Tarzan - And the Lost Tribes (Vol. 4) (The Complete Burne Hogarth Comic Strip Library) by Burne Hogarth and Rob Thompson

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Tarzan - And the Lost Tribes (Vol. 4) (The Complete Burne Hogarth Comic Strip Library) by Burne Hogarth and Rob Thompson

Category: Graphic Novels
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A book that does justice to some wonderful artwork – truly some of the best from the inked weeklies – but you do have to ignore some hokey writing to get there.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 112 Date: April 2017
Publisher: Titan Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781781163207

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Normally I turn against the most popular. If there's a book series that I know is, say, seven volumes long, I shrug and let people enjoy it. I've been bitten too often by series you think are complete being extended, for one, and the originator's death too often never puts the full stop you'd expect on things. But some franchises are much longer, but too important to ignore. Take, for example, the series (of series) surrounding Tarzan. Unless fully in the know, you will be surprised at just how many films there were back in the day. I'm not going to count up the number of official books he was in. He was also in comic strips, as you might expect, but for my sins they've never crossed my path until here. But boy isn't this just a wonderful way to see what I was missing…

One reason why you have to engage with Tarzan, and perhaps turn to these pages, is that there are actually several different Tarzans – and I don't just mean the actors from Hollywood, nor the stages of man he found himself in, from Lord, to ape-man, to paternal husband. No, here is quite a westernised man – the first of three adventures here involves a little bit of science and he's perfectly OK with instantly solving it; the second sees him bat ne'er an eyelid at the sight of a hijacked submarine, whether inside it or out. Arm-swinging lummox this man is not.

It's just a pity the writing here doesn't really honour the complexity that character could provide. Both the first two stories again combine, in featuring the threat of slavery down some mines – Tarzan has too much to do to create trouble at t'pit but he does have to protect his continent from the ravages of civilisation. But in this volume's centrepiece you get so much crammed in to proceedings, from hidden islands to gladiatorial combat, and this that and every bleedin' other tribe or jungle kingdom fighting each other, that I defy you to remember who's on whose side and why. It does your head clear in, for all the wrong reasons.

What also struck me when reading this was the dearth of impact at times when you'd expect a cliff-hanger. To some extent the volume itself bears that out – there's a contents page, yes, but no fanfare when each story stops and starts anew, but the original strips from the weekly funnies supplements, even if they were to be digested a page per week, so often just pause. Sometimes the most heightened drama and the nearest thing to a cliff-hanger is in the smallest panel, tucked away centre-left. I guess this is a sign of the times – I'm not completely au fait with newspaper strips from the mid-to-late 1940s, you'll be surprised to hear – and partly I assume down to the very disposable nature of these works. They were designed to be absorbed in small patches, and to provide a worthwhile ongoing narrative but never to take the time and to deserve the investment of even the Saturday morning cinema serials. And a lot of publishers would have hacked at them, resized panels here, dropped panels there, and completely bowdlerised the originals to fit their pages.

Which on this evidence is a cardinal sin. I did use the verb 'see' to make the distinction with 'read' earlier – the stories here are a little too weak and unengaging for my taste (again, that could be their age). I'm more concerned with the visual side of things – this is after all part of an archive of the artist's oeuvre, not the author's – and the visuals are wonderful. Forget that, they're among the best I've seen anywhere. The introduction allows us the rare chance to see some of the creator's work as finished penned panels, before the colouring has arrived, and even in monochrome you see something of wonder. The line is so assured and convincing; the arrangement of every panel is spot-on; and while the panels bear what many ages of comic-dom would think of as too much ink and not enough space for the visuals to breathe, that's not actually the case. You get so much detail in the ink work, and so much craftsmanship, not because the artist was paid the big bucks or had ages to do it, and certainly not because he felt the script deserved it, but, you sense, because that was all he knew to do.

Just drop in here, anywhere. Tarzan's leopard-skin briefs (although, this being of that age, there's little brief about them) are all hand-drawn, not patterned by template. Nothing is allowed to be absent, nor any space to be wasted. No, here all the animals ring true, all the leaves of the foliage seem real, and everything convinces – even when Viking horned helmets turn up in the South Pacific. Added to that the colouring is still superlative in itself, meaning this, visually, is a knock-out. I don't want to belabour the point, but this is artwork to fall in love with, however trashy its accompaniment.

It's a shame, then, the book doesn't quite archive that brilliance in such an authoritative manner. Take the caption on one spread (pp60-61) giving the wrong title to the story above, and the various ways in which the third story has its name spelled. I might not mention such things if I didn't now care so much about the visuals. So forget the striped death, ignore the crocodile fights as repetitive as those shown shot-for-shot in consecutive movies, and scoff at the truly WTF-ness of the baddies in the third story, and just revel in seeing some strips that show every other one from their time, and a heck of a lot since, in a very bad light indeed.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

This house is also responsible for archiving Modesty Blaise, another oft-forgotten franchise, in books such as Children of Lucifer: Modesty Blaise by Peter O'Donnell and Enric Badia Romero.

Buy Tarzan - And the Lost Tribes (Vol. 4) (The Complete Burne Hogarth Comic Strip Library) by Burne Hogarth and Rob Thompson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Tarzan - And the Lost Tribes (Vol. 4) (The Complete Burne Hogarth Comic Strip Library) by Burne Hogarth and Rob Thompson at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Tarzan - And the Lost Tribes (Vol. 4) (The Complete Burne Hogarth Comic Strip Library) by Burne Hogarth and Rob Thompson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Tarzan - And the Lost Tribes (Vol. 4) (The Complete Burne Hogarth Comic Strip Library) by Burne Hogarth and Rob Thompson at Amazon.com.


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