Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Swinging with the Great Apes

Tarzan: The Joe Kubert Years Vol. 3
Dark Horse, July 2006, 216 Pages
ISBN-10: 1-59307-417-4

If you've read any of my other reviews on these collections of Joe Kubert's work (writing, editing, drawing) on the seventies Tarzan comics you'll probably be able to say the next few sentences in tandem with me. These are great comics that showcase unbelievable artwork with a vibrant ability to draw anatomy of all sorts.

These books are a truly fantastic tour de force of recreating figures – both human and animal – and showcasing the tools of the trade for any comic book artist or cartoonist. It's not just the rollicking adventures that make these books the perfect Sunday afternoon read, it's all about the art when it comes to Joe Kubert.

The stories are nothing to scoff at though. I mean, it is Tarzan after all so there's always some kind of knock out punch and at least one animal gets stabbed to death or thrown off a mountain per issue. The stories are old school comic serials that pack in the danger, excitement and adventure only found in today's comic book press releases and the occasional comic book outside the main-stream comic target. Presenting the plot is the other half of the equation here and Joe handles things in a way that seems lost to me these days. What I mean is that Joe seems to be both workman like in his approach yet with enough artistic flourishes to make these stories stand out.

On one hand Joe is showing us his life drawing chops but on the other Tarzan isn't always in some realistic repose but in some extremely dynamic leap across unknown jungles and fantastic creatures. The artwork, for me, is beautiful to look at but it also reveals the tools used to create it. Looking at the landscapes and the wilderness scenes I see both Tarzan's jungle or a hidden valley of lizard-men at the same time I see the pens and brushes used to ink the scenes. I know Kubert didn't always ink his own work, and that's not the point here, the point is that I get caught up in each panel on both a storytelling and technical level

Basically, these collections can be reduced to naked man running around wilderness to fight some kind of animal or, on occasion, dinosaur. You need to know human anatomy to accomplish this as much as you need access to a major zoo or The Discovery Channel to reproduce all these animals. But this isn't just a bunch of reproduced still life pictures, it's an extremely dynamic creation. Kubert manages to give Tarzan every possible type of pose and have them all come off pretty much perfectly. They aren't photo realistic but that's what makes him one of the best comic artists out there. These are representative images that allow for enough exaggeration because they aren't limited by trying to reproduce the limitations of real life but at the same time they capture the proportions and structure of the subject in such a way as to make them appear just as real as any photograph. Sometimes catching the idea works better than the real life image and that's what makes these books some of my favorite discoveries. They're essentially the core of what adventure comics should be – realistic enough to keep you believing but dynamic enough to keep you entertained and turning the pages.

Plus, Tarzan snaps the neck of a large cat or crocodile, on average, every two issues. In this volume there were also higher incidents of Tarzan stabbing dinosaurs in the eye.


The Fortress Keeper said...

I looove Kubert Tarzan.

The Dark Horse collections are yet another pile of awesomeness I have to someday find a way to purchase.

joncormier said...

Yep, they're pricey, but I'd say worth it. Although I have been just getting mine from the library due to my current financial situation.