After a month of spotlighting the strange (if endearingly strange) history of comic books (and especially the Silver Age), I think it is worthwhile to show the comic books of the Silver Age that are simply great stories period. Here is an archive of all the Silver Age comics features so far!
Today we look at an issue of Gaylord Du Bois and Jesse Marsh’s classic Tarzan series. Specifically, let’s take a gander at 1962’s Tarzan #132, the first issue put out by Gold Key Comics. Du Bois and Marsh’s run is consistently good, so I pretty much chose this issue at random.
One of the innovations in the Tarzan series was the introduction of Pal-Ul-Don. Think Marvel’s Savage Land – an area within Africa where dinosaurs and other monstrous creatures exist undetected. This, presumably, was to give Tarzan some new avenues to explore. Edgar Rice Burroughs introduced the idea in his eighth Tarzan novel in 1921.
In Tarzan #137, Tarzan is in Pal-Ul-Don when a U.S. jet pilot crashed into the area. Du Bois comes up with an interesting sequence of weird situations for the pilot to end up in…
A few things must be noted about these comics. Gold Key, like Dell, had a specific pledge to parents that their books would be “good, clean fun.” Heck, they were so committed to the concept that they never even used the Comics Code, because their own restrictions were much harsher. So note that Marsh was working in a world where the books COULDN’T be too dynamic. They COULDN’T be too outrageous.
Thus, when you look at the system he was working under, Marsh’s clean style is all the more impressive for what it DID accomplish. He was an extremely fast artist (think Jack Kirby, only possibly even faster – Marsh was known to have penciled and inked up to NINE pages in a single day during his heyday) but he never sacrificed storytelling for simplicity. His work always told the story very well. Not only did his work tell the story well, but Marsh told UNIQUE stories – you were never going to see re-hashed layouts in Marsh comics (partially because Marsh did not read other comics – heck, I dunno if he even read his OWN comics). He always had a new approach to tell the story. Just look at the pages above – note how the angles, the perspective, everything changes from page to page. Yes, it is simplistic, but it remains powerful and, again, it tells the story beautifully.
Later in the issue, after Tarzan has rescued the pilot, the pilot’s instruments were left behind (and are now ticking down to explode). Tarzan needs to get them back, leading to an impressive action series of pages…
There is a long list of comic book artists from the 1940s-1960s whose work were underappreciated (even MOCKED!) by early fandom, so I cannot say that Jesse Marsh is the poster boy of this lack of respect for his work, but he is certainly one of the top examples.
Luckily, history has been kind to Marsh and his work is well-appreciated today. As well it should be!