100 years ago this month, give or take, Frank Munsey's pulp magazine The All-Story premiered one of the longest-lived fictional characters of modern times in a complete novel: Tarzan of the Apes.
cover to October 2012's The All-Story
It wasn't fledgling writer Edgar Rice Burroughs' first work for the magazine. John Carter had debuted in All-Story's February 2012 issue with the serialized novel "Under the Moons of Mars"; later collected as A Princess of Mars, it spawned a set of sequels and adaptations into other media that would surely be as much as any franchise-minded author could hope for — had that author not created Tarzan as well.
Tarzan of the Apes was released in 1914 as a stand-alone book by A.C. McClurg. Its Fred J. Arting cover was entirely different in feel from, yet just as captivating as, the one painted by Clinton Pettee for the novel's original All-Story publication. Library of America reissued that book in hardcover earlier this year.
I did my due diligence for this post just a bit too late, by the way, only to discover (not unlike with Mad #1, briefly memorialized here last week) that although most sources refer to Tarzan's All-Story debut by its October 1912 cover date, the issue was released in late August just as one would expect given the advance cover-dating common in the magazine world.
original and centennial-reissue covers to Tarzan of the Apes
John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, a.k.a. Tarzan, has enjoyed numerous iterations over the years in comics, animation, and live-action film as well as prose. I selected some pieces for a Cover Album entry a while back after noticing that this milestone anniversary was approaching, not anticipating that my website The Comicologist would still not have launched by now; I'm leaning towards doing a soft rollout of its blog just so that certain posts prepped and waiting don't grow too stale.
Tarzan has never been a favorite of mine, I must admit. I have nothing against the concept — in fact, I can rattle off some interpretations that were quite enjoyable. I just can't help but view it through the prism of another time, dated, for better and worse, something that belongs vaguely to my parents' generation even though its origins actually predate my grandparents' birth by at least a couple of years.
I did see both Greystoke (starring Christopher Lambert) and Tarzan the Ape Man (starring Bo Derek) in the '80s. I can recall watching at least parts of the Johnny Weismuller feature films and Buster Crabbe serials on TV as a kid in the '70s. Filmation's Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle, airing first alone and then as part of various anthology series, was actually a Saturday-morning favorite — to this day I am sometimes seized, out of the blue, by the urge to say "Ho, Mangani!" in an approximation of Bob Ridgely's smooth baritone. I owned some issues of the DC Tarzan comic books done by Joe Kubert, and of course later on I became aware of the classic comic strips drawn by Hal Foster, Burne Hogarth, and Russ Manning; as I've written before, however, I was overwhelmingly a superhero boy, with jungle action, Westerns, straight-up crime/detective mystery stuff, horror/supernatural titles, and even general, non-superhero science fiction merely serving as occasional supplementary diversions. Tarzan has just more-or-less been a rather faint if steadfast part of the vast background of fantastic literature (in the broadest artistic sense) that is my birthright as a pop-culture nut, a comics geek in particular, and an American in general, but one that I feel like I've never properly explored.
Do you have a favorite incarnation of Tarzan?
Tarzan is a registered trademark of Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc. Copyright of the original covers reproduced above has expired in the United States of America.
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