Tarzan 101 | Tarzan and the Golden Lion

Celebrating Tarzan’s 101st anniversary by walking through Scott Tracy Griffin’s Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration.

Tarzan and the Golden Lion picks up where Tarzan the Terrible left off. Because it’s a spoiler, Scott Tracy Griffin doesn’t mention in his Tarzan the Terrible summary that Tarzan and Jane’s son, Korak shows up at the end to rescue his parents, but the young man is with them as The Golden Lion picks up. The three of them are returning to familiar jungle when they encounter an orphaned lion cub that Tarzan adopts and names Jad-bal-ja (“The Golden Lion” in the language of Pal-ul-don, which Tarzan seems to have taken to).

When the family gets home to their estate, they find it repaired (after its destruction two books ago in Tarzan the Untamed) by their Waziri friends and some employees. Unfortunately though, WWI has depleted Tarzan’s funds, so the ape man undertakes another trip to the lost city of Opar to replenish his wealth. The villain of the book is the Greystoke’s former maid who has teamed up with a Tarzan lookalike named Esteban Miranda in hopes of also getting gold from Opar. Shenanigans ensue and Tarzan ends up rescuing La from her own subjects and escaping into the neighboring valley. There, they’re captured by the bolgani, a race of talking gorillas, but neither Esteban Miranda nor Jad-bal-ja are out of the story just yet.

Griffin doesn’t provide a lot of background detail for The Golden Lion. It looks like after Tarzan the Terrible, Burroughs found a groove and kept on writing. Griffin does offer a supplementary chapter on lions though. Burroughs was extremely fond of them (and even had a couple of cubs as pets at one point, given to him by a film producer) and worked them into all but two of the Tarzan novels. He also included them in his other work like The Lost Continent and even created a cult of lion-worshipers in Thuvia, Maid of Mars.

Though Tarzan starts off in an adversarial relationship with Numa (a name Burroughs believed he subconsciously cribbed from a Roman emperor) in the early books, he forms a bond with a black lion in Tarzan the Untamed. And Jad-bal-ja of course would become a lasting companion, reappearing in several other novels later on, including the one we’ll look at next.

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Tarzan 101 | Tarzan the Terrible

Celebrating Tarzan’s 101st anniversary by walking through Scott Tracy Griffin’s Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration.

Hey, look! It’s my comic book birth sign! (I have an ascendant one too, but this ain’t that.)

In 1920, Edgar Rice Burroughs was just about out of ideas. According to Scott Tracy Griffin, Burroughs wrote a letter to his editors saying that he’d written every possible scenario in the Tarzan books. Fortunately, a fan sent him some newspaper clippings about a prehistoric creature that had been reported in the swamps of central Africa. The lightbulb went on and Burroughs went back to work.

The result was Tarzan the Terrible, in which Tarzan tracks the German villain from Tarzan the Untamed whom Tarzan suspects has abducted Jane. The ape man follows them to a hidden valley called Pal-ul-Don, a land filled with dinosaur-like creatures such as the man-eating, underwater triceratops called the Gryf. It’s the valley’s inhabitants who give Tarzan the title, “Tarzan-jad-guru,” or “Tarzan the Terrible.”

As Griffin points out in his supplementary chapter on “Dinosaurs in Africa,” the name Gryf brings to mind the bird-like griffin; appropriate considering the dinosaurs’ evolutionary legacy in general and the triceratops’ beaked mouth in particular.

Thank God for writers block and weird fans, because with Tarzan the Terrible, Burroughs found his groove and pulped the heck out of the series. It was a short jump from there to ant-men, lost colonies of the Roman Empire, and the earth’s hollow core.

Incidentally, if you’d like to read the comic behind the cover above, ERBzine has the whole thing scanned in for you.

Please consider pre-ordering Kill All Monsters, Volume 1: Ruins of Paris

That there is page 244 from the April issue of the Previews catalog. Looks like something exciting might be coming to comics stores in June.

I say “might be” because for that to happen, shops have to order it. As exciting as it is that Kill All Monsters, Volume 1 is in the catalog, that really doesn’t mean anything unless the stores order. Jason and I are doing our best to get the word out, but nothing tells a retailer that they should stock a comic like customers coming in and telling them they want it.

If you’d like your very own, printed copy of Kill All Monsters and aren’t able to make it to a convention to buy it from me or Jason directly, please consider pre-ordering it at your comic shop. If they’re like mine, you don’t even have to pay for it until it shows up. But it’ll help your shop to know there’s an interest. It might also help them to know that the item code is APR130764, so feel free to pass that along if it’s convenient.

As another way of spreading the word, I’ve got a PDF version of the entire book that I’d love to send to anyone who’ll promise to review it. Just email me at michaelmay at michaelmay dot us and I’ll make sure you get one.

Thanks, everyone!

The spiritual side of writing

Sorry about not posting yesterday. I got back from FablesCon Sunday night and immediately went to work on writing it up for Robot 6. That, plus just being gone all weekend, didn’t leave any time for here.

I won’t go over again how much I loved the convention as a whole, but I can go into more detail about the effect it had on me. At some point over the weekend, I tweeted that the cumulative effect of the panels was “incredibly inspirational for storytelling. Like, spiritually so.” What I meant was that being in the same room with experienced writers like Kurt Busiek, Mike Carey, Peter Gross, and Chris Roberson – and listening to these guys talk about not just writing, but storytelling in general – kind of filled up my tanks.

Writing is a lot of fun for me, but I don’t always feel passionate about it. I discipline myself to write every day whether I feel like it or not, and that keeps me productive, but though I always enjoy writing as I’m doing it, there are times when I don’t really want to sit in that chair. I’ve also developed disciplines to help me organize my stories and keep them on track and that’s all really good. I need that, because I’m not that disciplined by nature, but it can get stifling.

At FablesCon, I got a lot of permission to let loose and just enjoy the flow of ideas. Roberson, Carey, and Gross talked a lot about it (Matt O’Keefe has a good write-up of that particular panel at The Beat) with Carey even saying that he doesn’t teach three-act structure anymore in his workshops. Carey also poked holes in other writing conventions, like the idea that characters can steal control of a story from the writer (he writes more about that on his Good Reads blog, which is now in my bookmarks). He admits to being a very organized, outline-using writer, but he also lets himself play, as does Roberson. Their excitement about telling stories was contagious and motivating.

I want more of that and I think my experience at FablesCon showed me a way to get it. I got to chat with Roberson a couple of times in addition to attending some of his panels and was blown away by how well-read he is. I’m pretty good at consuming large quantities of stories, but Roberson makes me want to be a better, pickier reader. Though I don’t do much linkblogging anymore, I still tend to read the Internet that way: scouring for details about comics and movies that I’m not even interested in. That time could be better spent on a critical essay or two; or even watching Life of Pi, which I understand has some deeply profound things to say about the power of stories.

In fact, I’m going to add Life of Pi to the top of my Netflix queue right now, because if it’s everything I hear it is, I have post in me about it and Roberson’s famous quote about Superman and Jesus. Thanks to FablesCon, I’m starting to realize how much of a spiritual activity storytelling is and I want to think and discover more about that.

Tarzan 101 | Tarzan the Untamed

Celebrating Tarzan’s 101st anniversary by walking through Scott Tracy Griffin’s Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration.

In 1918, World War I was nearing its conclusion, but anti-German sentiment was still running high in the United States. Edgar Rice Burroughs wasn’t immune and let those feelings influence his books from that period, from The Land That Time Forgot to Tarzan the Untamed.

Tarzan the Untamed is actually two, shorter novels that were serialized in different magazines. Tarzan and the Huns showed up in Red Book in the spring and summer of 1919; Tarzan and the Valley of Luna came out in All-Story a year later. None of his editors were all that thrilled about his politicizing Tarzan, but by then no one was going to stop him either. I haven’t read it, but reviews suggest that it’s one of the weaker entries in the series, not only because it switches plots in the middle, but also because Tarzan loses something of his noble heroism.

The story begins with Tarzan’s return to his jungle plantation after visiting British East Africa. He finds his home destroyed by German troops with the body of a woman he believes to be Jane burned in the wreckage. That sends the ape-man into a rage and he enters the war, helping the British defeat the Germans in Africa (something that didn’t actually happen in the real war). Sort of Burroughs’ version of Inglorious Basterds.

Like Marvel Comics and DC with Spider-Man and Superman, Burroughs had decided that it had been a mistake to marry off his hero and was attempting to undo that by killing off Jane in Tarzan and the Huns. By the time he was wrapping up Valley of Luna though, his editors and family had convinced him that that was a mistake, so he wrote himself a way out that leads into the next novel.

In Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration, Griffin includes a chapter on Jane after the one on Tarzan the Untamed, talking about her transformation in the novels from damsel-in-distress to self-reliant hero, but also how none of the movies or TV shows really wanted to mess with her for too long. In fact, she wasn’t initially supposed to recover from that spear she got in the back in Tarzan Finds a Son, but Burroughs – perhaps thinking of Tarzan the Untamed – got the filmmakers to change their mind.