Komix and Kulture

David Bruce Bozarth

Copyright © 2003

I came to ERB via the movies, then comics, then the books--and the jungle tales found in each of those venues had markedly different themes. The movies generally show Tarzan and "boy" as do-gooders, keepers of the jungle. The comics from the 1950s and 1960s had much the same message, particularly the Tarzan comics.

Imagine my surprise when I read the first eight Tarzan novels and saw very little of that conservationist theme. Tarzan of the books, and Korak as well, are large, strong, silent types prone to moments of extreme violence in a dangerous world. Both see and note the ingress of civilization on their jungle home; yet, do little or nothing to stop that progress. Tarzan, in fact, eventually becomes one of those shaping and re-shaping the African wilderness, creating an immense plantation.

The Tarzan and Korak figures in the comic books, however, are large, strong, not so silent types prone to moments of extreme violence in a dangerous world. They, however, spend more time righting jungle wrongs and protecting the flora and fauna against bad guys and civilization.

Burroughs himself toned down the ape-man's violence in the early 1920s and used the ape-man as a bully pulpit to remark on the encroachments of the wilderness areas. Burroughs' Tarzan (and Korak) continued to mighty forces when required, but for the most part became observers of the world who bent their titanic energies to correcting wrongs done to friends or innocents.

Edgar Rice Burroughs might have tamed his jungle heroes slightly, but not to the extent found in the early Dell and Gold Key comics. More, as the years passed the comics began to take on a theme life of their own, many times reflecting current geo-political/cultural trends.

Steve Allsup's Komix Project will provide insight into the authors and artists' thinking and how that creative process touched or expanded the ERB canon we call "the books." Though the comics are not our "real" ape-men, they are an expression of what the PUBLIC thinks is the myth of Tarzan and Korak, just as they think the silver screen and small screen film are the myth of Tarzan and "boy." Allsup's project will help define what the average jungle hero fan believes is "true" when they have never read the original books by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

My memories of the Dell, Gold Key, DC, and Marvel tales is they were uniformly entertaining short morality plays or slice of life vingettes. The basic tenets of Burroughs' jungle heroes rings true though the trappings and window dressing of event or purpose changed. Allsup offers another way to revisit those tales of Korak, the Son of Tarzan!

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