Tarzan: The Russ Manning Newspaper Strips Vol. One [Review]

tarzanc 001

From IDW’s Tarzan: The Complete Russ Manning Strips Volume One

If you want several hours of pure entertainment sandwiched between hard covers, the Tarzan comics of Russ Manning will do the trick.

Manning is one of the great underrated artists of comics. Any short list of the masters of the dramatic strip would include Hal Foster (Prince Valiant), Alex Raymond (Flash Gordon), and Milt Caniff (Terry and the Pirates), but you could put Russ Manning right after them. He was younger than the big three and worked later, so his name isn’t as well known. When he’s remembered, it’s usually for two things.

The first is the deliriously awesome Magnus, Robot Fighter 4000 AD, a Gold Key comic book series in which you’ll routinely find things like a muscular man in a cocktail dress zipping down icy slopes in rocket skies while killing robots by punching them in the neck.

You thought I was kidding?

You thought I was kidding?*

Honestly, you need to have this now.

The other Manning works that people still read are his Tarzan strips and adaptations. From 1965 to 1968, Manning drew the official comic versions of ten of the first eleven Tarzan novels for Gold Key. He was determined in all his work to be faithful to the original vision of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and his work captures Tarzan as he was written, not as he appeared in the films.

This fidelity to the source material led the Burroughs estate to choose Manning as the writer and artist who would revive the flagging newspaper strips. From 1969 to 1972 he was responsible for both daily and Sunday strips, and he continued doing the Sundays until 1979, when he began work on the Star Wars newspaper strip for a brief stint. He was assisted on Tarzan by Bill Stout, Mike Royer, and Dave Stevens.

The first of four books collecting Manning’s newspaper run is called Tarzan: The Complete Russ Manning Newspaper Strips Volume One: 1967-1969 (IDW: 2013). It gathers all the dailies and Sundays from December 1967 through October 1969. (In most strips, dailies and Sundays had different continuities because not all subscribers who got the Sunday also purchased the daily.)2013-02-PR-Tarzan

The dailies section includes two year-long continuities: Tarzan, Jad-Ben-Otho and Tarzan and the Renegade. Manning’s mastery of the medium is absolute in these strips, and the balance of character, narrative, and action is handled flawlessly. He signals his return to a more authentic Tarzan in the very first panel, where he has the character says “Too long have I adventured in strange lands! It is time I returned to the best land of all—home.” This Tarzan is articulate, thoughtful, and responsible. He has a grown son named Korak, and shows real concern for his African neighbors. Indeed, one of the notable elements of Manning’s work is the respectful depiction of Africans.

The plots of both stories are too complex to relate in any detail. The first finds Tarzan back in Pellucidar, where primitive tribes, cavemen, and dinosaurs are all at war. The second begins with a faux revolution, then veers into sheer madness with the appearance of a race of creepy winged men who need human women to reproduce. Yeah, it’s pretty icky, actually, even though Manning does his best to keep things family friendly. There’s even a moral conundrum towards the end that’s fairly sophisticated for a daily strip.

The Sunday strips are gathered in the back, and constitute three shorter stories, beginning with the wonderfully bizarre Tarzan Returns to the Land of the Ant Men. Manning was adapting the tenth Burroughs Tarzan novel, Tarzan and the Ant Men, for Gold Key around the same time, so this continuity makes a nice little coda to the original. The Return of Dagga Ramba is a delightfully bonkers story about an old enemy using “a method of manipulating relativity that is utterly unknown to modern science” to turn men in human-animal hybrids resembling ancient Egyptian gods. The book ends with Korak and the Elephant Girls, which relies too much on a ersatz Scooby Doo plot twist you can see coming from a mile away.

Manning draws a beautiful line, and makes superb use of blacks and grays. His figures offer the detail of the finest dramatic strips, while his layouts have a naturally dramatic, cinematic quality. And his pacing is phenomenal. At one point, there’s an intricate chase that would have played out over two months of daily installations. That’s a high level of suspense for anyone to maintain.

The book itself is wonderfully made, with art shot straight from the Edgar Rice Burroughs Estate file copies. Two introductions offer background on both artist and subject—one by Manning’s assistant William Stout and one about Burroughs and Tarzan by Hengry G. Franke III. The book lists for $50, but you can find it on Amazon for about $35.

tarzan 001All images from IDW’s Tarzan: The Russ Manning Newspaper Strips Vol. One
except * from Magnus, Robot Fighter Archives Volume 1 (Dark Horse)

 

Presentation at the Temple (Lorenzetti)

Blessed Feast of the Presentation! The feast is also called Candlemas, for the tradition of blessing the beeswax candles on this day.

Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s gigantic 1342 masterpiece depicting the presentation of the Lord at the temple rewards close study. Here’s the whole thing:
Ambrogio_Lorenzetti_-_The_Presentation_in_the_Temple_-_WGA13480

 

And details:

Jesus, held by Simeon, sucks on his fingers

Jesus, held by Simeon, sucks on his fingers

Priest prepares the sacrifice.

Priest prepares the sacrifice.

Mary holds his swaddling cloth

Mary holds his swaddling cloth

Joshua

Joshua

Moses

Moses

“Ancients” Flying Around On Little Propeller Chairs UPDATED

I’ll be honest, I have no idea what’s going on here [NOTE: solved, see below]:

2015-01-19 23.07.06Here’s the entire page, which is an illumination from an MS of the Commentary on the Apocalypse by Beatus.

The floating heads don’t help matters.

2015-01-19 23.07.06

Here’s the previous page:

2015-01-19 23.07.51

And the facing page:

recto

It’s a commentary on Revelation 4:3, with the red text at the top reading:

Et qui sedebat similis erat aspectui lapidis jaspidis, et sardinis: et iris erat in circuitu sedis similis visioni smaragdinae.

That is:

And he that sat, was to the sight like the jasper and the sardine stone; and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.

I think the art depicts the “four and twenty seats” of Revelation 4:4, showing the “ancients” not the apostles as I first thought, although they’re not quite “clothed in white garments.”

But why do their seats have propellers? Or windmills? Or crosses? Or whatever they are?

And, as Larry D rightly wondered, why sixteen floating/decapitated heads?

UPDATE:

The folks at the incredible British Library Medieval Manuscript blog tweeted to say these are chairs and draw my attention to an illumination of the same passage in their own collection: The Silos Apocalypse. Here’s a detail from it:

f83rbritmuseum

Those chairs are sadly propellerless.

SOLVED-ISH: It’s possible that what appear to be propellers are merely X-shaped supports for some kind of bench or camp stool.

UPDATE: Twitterer Graowf did the digging and solved the mystery with a link to a guy who’s “really into chairs“:

The sella curulis was a seat of authority, for army commanders and state rulers. This remained so throughout the Middle Ages: miniatures in medieval manuscripts show kings and abbots seated on a folding chair. Often these are adorned with draperies and cushions, and equipped with a foot stool. Even Lucifer (the ‘authority’ of Hell) had its own ‘living’ folding chair.

A Game for Training Missionaries About Indigenous Cultures

The World of Playing cards is a terrific site with reproductions of historic cards from around the world. Most recently, they  shared Snapshots: A Missionary Card Game from the Church Mission Society circa 1910. It’s described as a basic set-building game of 48 cards with 12 sets from representing different cultural practices around the world. Each set has four cards, each of a different color, showing some aspect of culture in Japan, Sudan, and so on. The goal is to prepare the missionaries to work in these places as they preach the Gospel.

870_church-missionary-11

 

You can find more at World of Playing Cards.

Dante: Mohammed in Hell

The attacks yesterday were meant to do more than just “punish” particular cartoonists and writers for insulting Mohammed. They were intended to make sure others think twice about ever doing something similar.

And they will be amazingly effective. The journalist class–with a few notable exceptions such as the people of Charlie Hebdo–are notorious cowards when it comes to calling out people who might actually harm them. Witness this stunning example:

habdoOther than craven cowardice, what possible reason could there be for blurring the Mohammed picture but not the offensive Jewish caricature?

And Charlie Hebdo’s work often was offensive. I don’t agree with their anti-religious agenda, but it’s one they certainly must be allowed to express without fear.

Mainstream outlets like the NY Daily News know they they can offend Jews and Christians with impunity, and so we can expect a bizarre disconnect between those criticized and mocked and held up as evil, intolerant, and violent by the elites (that would be Christians, and sometimes Jews) and the actual perpetrators of much of the mindless violence in the world (that would be Muslims). The Islamic world is certainly dominated by peace-loving people, but a statistically significant portion of them are violent savages, and we do civilization no favors by pandering to their hothouse feelings. They’re well overdue for some insensitivity training.

The attacks aim at changing our behavior. Because people react in the face of violence, many will change their behavior. But since we are agents with freewill, we can choose the nature of that reaction and that change.

And I choose to offend.

I don’t do it out of indifference to the deeply held beliefs of good people. I don’t care much when people offend my beliefs, but I do judge them and hold them in low regard, and Muslims are invited to do so with me. The anti-Catholic and anti-Christian cartoons of Charlie Hebdo say something about the cartoonists who drew them, but nothing at all about my faith. As CS Lewis wrote: “A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word, ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.”

So I offer today a selection from arguably the greatest work of literature ever created by the hand of man: The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri. In Canto 28, Dante places Mohammed and his son-in-law Ali in hell, where they are constantly split for the sin of sowing dissension and heresy. Islam was, in the time of Dante, considered a Christian heresy, with some believing Mohammad to be a renegade Cardinal who had created his own version of the faith. It wasn’t an unreasonable idea: most of what Islam has of value it took from Judaism and Christianity.

And so Dante offers this striking imagery (translation by Allen Mandelbaum):

   No barrel, even though it’s lost a hoop
or end-piece, ever gapes as one whom I
saw ripped right from his chin to where we fart:
his bowels hung between his legs, on saw
his vitals and the miserable sack
that makes of what we swallow excrement.
While I was all intent on watching him,
he looked at me, and with his hands he spread
his chest said, “See how I split myself!
See now how maimed Mohammed is! And he
who walks and weeps before me is Ali,
whose face is opened wide from chin to forelock,
And all the others here whom you can see
were, when alive, the sowers of dissension
and scandal, and for this they now are split.

The image has been illustrated for centuries:

Mohammed-inferno

Italian silent film L’Inferno. 1911

mahomet-4

Rodin

botticellidetail

Botticelli

ipd00023

Blake

gustave_dore

Dore

04800419trim

15th c. manuscript “Holkham misc. 48”

Is Mohammed in hell?

I hope not. I wouldn’t wish damnation on anyone, and with God all things are possible. Even the perpetrators of yesterday’s slaughter are capable of being forgiven when, God willing, they are swiftly found and just as swiftly sent on their way to the afterlife.

But as we face this endless war–and it is a war, with every computer and newspaper and city a battleground–we must not yield to intimidation and threats.

And for now, that we means we must offend.

The Devil Tempts St. Benedict

Rule

This illumination showed up in my medievalist Twitter feed today and I tracked it back to the so-called Mettener Regel (1414), a manuscript of the rule of Saint Benedict as practiced at the Abbey of Metten. The manuscript is illustrated by moments in the life of St. Benedict.

At first, I thought this might be an illustration from the rule itself, with the devil depicted as a tempting woman with hideous talons:

Those garments of which he is divested shall be placed in the wardrobe, there to be kept, so that if, perchance, he should ever be persuaded by the devil to leave the monastery (which God forbid), he may be stripped of the monastic habit and cast forth.

That doesn’t fit, however, since the figure seems to be Benedict himself.

That’s when I recalled the grand collection of fascinating stuff that is the Dialogues of Pope St. Gregory the Great. Book 2 is Gregory’s Life of Benedict, which includes this passage.

One day, while the saint was alone, the Tempter came in the form of a little blackbird, which began to flutter in front of his face. It kept so close that he could easily have caught it in his hand. Instead, he made the sign of the cross and the bird flew away. The moment it left, he was seized with an unusually violent temptation. The evil spirit recalled to his mind a woman he had once seen, and before he realized it his emotions were carrying him away. Almost overcome in the struggle, he was on the point of abandoning the lonely wilderness, when suddenly with the help of God’s grace he came to himself.

He then noticed a thick patch of nettles and briers next to him. Throwing his garment aside he flung himself into the sharp thorns and stinging nettles. There he rolled and tossed until his whole body was in pain and covered with blood. Yet, once he had conquered pleasure through suffering, his torn and bleeding skin served to drain the poison of temptation from his body. Before long, the pain that was burning his whole body had put out the fires of evil in his heart. It was by exchanging these two fires that he gained the victory over sin. So complete was his triumph that from then on, as he later told his disciples, he never experienced another temptation of this kind.

Soon after, many forsook the world to place themselves under his guidance, for now that he was free from these temptations he was ready to instruct others in the practice of virtue. That is why Moses commanded the Levites to begin their service when they were twenty-five years old or more and to become guardians of the sacred vessels only at the age of fifty.

Thus, the picture shows the devil as both the beautiful tempting women Benedict remembered, and as the blackbird, merged into a horrible chimera to reveal the evil lurking below the surface of even the most pleasing temptation.