Shelf Life: Something Burroughs, Something New

Thu, November 14th, 2013 at 2:58pm PST | Updated: November 14th, 2013 at 3:21pm

Comic Books
Ron Marz, Columnist

New Tarzan adventures are being created by Roy Thomas and Tom Grindberg (top), while comic veterans Chuck Dixon and Tom Lyle visit "Pellucidar" every week.
I grew up on the work of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Yes, I also grew up on J.R.R. Tolkien, and Robert E. Howard, but there was so much more Burroughs to consume: 11 novels in the Mars series, 26 Tarzan books, as well as multiple titles in the Venus, Earth Core's and Land That Time Forgot series. I devoured all of them.

There's a magic age between about 10 and 13 or so, the prime years of discovery. You're still young enough to be swept away by wonder, but not old enough to be tainted by cynicism. The things we discovery at that age are apt to remain with us, vital and cherished, for the remainder of our lives. Certainly at that age I had my nose buried in issues of "Uncanny X-Men" and "Avengers," as well as "Savage Sword of Conan." But I'm sure I read more pages of Edgar Rice Burroughs than anything else.

I loved them all, from the planetary adventures on Mars and Venus, to the savage, dinosaur-laden lands of Pellucidar and Caspak, to the fabulous Africa of Tarzan. I even loved the Westerns and the historical adventures, especially "The Outlaw of Torn." I sought out the B-movie glory of "At the Earth's Core" and "The Land That Time Forgot" at Saturday matinees, basking in the Doug McClure-ness of them. Well, actually, more like basking in the Caroline Munro-ness of "The Land That Time Forgot."

The first serious career notion I ever had (after deciding third baseman for the Mets was probably not in my future) was to be a novelist. I wanted to write planetary romances, patterned after the John Carter series that had such a profound impact on me. I wanted to be Edgar Rice Burroughs.

That's not exactly how my career path turned out, though obviously I have no complaints. And I have some stories in me that work better as prose than comics, so at least a few novels will happen someday. But all of it started with my imagination being stoked by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and I owe him an inestimable debt.

Whenever I'm asked what character I'd like to write, I've always said my unfulfilled comics ambition is writing a Tarzan monthly series. Or better yet, a Tarzan/John Carter flip book. I got a chance to scratch that itch, albeit briefly, when I wrote the "Batman/Tarzan" crossover from DC and Dark Horse. It remains one of my favorite projects ever, thanks to the characters and 1930s setting, as well as the perfectly pulpy art of Igor Kordey. (Though the first artist offered the project was the legendary Joe Kubert, who was intrigued enough to seriously consider it before declining due to duties at the Kubert School.)

"The Land That Time Forgot" features scripts by Martin Powell and art by Pablo Marcos (top); Edgar Rice Burroughs himself appears in the opening chapter of "Tarzan of the Apes" by Roy Thomas and Pablo Marcos, adapting the original novel.

A "Batman/Tarzan" sequel was discussed, a story bringing Tarzan and his golden lion, Jad-bal-ja to a circus in Gotham City, where they and Batman would encounter an orphaned acrobat and a clown who was more than a little crazy. There was even discussion of a John Carter/Superman project, with Kal-El's rocket landing on Barsoom rather than Earth. But much to my disappointment, neither project could be agreed upon at the corporate level.

Now I'm getting another chance to delve into the worlds of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Hopefully I can pay forward some of the debt I owe him, and help ensuing generations discover some of his magic.

The official website of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. (which is still headquartered in offices in Tarzana, CA) has started publishing weekly, Sunday-style comic strips on its website. The idea is to digitally recapture the feel of reading the Sunday newspaper "funnies," and expose a new audiences to the breadth of the ERB catalog, everything from Tarzan to Pellucidar and back again.

I'm writing two strips: "The Mucker," drawn by Lee Moder, and "Korak the Killer," drawn by Bart Sears. Color for both strips will be provided by Neeraj Menon, who is coloring Bart's art for "The Protectors" from Athleta Comics. "The Mucker" will debut within the next month, while "Korak" will begin appearing early in the new year. Our two strips join eight others currently available on the Burroughs site:

  • "Tarzan of the Apes" by Roy Thomas and Pablo Marcos, adapting the original Tarzan novels.
  • "Tarzan" by Roy Thomas and Tom Grindberg, featuring new Tarzan adventures.
  • "Carson of Venus" by Martin Powell and Tom Floyd.
  • "The Eternal Savage" by Martin Powell and Steven E. Gordon.
  • "The War Chief" by Martin Powell and Nik Poliwko.
  • "The Cave Girl" by Martin Powell and Diana Leto.
  • "Pellucidar" by Chuck Dixon and Tom Lyle.
  • "The Land That Time Forgot" by Martin Powell and Pablo Marcos.

The first four episodes of each strip are available for free on the site. The strips are offered on a subscription basis, for a monthly fee of $1.99. Meaning that every month, you get practically double the page count of a standard comic, for half the price of a standard comic.

Ron's sister bought him a copy of "Korak" #47, the second DC issue, when he was a little boy; Igor Kordey's cover painting for the Batman-Tarzan collection wound up in the collection of System of a Down drummer John Dolmayan.

"The Mucker" is a departure from much of the other Burroughs catalog in that the protagonist is not cut from the same cloth as heroes like Tarzan and John Carter. Billy Byrne is neither noble-born, nor an honor-bound gentleman. He is a scoundrel, a streetwise scrapper, and because of that, one of ERB's most intriguing leads. The setting of "The Mucker" is contemporary to when Burroughs wrote the novels, so it's classic pulp adventure. The story globe-trots from Chicago to the Far East to Mexico.

"The Mucker" isn't as well known as many of the other Burroughs creations, but the novels that comprise the story generally are considered to be among ERB's best works. Since the story is unfamiliar to much of the audience, "The Mucker" strip will be a direct adaptation of the novels. To my knowledge, this will be the first time "The Mucker" has been presented in comics.

Korak, on the other hand, has a long comics history, with series at both DC and Gold Key. Korak is, of course, Tarzan's son -- his literary son, not the cinematic contrivance of "Boy" introduced in the Johnny Weissmuller films.

I remember my sister buying me "Korak" #47, the second DC issue, at a corner market when she was babysitting me. I couldn't have been more than 6 or 7 years old, but the Joe Kubert cover, showing Korak locked in struggle with a crocodile, jumped out at me from the rack. That image is still burned into my memory, so it's not a coincidence that Tarzan and Batman literally were thrown to crocs in the crossover I wrote. Honestly, it's not a coincidence that Batman ended up fighting a croc in the "Batman-Aliens" crossover I wrote. One of the Bernie Wrightson original pages from that sequence is framed on my office wall.

I'd been hoping to hang Igor Kordey's cover painting for the Batman-Tarzan collection on my wall too. Igor donated the original to a Hero Initiative auction held a number of years ago at MegaCon in Orlando. I was in on the bidding, but topped after every bid. I began to realize it was the same guy outbidding me every time. No matter how high I went on the painting, he went higher. Then someone pointed out that my bidding rival was System of a Down drummer John Dolmayan, a serious collector of comic art. Short version: the piece is in John's collection, not mine.

Ron Marz will write "Korak the Killer" with art by Bart Sears, and "The Mucker" with art by Lee Moder, both based on Burroughs' work

I'll hopefully console myself with a Bart Sears original from our "Korak" strip. Those adventures will be completely new stories, with Korak on the cusp of adulthood, rather than a teen. Bart and I aren't interested in doing Tarzan-lite, so we'll work to establish Korak as his own character, not merely a reflection of his father. We'll also be embracing the more fantastical elements of ERB's Africa. There will be lost cities, dark sorcery and fearsome creatures. We can't wait.

Breathing some life into properties that are a century old might not be the most high-profile undertaking. Certainly no one is getting rich off these strips. The rates are modest, though obviously so is the subscription cost. At a slim $2 a month, it's less than the price of the cup of coffee you'll sip while reading the strips on a Sunday morning.

The whole thing is being done for the right reasons. For the best reason, in fact: for the love of the characters and their creator. I really hope you'll subscribe and join us.

Ron Marz has been writing comics for two decades, and thinks it's pretty much the best job ever. His current work includes "Witchblade" and the graphic novel series "Ravine" for Top Cow, "The Protectors" for Athleta Comics and his creator-owned title, "Shinku," for Image. Follow him on Twitter (@ronmarz) and his website, www.ronmarz.com.

Lee Moder's pencil studies, as he gets a feel for Billy Byrne, the rough-and-tumble protagonist of "The Mucker."

TAGS:  shelf life, ron marz, edgar rice burroughs, the mucker, korak the killer, lee moder, bart sears, neeraj menon

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