Saturday, July 09, 2011

It's a Jungle in Here

In case you haven't noticed, I love comic books. Not just super heroes, but comic books in general. And while I fear that the days of the paper comic book are numbered, I will admit that the digital age has one bright spot, high quality scans of old comics. Various folks have scanned comics dating back to the 30s and made them available on DVD. I've bought a ton of old, public domain comics from various sources, my latest acquisition being a disk of the old Fiction House Jungle Comics.
Fiction house was a publisher of both pulp magazines and comics and the contents often overlapped, probably the best example being my favorite Fiction House comics character Kaanga the Jungle Lord. I've written before about my fondness for the blond Tarzan clone Ki-Gor, who appeared in the Fiction House pulp magazine Jungle Stories and is arguably the most successful jungle lord hero other than Tarzan. Well, Kaanga was the comic book version of Ki-Gor. They were, for all intents and purposes, the same character, with the same origin, same appearance, etc. I've always wondered why Fiction House changed the character's name for the comic book version. Copyright reasons, perhaps. The pulp and comics characters are inextricably linked though. Many Kaanga covers are line drawing versions of painted Ki-Gor covers and the later Ki-Gor pulps used cropped panels from Kaanga as spot illustrations.
Kaanga appeared in the very first issue of Jungle Comics in 1940 (just two years after the creation of Superman) and remained the cover feature for the full run of the comic book, over a hundred and sixty issues, and twenty issues of his own eponymous comic book to boot. So just as Ki-Gor was the second most successful pulp jungle lord, Kaanga was the number two comics jungle lord. (Marvel Comics' Kazar might have caught up by now in sheer number of comic book appearances, but not consecutively.)
The Kaanga stories are usually mishmashes of jungle movies, with lots of lost cities, evil white hunters and scheming native witch doctors, but taken in context they're fun. The artwork runs from very very good to very very bad, and like all Fiction House titles, the pages are full of pin-up style drawings of nubile, scantily clad girls. (In fact, Kaanga's wife Ann, in her leopard skin bikini, was often more prominently featured on covers than Kaanga.) One notable artist was John Celardo who would later draw the Tarzan comic strip for a while. Blackhawk's Reed Crandall did a few issues of Kaanga as well.
Fiction House is long out of business, so Kaanga and all their other comic book and pulp characters (with the notable exception of Sheena, who is still a trademarked character) are in the public domain. As a result any number of folks are selling scans of the Kaanga comics. I picked up mine from some folks I'll give a link to below. Nice quality scans and only $9.99 for almost the whole run of Jungle and Kaanga with a bunch of extras thrown in. They have a ton of other old comic books of all kinds. Fun stuff.

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