At the tail end of the Golden Age, Western Publishing/Dell Comics decided to put out a series of Tarzan comic books. These comics were unlike Tarzan comics that came before. Previously, the comic books were made of old runs of the Tarzan newspaper strips and just repackaged. This time they hired writers to tell whole new Tarzan stories. And they also hired Jesse Marsh to do the art.
Dark Horse is releasing a new omnibus collection of the Tarzan comics. This 700 page book contains Dell Four Color Comics 134 & 161 along with Tarzan numbers 1 through 16. Dark Horse previously released these issues back in 2009 as Tarzan: The Jesse Marsh Years, volumes 1-3.
The stories covered in this omnibus were originally published from 1947 to the summer of 1950. Coincidentally, they were the last Tarzan comics published while Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan’s creator, was still alive.
As the book’s title gives away, you are going after this for the art of Jesse Marsh. Marsh started out as an animator for Disney doing work on some Pluto cartoons. While at the studio, he moved on to a writer and worked on Pinocchio and Fantasia. Both of these foundations would serve him well on the Tarzan and Gene Autry comic books.
His books are packed with dynamic action and grace. As you might expect from someone who got their start with Disney, his animal work is incredible. All of Marsh’s panels are filled with fine details. You feel that danger lurks everywhere in these stories as Tarzan takes on cheetahs, cavemen, apes and dinosaurs. Something is hiding in nearly every shadow. The early issues also feature full-page action scenes of Tarzan taking on the dangers of Africa.
As with Burroughs’ own Tarzan stories, the jungle lord faces dangers as mundane as Arab raiders to magical cities that are the last remains of empires that fell elsewhere long ago. Almost all of the inhabitants of these lost civilizations fortunately decided to learn English which makes it easier for the reader to follow along. (Although, there are a number of pages illustrating words from Ape to English to help if you want to speak to the Mangali.)
I do want to say that there were places in this book where I felt uncomfortable with the way that native African people were portrayed. For the most part, Tarzan treats his friends alike, regardless of skin tone. I will say that the issue of race is far less problematic in these stories than in Burroughs’ own Tarzan serials.
Despite that, I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in golden age comics. Or anyone interested in comic book art. The fine detail work and lush colors are fantastic. His animals are still a standard that artist can learn from today.
Writers: Gaylord DuBois and Robert P. Thompson
Artist: Jesse Marsh
Publisher: Dark Horse