Tantor Trumpets - by Ken Webber
Sidebar by David Bruce Bozarth
Copyright © 2001
THE SUNDAY TARZAN NEWSPAPER STRIP
GRAY MORROW AND ALLAN GROSS ~ FIRST SESSION
This summer's issue of The Burroughs Bulletin contains an interview between Allan Gross and myself on the initial set of stories that he wrote for the United Features Syndicate Tarzan Sunday strip. Since I have been chroniloging the Sunday feature as a continuing series in the ERB-APA, I've decided that I'll write a second article covering the same ground that Allan and I did for the BB article. The interview allowed Allan to comment on his stories. I would like a chance to remark on those stories myself and utilize different artwork than was used in the other article.
In February of 1999, Allan Gross was given a healthy term of over a year to try out as the Tarzan Sunday strip writer. He wrote five stories, which I will comment upon here. Gray Morrow continued his highly skilled and entertaining job as the strip's artist. It was a good trial to test how Allan would use the character(s) and how Gray Morrow , the strip's artist, and Allan would develop a working relationship. At the end of these five stories, the Syndicate used a story already on file by Mark Kneece.
2-7-99 #3521 ~ 5-23-99 #3536
Tarzan is admitted to the hospital with a coma and fails to respond to any treatment. Jane realizes that the cure will be found in the jungle and not modern medicine. She outfits herself for the jungle, hops in her Jeep and begins to track down the miracle she needs. Initially she finds a tribe of great apes, then braves Opar to seek La's help. La sends her to a witch doctor in the mountains. The witch doctor then concocts a potion using Jane's blood as a vital ingredient. It seems that the witch doctor is the father of the hospital doctor and when Jane returns to the hospital with the medicine the Doctor refuses to allow her to utilize his father's wild potent. Thrown out of the hospital Jane resorts to a grapple and hook to access Tarzan's room from outside and administer to him the life saving drug. When the Doctor discovers her subterfuge he is upset but can't argue with results of his father's folk medicine because Tarzan recovers.
This is a fun story that showcases Jane as the hardy and resourceful woman we know but rarely get to see. She finds her way around the wilds and the red tape, both daunting challenges. The uses of a Jeep and cell phone are deftly and logically handled. The spots of humor are inspired and the sort of thing that would keep even a casual a reader chuckling for a spell…a nice attention getting hook. Gray Morrow has a reputation for delineating pretty women and clearly had a lot of fun drawing Jane. It is my favorite strip story in years. Allan should use Jane as such a strong mate of the Lord of the Jungle as often as possible.
5-30-99 #3537~ 9-12-99 #3552
"Tarzan and the New Atlantis"
Tarzan and N'kima explore a treasure vault of Opar and are accidentally transported by an ancient device from an ancient Oparian storeroom to a lost Atlantean island city in Pellucidar. He aids the enslaved Inner World tribe overthrow the Inner Atlantis' Queen Varla using ancient explosives found in their storeroom with the transporter. In the melee the transporter is destroyed. Tarzan is able to activate some ancient machinery and robots that he demonstrates as replacement labor for the newly freed slaves. The Atlanteans had so depended on slavery that their culture had forgotten the ability to utilize the wealth of their ancestors' technology.
The prospect of a connection between Opar and Pellucidar was quite intriguing and I don't think that we have seen the last of this Atlantean transporter in the treasure vault of Opar now that it has been dusted off. Gray's artistic design of the Atlantis culture and especially the exotic Queen Varla is worth special mention. Are Varla and La related in a royal lineage? Have La or the people of her lost Atlantean colony ever transported to the Inner Atlantis?
#3553 ~ 1-2-00 #3568
"The Face in the Swamp"
Tarzan and N'kima begin to explore Pellucidar by dugout for a way to get home. They interrupt their journey to rescue a Gorbus who is trying to flee his tribe. The strange Gorbuses are albinos who have memories of being murderers in their past on the surface world. Once they have put some distance between themselves and their pursuers, Tarzan learns that the creature named Ahki he has aided was once a passenger aboard the Lusitania that forced his way onto a lifeboat past women and children in order to save his own life. He was so haunted by his own cowardice that he committed suicide but instead of death he found himself amid a tribe of former murderers as a Gorbus. Tarzan relates the incident of his own childhood when a lioness slew a boyhood ape companion and he as a youngster dove into the lake to save his own life and the guilt he had felt. The tribe catches up with them and the ensuing battle focuses around Tarzan as his new friend, Ahki again flees. Using the swamp water as an aid (the Gorbuses are allergic to it) Tarzan wins the combat but is captured by a hungry Ichthyosaur which dives with him in his maw into the depths of the swamp. Ahki overcomes his fear and dives in and rescues Tarzan at the cost of his own life. In that sacrificial act he finds his own peace and redemption. It is a story with an underlying strong moral message. It also shows that Tarzan himself struggled with his own inner demons as he developed his noble character. It is good to flesh him out like this periodically. It would have been an advantage to the story if Allan had footnoted a reference to the ERB novel that was the source of the Gorbus tribe.
A mammoth body of work extending the characters and worlds of Edgar Rice Burroughs can be found in the "funnies"--that section of the daily newspaper you, as a reader, either routinely visit or routinely ignore. Tru-Fans of ERB recognize the existence of the daily strips and Sunday Colors. Tarzan of the Apes debuted in 1929 in most newspapers in the US. Tru-Fans also remember when John Coleman Burroughs (ERB's son) produced a limited series of Barsoom daily strips (1939-1942). The Grand Master of Adventure Romance has been generally well-treated by comic strip authors in "slice of life" storylines. These initial newspaper successes eventually led to the enormously successful Tarzan Comic Books of the 1950s and 1960s. Tarzan of the Illumination (meaning Strip or Comic Graphic Stories) has been as important to the longevity of Edgar Rice Burroughs as the original novels which inspired these wonderful extensions.
—David Bruce Bozarth
1-9-00 #3569 ~ 4-23-00 #3603
"The Roof of the World"
As Tarzan and N'kima leave the Swamp they are almost killed in a stampede of bovine Taugs that have been herded off a cliff by Horibs who are hunting meat. Bagdar, the Horib chieftain remembers the captured Tarzan. (This time Tarzan At the Earth's Core is referenced in a footnote.) He tells him that he has found a tunnel route to the outer world that Tarzan himself had mentioned to him years ago. The tribe is going to make the journey to that new home. Tarzan talks Bagdar out of slaying him for meat by telling him that the tribe needs him as a guide for the journey. Tarzan then meets Moxie Gardner, a lost aviatrix who has been recently enslaved by the Horibs. As the tunnel journey gets colder and more perilous Tarzan leaves the head of the exodus to try and find Moxie who has been watching the Horib young. He finds her just as Bagdar was ready to feed her as a live meal to the lizard toddlers. In the ensuing fight for Moxie the tunnel collapses and Bagdar and Tarzan both join in holding up the ceiling until the little ones scamper to safety. When the tunnel collapses, Tarzan and Moxie find themselves alone on the Pellucidarian side and must fight to return to the Inner World and seek a new route to the surface. The Horib's fate is left dangling, so we may see them again in a future adventure. The use of the Horibs, always a Pellucidarian favorite menace, was fun and they were shown to be more than just slimy villains. Bagdar is a savage but a leader; noble and bold in his own right. Moxie is a nice 'everyman' character to bring in and voice the reader's reaction to the fantasy elements of the adventures. She slowly comes to believe that Tarzan is really Tarzan and that they will make it home. It is always a good move to give Gray another pretty girl to draw. In the last panel of the story when the duo has exited the tunnel they miss seeing the Iron Mole which had originally bored the shaft and is now covered in undergrowth.
4-30-00 #3585 ~ 8-13-00 #3600
"Flight From Pellucidar"
The two adventurers decide to try and locate Moxie's plane. Tarzan rearms himself with self-made bow and arrows and sends N'kima to scout for the plane. Tarzan kills a Sabretooth who attacks them and they feast on some fresh steaks. N'kima returns with a party of Sagoths, the tailed ape-men of Pellucidar. They explain that they know where the plane is located and grabbing Moxie between them they lead Tarzan through the treeways until they arrive at the plane. With the ape tribe's help and a Mastadon for the heavy lifting the plane is freed from the trees and made airworthy. A pack of wolves attack the party and Tarzan saves Moxie from fangs and dives into the plane. After attending to her wounds Tarzan gets the plane airborne. Tarzan seeks out the South Polar opening that he knows must exist. They break through to the Antarctic wastes amid a strong storm but are running out of fuel. Tarzan manages to pilot the plane through the blinding Antartic storm an land the plane and then leaves Moxi to try and make a camp he had seen from the air. He almost dies from the exposure when he is found by a couple of scientists who had heard the plane's engine noise. Later in a hospital recovering from their adventure, Tarzan simply wants a phone to call and let Jane know that he is okay.
This story's dialogue between Tarzan and Moxie uses the opportunity to set the record straight that the real Tarzan (of the books) is a different gent than the one she has learned about from the movies. Their chatter is light and engaging amid the high danger of their adventure. A well done story on all points.
This series of adventures clearly showcased Tarzan's uniqueness as a heroic character. Allan stated that Tarzan stories should be adventures that only Tarzan could have. This run of stories certainly did showcase that. Question- Did Allan intend that his tenure start with and end with Tarzan in a hospital bed? Allan certainly knew his Pellucidar and used its elements to a very strong advantage. The humor, modern twists, crisp dialogue and high degree of action moved the strip along smoothly. A writer well studied in the canon is a major plus. One who can then put a fresh twist on it is very refreshing. And good adventure stories must be fun for Gray to draw as well. Allan and Gray made a good team and put some freshness in the strip. A series of joined Pellucidar stories worked well.
At this point United Features Syndicate pulled out a story on file written by Mark Kneece and used it. In this fill-in story Tarzan comes to the aid of two feuding tribes on behalf of a young couple from each tribe who have fallen in love. I'll comment upon it at a later date, as the story is just beginning as I write this.
The good news is that the syndicate has informed Allan Gross that he has been given the future scripting chores. In an email he informed me the he already has written one story and is involved in writing the next one. The teaser I pass on to you is that in this next series of connecting stories Tarzan has a series of adventures on Barsoom.
Gray was in top form drawing Barsoom a few years ago in the strip. It sounds like the Allan and Gray team are set to give us another tour de force. I asked Allan if he could adapt the Tarzan on Kong Island story I had seen that he had written a few years ago for use in the strip.
He emailed me, "I don't believe the Kong story would be appropriate for the strip--though I may consider it. It would be too long (though I'd break it up into sub-stories) and it's so good it's deserving of a book or a movie. Of course I think all my stories are. Del Ray showed interest in it at one time but we haven't had the time to follow through on it and they aren't beating down our doors. We're trying to work animation and screenplay deals with our own characters now, but in the meantime I want to continue to make sure there are decent Tarzan stories out there."
Fine by me, as long as we all get to see his story where Tarzan meets King Kong someday!
Gray and Allan have hit it off as a writer and artist team. Besides Tarzan they also do an online strip called THE BODY. Check it out at http://www.insightstudiosgroup.com
Insight Studios is also planning to publish a book collecting the art of Gray Morrow. If any of you have pieces or original works by Gray it is requested that you contact them at the above website and give them the opportunity to include the art in the book. Gray's work is superb and perhaps the largest body of work that has been done in the fantasy field!