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Tantor Trumpets - by Ken Webber

THE DELL/WESTERN TARZAN ARTISTS-I

(Reprinted from ERB-APA #96, Winter 2008)
ERB-ETC. ERB-APA #96 - Winter 2008 - Ken (Tantor) Webber - Centennial, CO


JESSE MARSH

(7/27/1907 - 4/28/1966)

The primary artist for the DELL Tarzan comic was Jesse Marsh. He drew the initial two one-shot tryout issues in 1947 and then continued on to draw the title for the Dell 131 issue run and the Tarzan Jungle Annuals as well. He continued on until 1965 with issue #153 as the Gold Key Tarzan artist when the title changed hands.

Marsh was born in Florence, Alabama on July 27,1907 along with a twin sister, Olivia Grace. His father was a small business contractor and moved the family toCalifornia when Jesse was twelve. Jesse always had an interest in art and studied artists he admired in the local library and the museums. He was a self-taught artist and aspired to be a fine arts painter but he took a door of opportunity that opened to work for the Disney Studios in 1939. He worked on their cartoons and features until World War II interrupted his life.

Jesse became a radar man for the Army Air Force and served on the European front. He was severely wounded by a mortar shell at Anzio and returned to California to recover from his wounds.

After the war he returned to the Disney studio. He studied Milton Caniff’s style as his base and adapted it into his own. Soon he was joining fellow Disney artists in freelancing at Western Publishing. Western had licensed the Disney characters and Carl Barks, Walt Kelly, Mike Arens and Moe Gollub—among others—found extra income in doing their comics.

In 1945 Jesse was given the Gene Autry comic chores and began working full time for Western. In 1947 he began drawing the Tarzan comic. He did not go to the studio to work but set up a studio in his home. Not having to commute was an extra plus. He would continue his connection to Disney over the years by intermittently working on their Sunday newspaper strip that usually featured the current Disney movie as a tie-in. Besides the Tarzan comic for Dell, Jesse did numerous other assignments as March of Comics, color books, and juvenile book art for Western Publishing. He routinely turned out 100 pages or more a month.

His art was deceptively simple. He was not rigorous in detail or anatomy. His focus was on storytelling. He designed a page to carry the reader’s eye through the story by the placement of forms and shadows that moved the eye to the main point of the panel and then toward the next panel. While we all marvel at an artist who can deftly fill a page with lines and detailing, it takes a second look to appreciate the subtle power of Jesse Marsh’s minimalist style. One signature design was to hide the players’ features in his panels in shadows, which showed the time of day or allowed the locale or dialog itself to become the focal point in the tale he was telling.

His character design of Tarzan went through a series of changes over the years. Initially his Tarzan was young, lean and even a bit gangly. Later he drew a solid mature, even a monolithic figure. With this body type in place Marsh’s Tarzan matured and aged facially. (I enjoyed the art of the issues 45-75 period myself the most.)  But if Tarzan showed the passing of time, Boy and Jane remained the same. The noticeable thing about Marsh’s handling of women and children was the accurate depiction of their body language. Then the fact that he did research on Africa, its geography, its peoples, architecture and animals made the stage of his storytelling a real place. His ability to capture an animal’s persona was uncanny. Often he injected humor into the stories to good effect. His comical Doctor MacWhirtle was based upon his own father.

The stories written mainly by Gaylord DuBois, blended the movie and ERB Tarzan versions. So we had Boy, not Korak. Jane was a brunette rather than a blond. The estate was supplanted by the treehouse. Then the muliple ERB lost lands were all transported to Pal-ul-don. But Tarzan spoke intelligently and the Waziri and Nkima were on hand. Many of the stories were domesticated or centered on local tribal squabbles. Boy or Jane was always in need of rescue. These were books aimed at the juvenile market and at that level very satisfying. Gaylord duBois was inspired when he adapted the horibs of Pellucidar and made them crocodile-skin garbed cannibals astride lizard mounts named Terribs that plagued the GreatSwamp. Then there were talking gorillas that were at constant war in armor and war chariots against the human denizens of Pal-ul-don. To aid Tarzan in covering the vast distances of his adventures, he was given a giant eagle, Argus that he rode. When Marsh’s Tarzan traveled through the treeways, there was never a vine. It was a rich tableau indeed and in its limited way close to ERB’s conception.

I loved these comics. They were imaginative feasts for my childhood. I devoured them when the ERB Tarzan books were not readily found. I read Dell Tarzan comics before I read ERB, so I am more forgiving than some purists. The comics were escapist entertainment that worked more often than not. The only thing that really made me discontent with Jesse Marsh was when I saw that artist that drew the backup feature, Brothers of the Spear, I knew that guy could elevate the art of Tarzan to new heights. I wrote Chase Craig, the editor, and received a polite reply that Russ had all of the work that he could handle at the time. Jesse had been instrumental in getting this young talent, Russ Manning, his job at the Western stable. (It is probably the best thing he ever did for Tarzan fans!)  So for a few years we had to be content to read Manning’s Korak and Magnus, Robot Fighter. (I’ll cover Manning’s Western/Dell years later in ERB-ETC.)

In 1965, when diabetes had taken Marsh’s eyesight to the point that he could no longer draw, he passed the baton to that young protégé. The struggle had been evident in Marsh’s art for his last few years. Then the Tarzan book went to his handpicked successor. At one point ERB Inc. had communicated that they were less than satisfied with Jesse’s struggling art and wanted to see Manning on the title. Western told them that they were perfectly happy with Jesse’s art and his dependability and that they stood by him until he should choose to step down on his own. And Russ made it known that he would wait rather than replace Marsh preemptively.

Jesse Marsh drew Tarzan for more years than any other artist and that would include Maxon, Morrow and Celardo. His art was like his Tarzan, simple and natural with hidden strength and power. Marsh was a good ambassador of art for Tarzan.

JOHN McLEOD

There is little to know about McLeod. He drew two early Tarzan March of Comics, issues #82 and 98. At first glance the art appears to be done by Marsh. But in studying the natives, layouts, and settings an observer can see that it is the work of another artist. He swipes the Tarzan poses from Marsh and does a remarkable job of ghosting his work. The last story in Annual#6 appears to be his work.

TONY SGROI

(9/26/24~7/16/98)

I know little of his biographical background other than he was born in Massachusetts. He began his art career as an animator for Warner Bros, Walter Lantz, and Bob Clampett. He followed other animators to Western Publishing. His forte was their western titles. He did most of the run on Range Rider (Jock Mahoney’s first TV series) as well as work in Gene Autry, Champion, Johnny Mac Brown, Stormy and Rex Allen. He did the Disney Spin and Marty title and their Robin Hood. Also he did a run on Man in Space, a very popular educational title.

For the Tarzan comic he handled the Boy back up story in many issues and pitched in on the workload that the larger sized annuals presented. He did not mimic Marsh’s art, which was the house style. For Western he drew the illustrations for their printings of Tarzan and the City of Gold and Tarzan and the Lost Safari, which were purer work.

Sgroi’s Tarzan was drawn more lean, fierce, rugged and muscular. His drawings were more dynamic and action filled than Marsh’s work. He had a very recognizable style. I always liked buying any book he had drawn.

In 1962, he returned to animation full time. He worked for Hanna-Barbara on many shows but was a major force on the Jetsons. He did design work on Jonny Quest and Scooby Do.  He is remembered fondly as an old schooler who mentored many young animators. He was comfortable drawing real people or cartoons, which is somewhat like being ambidextrous. In 1992, the animators honored him with their Golden Award. He was an unsung but appreciated artist for Dell’s Tarzan comic.

Sgroi illustration for Tarzan and the City of Gold

MIKE ARENS

(1915-6/19/76)

Mike was another Disney Studio animator that made the transition to Western Publishing in the forties. He drew a range of titles including Davy Crockett, Chip’n’Dale, Donald Duck, Range Rider, Roy Rogers, as well as Tarzan. His Tarzan work was usually for the annuals or the March of Comics. He drew the Roy Rogers Sunday page from 1957-62 and the daily Hey Mac from 1951-62. In 1969 he began drawing the cute dog strip, Scamp, which he did until his death in 1976. In the sixties he also did work for the Hanna-Barbara Animation studio.

NAT EDSONI

I found no personal history on him. He drew three Tarzan March of Comics, #114 (second story), #286, and #300. The heading illustrations for the Mabu text story in every issue were his work. (The text stories in comics of the time were included to qualify for a lower postal rate.)  He drew the Leopard Girl serial back up feature in the later Gold Key Tarzan issues. He probably did work in the Dell Tarzan annuals also.

JOHN USHLER

I found no personal information on him. John drew one Tarzan March of Comics, #172, Tarzan in the Revenge of Tarak. Then there are stories that he did in the annuals, usually the ‘Boy’ or animal feature

MOE GOLLUB

(6/10/1910 - 12/30/1984)

Born in Missouri and he loved to draw and always had a fascination with animals. In 1937 at his mother’s urging he submitted his portfolio to the Disney Studio who was promoting a nationwide talent hunt. He won a job and moved to California. He worked on many short cartoons and was a major force in the designs on Bambi. The stag fight in Bambi is his work. In 1941 he led an animator’s strike against Disney. This led to his leaving Disney and enlisting in the Navy. After the war, he moved to Connecticut and his good friend Walt Kelly (of Pogo fame) introduced him to Western Publishing. Moe began working on their funny animal comics for Dell. When the Tarzan comic was in full stride, he drew some early covers. Later he would become one of Dell’s primary painted cover artists. He did Tarzan, Turok, Son Stone, Jungle Jim and many others. He also drew the Smokey the Bear newspaper strip from 1957 to 1959.

Of interest to us are the gorgeous Tarzan covers that he painted. Many of them are works that convey Tarzan’s interaction with Africa’s animals. When Lex Barker was the screen Tarzan, Moe was told to draw his likeness facially for the covers. When Gordon Scott became Tarzan, Scott was featured on a run of photo covers ( Gordon told me once that he went and spent a day in L.A.’s Griffin Park with a photographer and did a shoot for all of those covers. Somewhere there must be a portfolio of unused Tarzan photo poses that would be a great treasure to locate!). Following these live covers the comic returned to painted covers. For them Moe painted his mature version of Tarzan for a final run of covers. At this juncture he transitioned to the animation field and was replaced by George Wilson as the new regular Tarzan cover painter.

When he returned to animation, primarily with Hanna-Barbara, he worked on all of their cartoons. He had a major role helping develop Jonny Quest with Doug Widley. He ran an art department and was remembered as a large bear of a man with a gruff nature and booming voice. At night he taught the studio’s art classes and also taught at Cal Tech. Students remembered him as a walking encyclopedia on animals and their anatomy. He mentored many students who are now the major names in the animation field.

Moe Gollub’s beautifully rendered Tarzan covers are worth collecting themselves aside from the interior adventures of the jungle lord. Many of them compare favorably with the hardback and paperback cover art that we all prize highly. Dell took great pride in the painted covers of many of their titles. I wish we could learn if Moe did other covers for them.

There were assorted artists that did one or two page features in the annuals. It would take someone with a better grasp of the full Western artist crew to try and identify all of them. We just know precious little about any of these artists at all….

It is also a shame that so little of the original art of these early illustrators and painters has survived. The publishers paid for the artwork, printed it and then destroyed it. Only a few samples of this art survived to make it into the hands of collectors. Happily the print runs were high on these Tarzan comics. Although they can be scarce, they are affordable to add to an ERB collectors vault. The personal history and artistic artifacts of these comic art pioneers are too sparse. They were simply producing comics for enjoyment of children. Any thought of any lasting value or appreciation being given to their work never was a factor in their minds or the publishers.

In my next ERB,ETC. I will look at the transition to the Gold Key brand and a new stable of Tarzan artists: George Wilson on the covers, Russ Manning, Doug Widely, Mike Royer and Paul Norris on the interior graphics. Gaylord DuBois would continue shouldering the writing chores.