Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Choose Your Favorite Tarzan

Tarzan is one of a few characters that emerged from serialized magazine stories to legendary status, where the character is known to most people (whether of not the stories were ever read) and virtually accepted as a true historical figure. I suppose Sherlock Holmes trumps Tarzan in this field, but not by a lot.

As the link above notes, Tarzan appeared on film as early as 1918, some six years after his first magazine appearance and four years after the first book. The Tarzan comic strip had to wait until 1929. Although several artists labored in the Tarzan jungle, the best known were active in the 1930s and 40s.

The originator was Hal Foster (1892-1982) who is usually associated with the long-running strip of his own creation, Prince Valiant. Burne Hogarth (1911-1996) took over Tarzan in the late 30s and continued it until 1950 (with a couple years off).

So who was the better visual interpreter of Tarzan: Foster or Hogarth? Consider the following illustrations:


By Foster
This is not from a strip, but indicates how Foster depicted the ape-man.

By Hogarth
An isolated view of Tarzan swinging through the jungle.

By Foster
Tarzan fights a lion.

By Hogarth
Tarzan fights a lion. Compare with Foster's version above.

The lion fight scenes demonstrate the difference between the artists. Hogarth is far more dramatic, Foster more static. Foster's Prince Valiant also was comparatively stately, even in the action scenes. Hogarth's scenes often had multiple bodies twisting in exaggerated action. Also twisting would be tree trunks and vines. If water was part of the scene it would likely be surging and splashing dramatically.

So whose Tarzan do I prefer? Foster's, of course. That's because his Tarzan is more believable as a human being.

Tarzan is a character that goes beyond plausibility. Foster keeps things normal enough that the implausible bits can be accepted. Hogarth takes the inherent implausibility and makes it even more so -- not that it ruined the popularity of the comic strip.

You opinion may differ, so express it in Comments. (Comments that I have to moderate. Be patient: your comment will appear eventually.)


Anonymous said...

I'll vote for Foster's more realistic depiction.

Speaking of Tarzan, he's surely one of the very few modern fictional characters to have a sizable city named after him.


Anonymous said...

Dear Sir
I vote for Joe Kubert.
All the best
/Mr Anonymous