything in between.

To tell you the truth, I never considered myself much of a Tarzan fan. But as I read this book I realized that there's a reason why Burroughs is referred to as "the grandfather of science fiction." While he was preceded by Mary Shelley, Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and many others, it was Burroughs whose wildly popular Tarzan of the Apes, John Carter of Mars and Neil Innes of Pellucidar made science fiction and/or fantasy part of the tapestry of pop culture. Tarzan isn't just an adventure character; he informs every character that came after him, from Buck Rogers to Superman.

Which is why, I realized, I'd absorbed so much Tarzan over the decades. As a child I'd watch whatever Tarzan movie (usually starring Johnny Weissmuller or Lex Barker) the local CBS affiliate would schedule after the cartoons every Saturday. In middle school I read all 24 Tarzan novels, which were being re-released as paperbacks.

And there were the comics! I wasn't born yet for the Dell "Tarzan" comic books (1940s and '50s) and missed out on the Gold Key run (1960s), but I'm snatching up hardcover collections of those books as fast as Dark Horse prints them. And I managed to collect all the later comics based on Burroughs characters, from DC (1970s), Marvel (1980s) and Dark Horse (1990s to present).

But even so, there's tons of Tarzan I didn't know about, an itch this book thankfully scratches. Griffin gives a chapter to each to the novels, along with sidebars on various aspects of Burroughs and his Ape-Man, from how Burroughs pronounced his hero's name (TAR-zn), to "How to Speak Ape," to the history of the legends of dinosaurs in Africa that informed the lost land of Pal-ul-don in "Tarzan the Terrible." Roughly the second half of the book is individual chapters on Tarzan in comic strips, comic books, radio, TV, movies, collectibles, conventions and the many other facets of the Ape-Man and his creator.

All of this info is lavishly illustrated with book covers, frontispieces, movies stills and other art, both familiar and scarce, that is simply arresting. The illustrations alone are worth the price of admission, from familiar names like Neal Adams, John Buscema, Frank Frazetta, Joe Jusko, Joe Kubert, Roy Krenkel, Russ Manning, Jesse Marsh, J. Allen St. John, Boris Vallejo and George Wilson to new favorites like Phil Normand and Robert Abbett. And where else are you going to see so many pictures of Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan in loincloths?

This book will remind those of us, like me, just how much we have always loved Tarzan. Here's to another 100 years, Lord Greystoke!

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