Tantor Trumpets - by Ken Webber
DELL, TARZAN AND ME
(Reprinted from ERB-APA #45)
Copyright © 2001
Editorial Sidebar by
David Bruce Bozarth, © 2001
In the old days before EBAY and other online auctions it was far more difficult to acquire older items for a collection. At a mid-1990s Dum-Dum in Atlanta I was browsing through a box of old books for sale in the huckster room when I happened upon an item that gave me a keen sense of excitement. It was a DELL Tarzan; issue #5 dated Oct/Nov. 1948. I had finally found that elusive 'last' issue of the Dell and Gold Key Tarzan comics to finally complete that corner of my collection! As I happily picked it up and purchased it, a flood of memories washed over me. I could remember where and when I had found other old Tarzan comics over the years. I recalled curling up in a cozy corner reading and rereading many favorite issues. It was with great satisfaction that I added that last needed issue to my collection that September afternoon.
The DELL and Gold Key Tarzan comics have always held a special place in my heart as an ERB fan and collector. In fact my decision to begin to collect Tarzan was made when I bought and read the January 1960 issue, #116. I had bought it and a few more forgotten comics walking home from school on a cold winter day at a Rexall Drug store comic rack. After reading my small horde of new comics over the next few days, I kept coming back to enjoy this one Tarzan comic. The cover painting of Tarzan standing in swamp water up to his thighs with knife in hand about to battle a gorilla really captured my imagination. The story in the book was engrossing as well. In addition, in the back of the book was a well-drawn serial. The Brothers of the Spear, that enticed me to want to know what would happen next and also what had come before in the story. I decided that I would hit a few more stores around town that coming Saturday and see if I could locate some recent issues that had slipped by the distributor on his pick-up rounds.
Thus began my Tarzan/ERB collection. I picked up all of the issues printed after that. But the real challenge was locating those elusive 100 plus issues that were printed before #116. It was a fun-filled adventure that would take me thirty-five years to complete….
I was lucky to find three recent issues in the next few days. But then it became tough. Back in the Stone Age, there were no comic shops with back issue bins, mail order dealers, let alone Ebay. There was no ready source of old comics. I recalled one young friend who had issues #61 and #65, in excellent condition buried in the bottom of his sock drawer (We didn't have bags and acid free boards then either.). But his parents wouldn't let him trade or sell them to me. I remember even offering the exorbitant amount of a dollar each for them, but they were unmovable. They probably warned their son about his strange choice of friends after I left. I read those books every time I visited him, but in utter anguish.
About that time I discovered fandom. I got on the mailing list of the House of Info, the mimeographed news wire put out by John and Tom McGeehan. I recall all of the exciting and valuable information to be gleaned from those pages. Better yet, I bought a few old DELL issues from the McGeehans. More importantly, they helped me to put names on those mysterious people that produced the Tarzan comics; Gaylord Dubois, Jesse Marsh, Tony Sgori, Russ Manning, Chase Craig and Moe Gollub and George Wilson. There were actually other fans interested in these things like myself!
In the mid-sixties I married and moved to Denver. At that time Caz lived in the suburbs and it was a great thrill to get to go over to his house and browse his vast collection and help him collate and staple ERBdoms for ERB fans all over the world. Caz was required by law to pay wages for his magazine helpers. I took old extra Dell Tarzans as my wages. I also traded him a stack of Tarzan Sunday pages from my old hometown Durango, Colorado paper for many others.
And in Denver there were a few seedy old magazine shops that had boxes of comics in the back corners. Wading through these dungeons turned up a few more treasured DELLS.
I remember the summer that I was finally taking my two young girls on that big vacation to Disneyland. Two days before we left I walked into a 'new' comic store and the owner pulled out the first fifteen Dell Tarzan issues that he had just acquired, all in prime condition. He had held them for me to see and told me that I could have them all for ten bucks each. I had to turn him down as the fun money I had at the time was all earmarked for the big vacation. It was the right decision as family must come first, but it was a bitter pill to swallow. It would be almost twenty more years before I found and purchased all of those books that I had held in my hands on that summer afternoon.
Over the years I managed to add one or two titles here and there. As I got down to the last couple of dozen issues that I needed, they became much harder to find and a lot more expensive to cross off my want list. And finally on that afternoon in Atlanta surrounded by fellow Tarzan fan friends, there was that final issue that had eluded me for so long. The initial ERB quest that I had taken upon myself was finally fulfilled. Few collecting moments have given me that sense of satisfaction and joy….
I am too sentimental about the DELL Tarzan material to give a very objective analysis about their content. But I will share some thoughts about the books.
First, DELL comics need to be understood in the context of their times. Comics were big selling items to kids. Books with less than 100,000 monthly sales per copy were poor sellers and in danger of cancellation. Comics were under a heavy siege of criticism from self-anointed critics who were putting political pressure extraordinary to kill the industry. There was much gore and mayhem in many comics and some of the criticism was valid, but not in the extremes that were raging in the public forum. Comics were being blamed for juvenile delinquency, crime, dropouts, acne and every other teenage societal malady. In this volatile climate DELL pledged to parents in every issue that their comics would be clean and wholesome entertainment. This sanitizing editorial policy meant violence, emotional and romantic and other mature themes were waived in order to survive in a hostile national climate.
Editor's Note: As a young fellow during the 1950s and early 1960s, before Ballantine and Ace engaged in reprint wars which saturated the reading public, it was the comix and movies that brought me to ERB. Marsh and those wonderful paperback cover paintings held my interest long after ERB's death (March 1950). Sadly, ERB Inc. entered a period of decline. History reveals this to be a familial struggle for control. Yet the on-going comix projects were ignored during the family warfare. The laid-back control by ERB, Inc. changed when publishers gushed with reprint after reprint. After the lawyers settled the dust we saw a few new films (Mahoney, Henry) and saw publication of the first authorized stories. Leiber first, then thirty-ish years later, Farmer and Lansdale. Notwithstanding ERB Inc.'s misdirected efforts during those tumultuous years, the Dell Comics ultimately tied the last pulps to the films and continued to maintain the ERB influence, specifically TARZAN, until the 1960s reprints to 1980s movies renewed interest in the public's eye. The EXPANDED comics editions soon followed: Gold Key, DC, and Marvel. Recently Disney, an new ERB, Inc. partner, has added to the genre.
It was clear that certain elements of the ERB canon could not be used. Tarzan would not bite through any foe's jugular, no place for romantic tension between Tarzan and Jane, let alone La or Nemone, eating raw meat and etc. Editors looked for ways to make their Tarzan title a family oriented book thematically. They decided to blend ERB's Tarzan with the current popular movie version. Thus we had a tree house, a brunette Jane, Boy, with no mention of a John Clayton, Lord Greystoke. (La was even killed in an early issue to the howl of fans who knew the book version. She was written back in stories years later.)
With this new mixed structure in place editorially, the main writing chores were given over to Gaylord DuBois, who authored the majority of the stories for the run of the title. To make ERB's many lost lands more accessible and involved he moved them all into Pal-ul-don and focused the majority of the stories there. Alur, Athne, Cathne, Opar, Lutor, the Valley of Monsters, the Great Thorn Desert, the Barrier Swamp all became interactive locals in the Dell Pal-ul-don. The cannibalistic Teribs in their croc-armour terrorized the waterways astride their lizard mounts. (These were borrowed from ERB's Pellucidar.) The intelligent Bolgani waged war with every city-state in the region. To expedite Tarzan's transportation to and from Pal-ul-don, DuBois gave him many giant animal mounts. The giant eagles, Argus and Aguila were his air transports to many far-flung adventures. And don't forget Dr. MacWhirtle, a cross between Abner Perry and Gabby Hayes, with his comic bent to trouble, and exploring helicopter. Later would come Buto, a giant Negro warrior friend of Tarzan's who would share many adventures. With the limitations imposed upon him, Mr. DuBois used the fantasy elements he developed to write many entertaining stories. He used many other resources and research about Africa to make a locale that was satisfactorily real and even educational. He handled the assignment given him quite well.
The art chores were primarily handled by Jesse Marsh, who gave Tarzan his own unique interpretation. Initially he postured him as a youthful giant, but soon his ape-man evolved into a monolithic figure moving in a natural power and grace across the panels. He changed Tarzan's appearance periodically. My favorite period was from issues#32 to #74, when he looked like a primitive and noble version of Gordon Scott. Jesse's forte was a wonderful mastery of sequentialstorytelling. And no one could draw more believable animals. He could master the stage with his buildings, emotive scenery and textures. His style was akin to the Caniff school in that he utilized shadows to establish and avoided linear art. His was a deceptively simple style, but it was an earthy bold one that enhanced the African elements that he researched and included in his artwork. Jesse had a great storytelling ability and he was a good ambassador for the ape-man when the ERB Tarzan books were themselves scarce at best.
The standout elements of DELL Tarzan comics were the gorgeous painted covers by Moe Gollub and later George Wilson. One question I would love to know the answer to is why Tarzan was depicted wearing a red loincloth on the covers on most of the painted covers. Marsh was assisted in the interior art chores by many Dell artists, chiefly Tony Sgori and Russ Manning.
With issue #38, Russ Manning took over the art chores for the back-up feature, The Brothers of the Spear. Every time I read the comic I would look at Russ' beautiful work and wish he would handle the art chores for the entire book. I even wrote Chase Craig, the book's editor at one point begging him to please give the Tarzan stories to Mr. Manning. I was told Manning was busy with the other books that he drew and could not take on the additional work. Unbeknownst to me Jesse Marsh had gotten Russ his first job in the comic industry with DELL, and Russ, the gentleman, would wait until Jesse retired before asking for the Tarzan artist assignment.
Lex Barker as the film Tarzan was featured on color covers from issue #13 to #54. Later Gordon Scott would don the movie loincloth and appear on the comic covers for #80 to #110. I asked Gordon about these covers at a Dum-Dum once. He said that a photographer from DELL would schedule a full day appointment and they would go to a Los Angeles park and Gordon would pose in the trees and with various props while the photographer shot many rolls of film. From these the DELL Tarzan covers were selected. I assume that the same arrangement was made for Lex Barker's covers. Is it too much to hope for that all of those unused photos of Lex and Gordon might turn up again?
When I vote, I rationalize that if I can find a candidate that I can agree with at least half of the time, then I'll support him. I've tried to take the same point of view toward the various interpretations of ERB's Tarzan. I know I'll never see anyone else do the character totally as ERB envisioned him. So on my rational scale anything over half is acceptable material. And the higher on the scale the ape-man's new handlers take him the more I enjoy him. The DELL Tarzan was high on the scale, indeed-certainly not vintage ERB, but they developed and utilized many of his ideas for many wonderful additional stories. There is so much to appreciate about them. And I find I can still pull one of these childhood treasures out of the box, open and read it and recreate the joy I had on that long ago childhood winter evening. That is a priceless gift.