Thursday, December 04, 2008

Never Say Never


A while back I mentioned that I was collecting the old Dell and Gold Key Tarzan comics featuring the artwork of Jesse Marsh. I also mentioned that I was going to a lot of effort to find these comics, most of which are older than I am, because I didn't think it likely that anyone would ever reprint them. Marsh's art style just didn't seem one that would be of interest to contemporary comics fan. Well I've seldom been so happy to admit I was wrong. Cliff emailed me last night to let me know that Dark Horse Comics, publishers of Tarzan:The Joe Kubert Years, will be bringing out multiple volumes of Tarzan:The Jesse Marsh Years.
Each hardback volume will be around 250 pages and the projected plan is to reprint the entirety of Marsh's run on the comic which covered 19 years. The best part for me initially is that Marsh's earliest work on the Tarzan series is far too pricey for me. Anything after issue 50 isn't too bad, but the prices have been going steadily up. Now I can read all the early issues for a fraction of what the original comics would cost. And once the series catches up to where my collection begins, I'll gladly replace my old and fragile comics with sturdy hardback collections. See I don't give a darn about owning the original comics these days. I just love to READ comics. The collections are the way to go for me.
What is it that I love about Marsh's art? I like the cartoonish quality and the heavy ink line. I like his approach to drapery and his storytelling ability. I like his use of chiaroscuro, alternating patterns of black and white to give an amazing illusion of depth. I like the research that went into his Tarzan. Marsh reportedly owned dozens of books about Africa and it shows in the art. His natives are dressed in authentic African clothing and lived in accurately rendered dwellings. Patterns from African art cover buildings, shields and fabrics. His Africa is more grassland than jungle, as the real Africa is. His animals have a naturalistic feel to them that few comics artists could match.
Marsh worked as an animator at Walt Disney for many years and was reportedly an excellent painter. One source said that his real love was fine art and that he basically taught himself to cartoon in an amazingly short period of time basing his approach on the work of Terry and the Pirates/Steve Canyon artist, Milton Caniff. Alex Toth, one of my comics artist idols, absolutely loved Marsh's work and wrote a long and fascinating appreciation of Marsh for the magazine Panels many years ago. I'll have to dig that out and perhaps write a longer post about Marsh in the future.
Now of course it doesn't hurt that Marsh was illustrating the adventures of one of my top five fictional characters. Though Russ Manning's Tarzan will always be the ultimate for me, once I discovered Marsh's work I immediately loved it. Teamed with writer Gaylord Dubois, who took over scripting the Tarzan comic with issue number two, Marsh's Tarzan was an amalgamation of the movie Tarzans and the original Edgar Rice Burroughs version. The Dell Tarzan series is chock full of action and adventure among lost cities, dangerous tribes, savage beasts and later, dinosaurs, beast-men, giants, and all manner of exotic menaces. We get Queen La form Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar, the Ant men from Tarzan and the Ant Men, Roman soldiers from Tarzan and the Lost Empire, etc, etc. Dell's Tarzan was a wonderland of danger and excitement, and all of it rendered for almost two decades in the solid, beautiful art style of Jesse Marsh. And now it will be available again for new readers and for those like me, who just want to have all of it. The first volume goes on sale February 25.

No comments: