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Book Review: Tarzan and the City of Gold

By (June 1, 2014) No Comment

Tarzan and the City of GoldTarzan Burne Hogarth 1
Don Garden (script), Burne Hogarth (art)
Titan Books, 2014

When legendary artist Hal Foster told his bosses in 1936 at United Features Syndicate that he was moving to their arch-rival King Features Syndicate, they were faced with an unenviable task: how do you replace a giant? Foster had raised UFS’s Tarzan newspaper comic strip to a heigh of visual excellence, but he was eager to devote himself to his own creation, the quasi-medieval saga of Prince Valiant, so at the end of ’36 he left United with a four-month backlog of Tarzan strips – and the urgent need to find an artist who could keep the popular property going.

They turned to Chicago-born Burne Hogarth, something of a prodigy who’d been selling his artwork since the age of 15, and as Scott Tracy Griffin points out in his introduction to Titan Books’ gorgeous new reprint edition of that earliest Hogarth Tarzan work, the young artist at first “attempted to emulate Foster’s style for a seamless transition.” Hogarth took over the strip in May of 1937, stepping in not only to Foster’s shadow but also in to the middle of Foster’s uncompleted last story, “Tarzan and the City of Gold.”

This new Titan volume starts, therefore, in the middle of things (there’s a handy “Our Story So Far” prologue, offered in the rather charming hogarth tarzan 1assumption that anybody is going to be coming to this volume for the words), and it follows Hogarth’s work on the strip through to April of 1940. We watch as Edgar Rice Burroughs’ celebrated Ape Man encounters Amazons, scheming, bearded Boers, Great White Hunters, scheming, bearded Chinese, and of course a whole Noah’s Ark of apes, lions, elephants, leopards, rhinos, and monkeys. Courtesy of writer Don Garden, our hero has countless hair’s-breadth escapes, countless pitched battles with men and animals, makes countless tough decisions about tactics and strategy, and casts a discreet but brooding spell over every human female (and one or two she-mangani) in sight. It’s standard Tarzan fare, which means its telegraphic and exciting at all times, with a dash of noble savage thrown in.

The original strips have been carefully remastered for this oversized volume, so the viewing is clearer and brighter than it’s ever been. The one thing that couldn’t be re-mastered is Hogarth’s work itself: in these pages, it’s as classically simple as a Greek vase – and every bit as static. There’s nothing in these panels of the visual glories to come, the sinuous, extravagant sensuality that Hogarth would unleash once he was no longer working in the shadow of Hal Foster. Titan intends to produce a complete set of the Burne Hogarth “Tarzan” newspaper strips, which means that this volume, as impressive as it is, will end up being the least memorable of the group. And the whole set will be indispensable for anybody who appreciates the birth and meteoric growths of the best comics artists of all time.