Celebrating Tarzan’s 101st anniversary by walking through Scott Tracy Griffin’s Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration.
Griffin covers the history of Tarzan in comic books from the character’s first appearance in Tip Top Comics #1 (above) to his current status at Dark Horse. True to the roots of comic books in general, the earliest Tarzan comics were simply reprints of his newspaper strips. United Features started running the Sunday strips in 1936 in Tip Top, while the dailies began getting colored and reprinted two years later in Comics on Parade.
In 1939, Dell got into the game with new adaptations of Burroughs stories starting in Popular Comics #38. It would also be Dell who published the first original Tarzan comic book story in 1947’s Four Color #134 with art by Jesse Marsh. Four Color was an ongoing anthology series in which each issue was devoted to a single character, but Tarzan got another issue that same year with #161 (the series wasn’t a strict monthly and often had multiple issues each month). Those issues sold so well that Dell gave Tarzan his own series, with Marsh still drawing it, the following year.
Marsh worked with writer Gaylor Dubois to create a new continuity for Dell’s Tarzan that combined elements of the Burroughs novels with those of the Johnny Weissmuller films. The series lasted 131 issues until the summer of 1962 when it switched over to Dell’s publishing partner Western and its Gold Key imprint. Gold Key kept Dell’s numbering and its Tarzan series ran another 75 issues until 1972. A major change in the Gold Key era was that Marsh retired in 1965 and his assistant Russ Manning began drawing the series.
In ’72, the Tarzan license went to DC. They changed the name to Tarzan of the Apes and identified the switch with a big, yellow bullet that said “First DC Issue.” But like Gold Key, they kept the numbering from the old series. Issue #207 featured a new adaptation of Burroughs’ first book with art by Joe Kubert. And though DC got a lot of mileage out of their five years with the Burroughsverse, they ultimately lost it to Marvel in 1977.
Marvel’s Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle – with art by John Buscema – ran 29 issues until 1979, at which point Tarzan comics ceased to be published in North America for more than a decade. Malibu published American editions of some European Tarzan comics in 1992, but it wasn’t until 1995 that Dark Horse got the license and began doing brand new stories again. In addition to a 20-issue ongoing series, they published numerous mini-series and crossovers in which Tarzan met up not only with other Burroughs characters like John Carter and Carson of Venus, but also Predators, Superman, and Batman.
Though Dark Horse still has the Tarzan license, it’s not currently publishing original Tarzan stories. Instead, it’s focusing on archival reprints of classic comics by guys like Marsh, Manning, and Kubert. I’m happy for those, but that leaves new Tarzan comics to Dynamite, who’s adapting Burroughs’ public domain Tarzan stories in its Lord of the Jungle series. I understand that those are very good (and have the first volume creeping its way up my reading pile), but I’m also eager for new, original tales. Hoping Dark Horse gets back to those soon.