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‘Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan: The Sunday Comics Volume 1, 1931-1933’ - Advance Hardcover Review

Tarzan: The Sunday Comics 1931-1933, published by Dark Horse, is a time capsule just waiting to be cracked open and poured over by eager, interested eyes.  The first Tarzan newspaper strip ran in 1929, and a full-page, color Sunday comic began running shortly thereafter in 1931.  Hal Foster, who did all of the artwork in this collection, was not the artist that originally started the Sunday comic, though he was the first artist to draw the regular Tarzan strip, and was also Tarzan’s creator Edgar Rice Burroughs’ preferred artist.  This book begins on September 27, 1931, about seven months into the Sunday comics run, with Hal Foster’s first Sunday comic, part one of the thirteen part Hawk of the Desert.  This story, like the other multiple date-spanning stories, are heavily serialized, providing insight into the ways stories were told and presented back in the 1930s.  The storytelling may come off as melodramatic or ham-fisted at times, but, again, that was the style of the 1930s.  The rousing bravado was the perfect rebuff of The Great Depression, giving people an honorable, honest, and strong hero to root for in Tarzan, and taking them on exciting and exotic adventures that let them escape their everyday worries.    

Featuring a handful of single-page stories and eight serialized tales, including the three-part epic The Egyptian Saga, this book is full of grand adventure, derring-do, romance, humor, and more than a few out-dated racial faux pas, both in the writing and the art, but such is often the work of an entirely different time.  Thankfully, Dark Horse leaves the original content intact, and while we may grimace at points due to the wording or art when it involves slaves or African tribesmen, it also allows us to see how far we have come as a society.  The art is detailed and realistic, and some of the panels have wonderfully exquisite backgrounds.  The color really adds a kick to the art, and the pages are bright and filled with multiple colors, even when it comes to solid backgrounds, so we never get bored or lulled into a sense of repetition.  Oftentimes, I was amazed by just how much Foster was able to cram into a panel, and sometimes into a page.  Each Sunday page has a vibrant title panel, with the classic Tarzan logo, the name of that week’s adventure, and artwork that sets the scene, features an exciting moment from what is about to be experienced, or actually starts the story.

Tarzan: The Sunday Comics 1931-1933 is the introduction by comics historian and writer Mark Evanier.  He charts not only the creation of the newspaper strip and the Sunday page, but also spends time discussing how both Foster and Burroughs got their start.  Truly, I wish there were more incredible history and unknown facts peppered throughout the book, as well as a reference to which books or stories the comic serializations were adapted from.  This is something that may be obvious to a more learned Tarzan fan, but still piques the curiosity of a casual fan.  There is plenty to relish in, though, and it is remarkable to be able to step back in time to when Tarzan the Ape-Man was a staple in the popular culture and when high drama and sweeping adventure seamlessly went hand in hand.  Add to that the real-life story of Foster told by Evanier, which helps put the whole book in context, and relays just how successful Tarzan was, and you have a fantastic find for anyone interested in pulp heroes, classic adventure tales, or the progression of the comic strip medium over the ages.  

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