REVIEW: TARZAN – IN THE CITY OF GOLD / AUTHOR: DON GARDEN / ARTIST: BURNE HOGARTH / PUBLISHER: TITAN BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Created by Edgar Rice Burroughs in 1912, Tarzan of the Apes remains quietly, enduringly popular, drifting in and out of the zeitgeist when occasionally reimagined for a new TV series or animated feature film. The main reason for Tarzan’s success is pretty simple: he is what he is and there’s nothing in the character’s fictional DNA which allows modern writers to tamper with him without turning him into an entirely different character. He’s the noble savage, a son of aristocratic British heritage orphaned and lost and raised by gorillas in the wild heart of Africa, growing into a mighty loin-clothed, tree-swinging adventurer. He’s the King of the Jungle and all he surveys.
Tarzan was an instant hit and this beautifully presented new coffee table book focuses on the classic weekly comic strips published by United Features Syndicate in the 1930s. Original artist Hal Foster quit the strip series in 1936 and was generally considered a tough act to follow. Chicago-born artist Burne Hogarth, just twenty-five when he took over the strip, stepped in and gave Tarzan’s adventures a new dramatic fluidity, and his illustrations of Tarzan’s Africa literally spring out of the page in vibrant, glorious colour. Hogarth took over the strip halfway through the ‘City of Gold’ storyline which gives this collection its title (many of the stories would run for months, ‘City of Gold’ itself stretching to 70 instalments) and his version of the strip – densely-packed, detailed frames bursting with action and often graphic violence – seems to chime with the image of Tarzan which remains to this day.
The stories themselves are simplistic, eventful affairs. Tarzan finds himself siding with besieged frontiersmen striking out across the African veldt and helping them fight off the advances of hostile savage tribes, battling vicious pygmy ‘lingoos’ and consorting with a tribe of shapely, spear-wielding Amazons. Intrigue and romance are here, too, as Tarzan is regularly the object of the affections of various supporting character ladies who swoon at his manly feet and fall instantly in love with him. There are human foes to fight as well in a tide of ruthless explorers and ruffians out to exploit raw Africa’s riches. Hogarth excels in depicting the landscape – all sharp-edged trees and rocky escarpments, dense forests and deep ravines – but his real strength is his depiction of the wild animals Tarzan befriends or battles. All manner of apes, baboons, lions and tigers crop up throughout the stories which not only anthropomorphise the creatures but also never shy from displaying the ugly, brutal violence they’re capable of. Frequently we see baboons and lions tearing people apart or clubbing them to death; blood flows freely and frequently in Burne Hogarth’s Tarzan world.
Utterly, unashamedly enjoyable if occasionally a little quaint and naïve (although perhaps not quite as uncomfortably racist as we might expect from strips nearly ninety years old and from an entire different world) In the City of Gold is rattling good escapist jungle fun, the first in a collection which will eventually make Hogarth’s entire Tarzan oeuvre fully available for the first time in decades. Here’s to the next one.