Of Man And Apes

Man am I excited! As perhaps long time readers of this column know, Tarzan was probably the single biggest catalyst in bringing to life my love of reading, action adventure, and drawing.

I recently came upon the original art for the pin up by Big John Buscema of Tarzan, from the 1st issue of Marvel’s Tarzan Lord of the Jungle from 1977!  And it was for sale!

Tarzan pin-up by John Buscema

This coincided with me having ordered the IDW Artist’s Edition of The Return of Tarzan by Joe Kubert. So the mythos of Tarzan has been front and centre for me the last few weeks.

Big John Buscema always said he was intimidated by taking over the artistic duties on Tarzan as he was a not only a big fan of, but had tremendous respect for, the work done on Tarzan by not only Joe Kubert, but by Burne Hogarth and Hal Foster, both of whom were a big influence on Buscema.

I remember when I heard that Marvel had picked up the rights to Edgar Rice Burroughs creations, and that Big John was flagged for artistic duties, and that he would also be inking his own pencils! I couldn’t wait! The first issue came out and showed great promise .

Now as you know, Big John was the premier artist for Conan, and he loved that book. No cities, no cars and he was free to create the world of the Hyborean Age. He once again had a blank canvas to work on the Lord of the Jungle. He wanted to draw Tarzan around the same size as Conan but the powers that be wanted Tarzan more normally proportioned. This is the same thing that happened when he drew the Silver Surfer in the original run.

If John didn’t like drawing Tarzan more normally proportioned, you certainly couldn’t tell, as ever the professional he did a bang up job. Go back and have a look at the early issues. No one does anatomy of either man or beast better than Big John.

The second issue was also self inked and had some truly gorgeous layouts and storytelling.
By 6 or 7 pages into number three the inking was done by Tony DeZuniga, who as a rule I really enjoyed on Johns pencils. He did a technically great job but it seriously clashed with the look of the book compared to John’s own inks.

The book from there seemed to drift around artistically because of a constantly changing stable of inkers. Alfredo Alcala, Rudy Messina, The New York Tribe and Klaus Jansen.

Tarzan Lord Of The Jungle 4There were some stunning covers! Number 4 is perhaps the finest of them all. Once again Big John handled both pencils and inks, and it is a beauty.

The book never really found the right feel or direction in my opinion, but in hindsight there were some truly stunning examples of the potential that Big John could bring to the character.

When compared to Joe Kubert’s work on Tarzan it certainly lacks in the consistency of style as Kubert always inked himself. The IDW Artist’s Edition of the Return of Tarzan is a great example of his work and greatly recommended for Tarzan fans.

I reread the Tarzan of the Apes novel last year and highly recommend it as well. It is a masterpiece. No two ways around it.

So back to the pin up from issue number one. A high resolution scan is made available for your enjoyment. I marvel (no pun intended) at the level of detail that is available in Big Johns pencils. The weight distribution and nuance is much more evident in the pencils when compared to the inked version in the comic book.

It now hangs amongst the moss covered branches above my drawing board. With the pin up from # 3 of La of Opar.

Continued happy collecting!

Dennis De Pues
Dennis De Pues

Dennis is an admitted "Son of the Silver Age", having grown up with the influences of Silver Age greats: Kirby, Colan, Romita and Buscema.Three decades later, he is the creator of Crash!! and Galloway Park. More is definitely on the way.

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8 years ago

Great Article. Especially timely as a new Tarzan feature film is about to come out that looks like closely mirrors the original tale. I too can’t overstate the impact Tarzan has had on my life. His virtue and self-reliance are lessons for us all. A few artists left off your list include St. John, Frazetta and Krenkel (my personal favorite). While I like Buscema’s Tarzan, in my opinion it pales next to his Conan work

Dennis De Pues
8 years ago

John, thanks for mentioning the great artists that I had left off! I also agree that Buscemas Tarzan as an overall body of work certainly never came close to his Conan but the small amount of Tarzan he inked himself, really gave a taste of what might have been.