Tarzan: In The City Of Gold by Burne Hogarth and Don Garden (graphic novel review).
These days, the late artist Burne Hogarth is seen as being somewhat legendary. Back in the 70s, there was little of his work available in the UK. I thought his teaching artbooks a little beyond those who sought them out thinking they’d be better comicbook artists because of them, mostly because the work there was mostly fine art techniques. Chucking yourself in and trying to learn by copying them without the proper live model studies must have stopped many a learner artist from going any further. Me? I had Andy Loomis books far earlier when I learnt to really draw.
I did buy Hogarth’s second ‘Tarzan’ graphic novel, ‘Jungle Tales Of Tarzan’ (1976) and was duly impressed by his technique but he wasn’t using fine art technique when his pencils had to be inked.
This book, ‘Tarzan: In The City Of Gold’, contains five and a half stories. The half, ‘In The City Of Gold’, is because the 25 year-old Hogarth took over the Sunday page when Hal Foster quit to do ‘Prince Valiant’. Although editor/compiler Scott Griffin explains the story so far to that point and a couple sample panels, I would have thought it would have made more sense to have had either the entire Foster part or at least another book featuring said artist on ‘Tarzan’ first if only for the completests who would want everything about the Lord of the Jungle.
As this is the first time that I’ve had an opportunity to see the early Hogarth work, several things struck me. Back in the 1920s, comicstrips weren’t done as we recognise them today. No speech balloons, just a few lines of script added to the art. This technique was still used a couple decades later with EC Comics, so that doesn’t really come as much of a surprise but don’t expect much in the way of delightful prose from writer Don Garden. Something that became apparent as I read that this material was long before the Comics Code Authority as the violence and murder went up in the various battles. Not too bloody but you could certainly see the death.
What was a surprise though was Hogarth’s technique. Think of the comicbook panel as a TV screen with the sound turned down and the camera level with the action. Although Hogarth occasionally fitted in a long distance view, often framed with the characters looking towards it, for all intents and purposes, he stuck to the linear angle. That is, everything is at eye-level and the bottom edge of the panel often as nearly the place where the characters rested their feet. There was never any of the various angles that we are used to seeing scenes, even back in the 1960s. This shouldn’t be used to blame Hogarth as for those who’ve seen Hal Foster’s artwork, knows he did a similar thing and the former was a fan of the latter. The point I’m making is don’t expect Hogarth to be either experimental or revolutionary at this time. His work is detailed and, as Griffin points out, Hogarth would spend up to six days on each page, which you can see from the detail and referencing.
With the story, ‘Tarzan And The Chinese’, Tarzan lost his leopard skin pants – not in that way! – and gained his more recognised leather-like loin cloth, albeit as shorts. Hogarth was also having a lot of finger pointing from the various characters. Granted the panels looked like a silent movie but the pointed finger emphasises so much, although this eases off a little as Tarzan faces off Orientals and even Amazons. Interestingly, Tarzan isn’t always in the middle of the action. He is sometimes a peacemaker and will find other solutions to problems of others. Occasionally, he will show 1920s morality. The only oddity is that when he is imprisoned, no one seems to think about taking his knife nor he to use it to escape.
Although these stories are broken up into sections, there is a continuous flow from one to the next. Considering that readers back then only had a page a week, it must have had an amazing following to keep going as it did. It’s a cert that the Hogarth and Tarzan completests will want to add this book to their collection. From my perspective, it’s interesting seeing how his art slowly evolves. His use of animals and various people shows he doesn’t rely too much on stereotypes although his main villains do have menacing eyes. Oh and Tarzan, in silent mode, only does his famous scream roar once.
(pub: Titan Books. 167 page graphic novel large hardback. Price: £29.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-783116-317-7)
check out website: www.titanbooks.com