by Robert Greenberger
One of the nicer trends in publishing these days are the omnibus collections, giving us huge chunks of works by interesting creators or collecting stories that really work well in a single sitting. It also means if you missed the original publications, most of which are out of print, it’s a new chance. Joining in the growing library of such works is Dark Horse’s Tarzan: The Russ Manning Years Volume 1. This book collects Manning’s adaptations of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Apes, Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar, and Tarzan the Untamed.
Tarzan is one of those characters who has been blessed with being drawn by a stellar collection of artists and while it didn’t make them stars, they all seemed to arrive to drawn the Jungle Lord at the peak of their careers. The exception, of course, being Hal Foster, who was just getting started. After that you get Burne Hogarth, Joe Kubert, John Buscema and of course, Manning.
Russell George Manning was born in1929, the year Tarzan moved from pulps to newspaper strips, effectively inaugurating the straight adventure strip era. He first encountered Tarzan in a Big Little Book and grew up enraptured by the adventure heroes of pulps, strips, and movie serials. All along, he sketched, drew and finally studied art at Santa Monica Junior College and Los Angeles County Art Institute.
Interestingly, Manning was among the earliest Burroughs and comic fans, joining the N3F – National Fantasy Fan Federation and subscribed to the Burroughs Bulletin. He co-edited his own zine, Fan Artisan, and subsequently auditioned for Dell’s proposed John Carter of Mars comic which never materialized. He served in the Korean War as a map-maker and newspaper cartoonist and upon discharge, began working as assistant to Jesse Marsh, then drawing the Tarzan comic for Dell. His solo debut occurred with the Brothers of the Spear series, written by Gaylord DuBois, which ran in the back of Tarzan beginning with #39 in 1952. He went on to do uncredited work on countless Dell titles before creating Magnus Robot Fighter in 1963. At the same time, he and DuBois reteamed for the first eleven issues of Korak, Son of Tarzan. When Marsh took ill, Manning was the natural successor.
Manning took over the Tarzan comic book in 1965 where, for four strong years, he and DuBois adapted the novels and brought a clean style to the series. The stories collected here were first seen in Tarzan #155–161,#163, #164, #166, and #167.
The stories began in the pulps, telling the story of John Greystoke, orphaned in the African jungle and raised by apes until he was an accomplished athlete and hunter. The first book also gave us Jane Porter, soon to be married to the adventurer. Burroughs wisely began exploring this dark, still mysterious continent in the second book, which features the hero as an amnesic, caught plundering the treasure vaults of the lost city of Opar. When some of the stolen jewels are recovered by a hunter, it becomes a race to recover the jewels, Tarzan’s memory, and protect the lost city. The third story has Tarzan interacting with the horrors of World War I as an Englishman and a German spy arrive in the jungle. Oh yeah, there is a lost civilization of lion-men thrown in for good measure.
Manning is perhaps best known today for Magnus the Robot Fighter, but it’s his work on Burroughs’ immortal hero that has endured. Manning went from the comics to the comic strip from 1969 to 1972 (sticking with the Sunday page until 1979 when Star Wars stole him). Manning passed away in 1981.
Dark Horse first collected these beginning in 1999 and they are seriously overdue for being brought back into print for people who may only now be discovering the hero or the great artist.
Manning entered the Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2006 and Comic-Con International hands out the Russ Manning Most Promising Newcomer Award, honoring his contributions to the artform. You cannot go wrong picking this volume up and getting lost once more in these lush adventures.