Views & Reviews From Writer Steve Miller
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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Manning did great adaptations of Tarzan novels

Tarzan of the Apes (The Tarzan Library, Vol. 1)
(Dark Horse, 1999)

Art and Plot: Russ Manning
Adapted Dialogue: Gaylord DuBois
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

Russ Manning is the Tarzan comic book artist. Despite much of his work on the character being done 50-60 years ago at this point, the clarity, grace, and beauty of his artwork, the majesty and sense of adventure he brought to the comic book versions of Edgar Rice Burroughs' most famous character has yet to be exceeded, or even matched by the dozens of artists that have followed since. Only Joe Kubert and Burne Hogarth have come close, and this only because their approaches were so very unique and different from Manning and each other. And none of them presented Tarzan with the grace that Manning did--Kubert and Hogarth captured the savagery, but not the grace. (Actually, if there is a fault with Manning's interperation of Tarzan is that it's almost too clean and streamlined.)

Among the many Tarzan adventures that issued forth from Manning's drawingboard were adaptations of ten original Burroughs' novels, starting with "Tarzan of the Apes" and going through "Tarzan the Terrible." Published in monthly installments in the "Tarzan" comic book, these adaptations have been reprinted by Dark Horse Comics in the "The Tarzan Library", a three-volume, pocketbook-sized series.

The first book in the Dark Horse series, titled "Tarzan of the Apes", contains four Burroughs' adaptations, including two of the most-often retold in comics "Tarzan of the Apes" and "The Return of Tarzan", as well as "The Beasts of Tarzan" and "The Son of Tarzan".

All of these adaptations are excellently illustrated and scripted with great skill. They capture the essense of each novel, with "The Beasts of Tarzan" and "The Son of Tarzan" being particularly fine adaptations. In fact, they are almost better reading than the original novels themselves, as "Beasts" tends to meander at times, while the necessarily brief adapation (it was retold in a single 26-page issue of the "Tarzan" comic book series) stays focused on the main story elements of Jane's struggle for survival against the minions of the evil Rokoff and Tarzan's race to rescue both her and his infant son.

The "Tarzan of the Apes" retelling has a slightly rushed, perfunctuary feel about it, especially if you've read either the Kubert or the Hogarth adaptations, but it's still very atractive art-wise. (The era in which Manning and DuBois were working also had an impact on their adaptations, particularly of "Tarzan of the Apes"; some of the grimmer, more violent aspects of that tale are absent or glossed over, although Tarzan's life-altering battle with the bully ape--when he first uses the "sharp tooth"--unfolds as it does in the novel and in every adaptation.)

All in all, this book is a great way to introduce a young reader to the adventure stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs--parents can get them started with the comics and then have them graduate to the novels. It's also a fine example of the work by one of the greatest craftsmen to ever work in comics.

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