Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan: The Jesse Marsh Years Omnibus volume 1


By Gaylord DuBois & Jesse Marsh with Robert P. Thompson (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-50670-224-7                  eISBN: 978-1-63008-760-9

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Epic, Eternal Adventure… 9/10

I don’t know an awful lot about Jesse Marsh, other than that he was born on 27th July 1907 and died far too young: on April 28th 1966 from diabetic complications at the height of a TV Tarzan revival he was in some part responsible for. What I do know, however, is that to my unformed, pre-fanboy, kid’s mentality, his drawings were somehow better than most of the other artists and that every other kid who read comics in my school disagreed with me.

There’s a phrase we used to use at 2000AD that summed it up: “Artist’s artist”, which usually meant someone whose fan-mail divided equally into fanatical raves and bile-filled hate-mail. It seems there are some makers of comic strips that many readers simply don’t get.

It isn’t about the basic principles or artistic quality or even anything tangible – although you’ll hear some cracking justifications: “I don’t like his feet” (presumably the way he draws them) and “it just creeps me out” being my two favourites…

I simply got Jesse Marsh.

He was another Disney animator (beginning in 1939) who in 1945 moved sideways to become a full-time comics illustrator for the studio’s comicbook licensee Whitman Publishing. He never looked back and became the go-to guy for other ERB adaptations such as John Carter of Mars.

Situated on the West Coast, their Dell and Gold Key imprints rivalled DC and Marvel at the height of their powers, and they famously never capitulated to the wave of anti-comics hysteria that resulted in the crippling self-censorship of the 1950s. No Dell Comics ever displayed a Comics Code Authority symbol on the cover – they never needed to…

Marsh jobbed around the adapted movie properties – mostly on westerns like Gene Autry – until 1948 when Dell introduced the first all-new Tarzan comicbook. A newspaper strip had run since 1929 and all previous funnybook releases had featured expurgated reprints of those adventures. This changed with Dell Four Color Comic #134 (February 1947) which featured a lengthy, captivating tale of the Ape-Man scripted by Robert P. Thompson, who wrote both the Tarzan radio show and the aforementioned syndicated strip.

‘Tarzan and the Devil Ogre’ is very much in the Burroughs tradition: the sometime John Clayton AKA Lord Greystoke and his friend Paul D’Arnot aid a young woman in rescuing her lost father from a hidden tribe ruled over by a monster, an engrossing yarn made magical by the simple, underplayed magic of a heavy brush line and absolutely unmatched design sense.

Marsh was unique in the way he positioned characters in space, using primitivist forms and hidden shapes to augment his backgrounds, and as the man was a fanatical researcher, his trees, rocks, and constructions were 100% accurate. His animals and natives, especially the children and women, were all distinct and recognisable – not the blacked-up stock figures in grass skirts even the greatest artists too often resorted to.

He also knew when to draw big and draw small: the internal dynamism of his work is spellbinding.

His Africa became mine, and of course the try-out comicbook was an instant hit. Marsh and Thompson’s Tarzan returned with two tales in Dell Four Color Comic #161, cover-dated August 1947. This was a remarkable feat: Four Colour was a catch-all title showcasing in rotation literally hundreds of different licensed properties, often as many as ten separate issues per month. So rapid a return engagement meant pretty solid sales figures…

In ‘The Fires of Tohr’ (adapted by Thompson from an unsold radio script), Tarzan and D’Arnot rescue a stranded professor and his niece as they search for a fabulous lost city, only to fall foul of the crazed queen of that ancient race, whilst in follow-up tale ‘Tarzan and the Black Panther’ the Lord of the Jungle crushes a modern slave trader who thinks himself beyond the reach of justice.

Within six months the bimonthly Tarzan #1 was released (January-February 1948), a swan-song for Thompson, but another unforgettable classic for Marsh – and the first of an unbroken run that would last until 1965: over 150 consecutive issues. In ‘Tarzan and the White Savages of Vari’ Greystoke rescued a lost prospector from a mountain kingdom of Neanderthals and the issue also featured the first of many pictorial glossaries, Tarzan’s Ape-English Dictionary, giving generations of youngsters another language to keep secrets in…

‘Tarzan and the Captives of Thunder Valley’ (Tarzan #2, March-April 1948) introduced a few more recurring characters such as Manu the monkey and noble great ape Gufta in the first of many tales written by Gaylord DuBois.

The Editor and prolific scripter (Lone Ranger, Lost in Space, Turok, Son of Stone, Brothers of the Spear and many more) would be Marsh’s creative collaborator for the next 19 years.

The story detailed how the Lord of the Jungle goes to the aid of an English boy searching for his father, a scientist specialising in radioactive ores. A sinister plot is duly uncovered that threatens to destabilise the entire world and concludes in a spectacular climax worthy of a Bond movie.

Issue #3 introduces Greystoke’s African family. In ‘Tarzan and the Dwarfs of Didona’ Jane is left to mind the store when Boy – later called Korak – plays with baboons and gets lost on an island in the Great Lake. Threatened with blood sacrifice by aggressive white pygmies, the dauntless lad can only wait for rescue – and a severe chastising…

In issue #4, (July-August 1948), ‘Tarzan and the Lone Hunter’ plunges the reader deeply into the fantastic worlds of Edgar Rice Burroughs as old friend Om-At the cat man from the lost land of Pal-Ul-Don (introduced in 8th novel Tarzan the Terrible) comes looking for his stolen mate and accidentally embroils the Ape-Man and his brood in a deadly battle with a megalomaniacal witch-doctor…

Two months later ‘Tarzan and the Men of Greed’ clashes in #5, as American gangsters unite with Arab slaver Hassan to steal Atlantean gold hidden in the vaults of the lost city of Opar. Their first move is to take Jane and Boy hostage, but they quickly learn that Clayton’s greatest asset is not his mighty limbs or bestial allies, but a cunning, devious brain…

Issue #6 returns to the primeval region of dinosaurs in ‘Tarzan and the Outlaws of Pal-Ul-Don’. The Jungle Lord and Boy are drawn beyond the Great Thorn Desert after beast-men abduct Jane and their quest soon sees Tarzan embroiled in a brutal civil war shaking that savage land…

More dinosaur delights are on offer in ‘Tarzan in the Valley of Monsters’ (#7) which sees an unsanctioned hot air balloon excursion dump Boy and his Waziri playmate Dombie in a secret valley infested with giant lizards and other antediluvian menaces. When Tarzan and Dombie’s dad Muviro fly after them in a plane, catastrophe ensues and the humans are forced into an arduous trek home across terrifying vistas and through lethal natural hazards…

Morris Gollub began illuminating the covers with #8 as ‘Tarzan and the White Pygmies’ finds the Greystoke, Muviro, Boy and Dombie still stranded far from home. As they laboriously traverse an immense mountain range, they are befriended by diminutive albino warriors and save their undiscovered city of Lipona from an invasion of predatory vultures…

In #9 our heroes resurface in Pal-Ul-Don where ‘Tarzan and the Men of A-Lur’ unite to save a bastion of civilisation from brutal insurrection whereas issue #10 provides two shorter, complete tales. Safely back in his home range ‘Tarzan and the Treasure of the Bolgani’ finds the erstwhile English Lord aiding Muviro after a band of city-dwelling gorillas abduct his fellow tribesmen. Then, Boy ignores adult warnings to mind his manners with the volatile monkeys and ends up in painful distress as ‘The Baboon’s King’

The Ape-Man makes new friends in #11 as ‘Tarzan and the Sable Lion’ sees him domesticate a magnificent feline predator before joining wandering warrior Buto in saving his captured tribe from the marauding slavers of Abou Ben Ephraim. ‘Tarzan and the Price of Peace’ in #12 then relates how the displaced English peer plays matchmaker, helping lovesick Kolu secure a bride-price for his beloved Leelah. Of course, the rich chief she was promised to has objections and many armed servants determined to make trouble…

Tarzan #13 (January-February 1950) opens a new era as a run of photo-covers – starring then-current movie Ape-Man Lex Barker – begins. Inside, ‘Tarzan and the Knight of Lyonesse’ has the heroic stalwart ally with Hal Hogarth, a knight errant of lost Crusader colony Carmel, founded 900 years previously by the followers of Richard the Lionheart.

The man out of time is on a quest to beard the Saracens for the honour of a fair lady and needs all the help he can get when the beastly revenants of Opar ambush him…

Balancing the high drama ‘Tarzan and the Ape-Hunter’ sees Greystoke dealing harshly with a ruthless trapper attempting to capture specimens of rare wildlife, whilst in #14 a return to the Valley of Monsters leads to another encounter with living history with ‘Tarzan and the Lost Legion’ detailing the discovery of an unknown Roman outpost, complete with its own power-crazed Imperator…

Backing up the epic ‘Tarzan and the Flying Chief’ adds light humour as a bullying native headman absconds with a small plane he cannot pilot and learns a most life-altering lesson…

‘Tarzan and the Cave Men’ is the lead in #15, revealing how a leisurely trip to Opar drops Tarzan into a plot by gigantic troglodytes to kidnap sublime Queen La, supplemented by ‘Tarzan and the Hunter’s Reward’ in which the Jungle Lord comes to the aid of another maiden being sold off in unwanted marriage.

This stunning paperback (and digital) compilation concludes with #16 (July-August 1950) ‘Tarzan and the Beasts in Armor’ as the wandering Lord revisits old ally Om-At and teaches Boy the finer points of training a triceratops, just as white outworlders attempt to conquer the primeval region. Then the marvels draw to a close as the indefatigable adventurer adds a colossal antelope to his collection of livestock and ends a nasty outbreak of human sacrifice in ‘Tarzan and the Giant Eland’.

Scattered throughout the fantastic fiction are educational features, back-cover pin-ups and information pages such as ‘Tarzan’s Friends’, ‘Jungle Animals’, ‘Tarzan’s Ape-English Dictionary’ and ‘Jungle World’, offering charming sidebars into the world of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ greatest creation.

Although these are tales from a far-off, simpler time they have lost none of their passion, inclusivity and charm, whilst the artistic virtuosity of Jesse Marsh looks better than ever. Perhaps this time a few more people will “get” him…
Edgar Rice Burroughs® Tarzan®: The Jesse Marsh Years Omnibus volume 1 © 1947, 1948, 1949, 1950, 2009 2017, Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc. Tarzan ® Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc. All rights reserved.