Between 1965 and 1967 Russ Manning adapted and published a series of comics based on Edgar Rice Burrows classic tale, Tarzan of the Apes. Collected here for the first time you see Tarzan come alive in Manning’s clear, distinct style. Tarzan, for those who live under a rock, is the story of how Lord Clayton and his wife were stranded on a deserted stretch of African coastline and, after having a baby, Lady Clayton dies and Lord Clayton is killed in a fight with a giant ape. A female ape, Kala, who has recently lost her own child, takes the baby in and raises him as one of them. Named Tarzan, meaning white skin, he develops the strength and skill of the great apes (they seem to be gorillas, but it is not specified). But he also, upon discovering the hut his parents built, teaches himself how to read and also use weapons.
These stories are a product of their times. The drawings are clearly drawn with good composition and straightforward coloring, as fits a work drawn for printing either in a newspaper or in a cheap comic book. The stories are told in a straightforward style, with little moral ambiguity. It is always clear who is the good guy and who is the bad guy. In the story, events turn on a dime with, basically, no motivation or reason behind them. So if it’s good for the story for Tarzan to fight to the death, he does. But if it’s good for him to follow and spy and learn, he does that instead. A great example of how conveniently everything in the plot happens is when Tarzan eventually leaves for England he happens to find a perfectly tailored suit to wear home, which he, naturally, wears with aplomb.
The early- to mid-1960s were a time of change, from the conservatism of the 1950s to the radicalism of the late 19060s/early 1970s. “To those on the right, the 1950s were the last good time, an era of sanity and maturity, order and discipline, of adults behaving like adults and children knowing their place.” These Tarzan comics seem to be written in this vein. They are sensationalist and racist and sexist and chaste and not even that graphically violent, compared to today’s standards. They are fun, on a certain level, but seem rooted in 1950s values.
Russ Manning also continued the series as a newspaper comic strip for a number of years (collected and published separately) This collection will appeal to older readers with nostalgia. It will appeal to avid graphic novel readers who appreciate the history of the form. But it doesn’t really resonate with today’s values very much.
With an Intro by Sergio Aragonés (of Mad magazine and Groo fame).
Tarzan Archives: The Russ Manning Years Volume 1
by Russ Manning
Dark Horse Comics, 2012
Publisher Age Rating: (OT to adult)