Happy to be Feeling like a Dum Dum
The town of Clinton, Connecticut, is like any number of small New England villages. Perched on the Long Island sound, it's a picturesque place, especially stately William Stanton Andrews Memorial Town Hall on East Main Street. Almost a hundred years old, the town hall has an impressive atrium, with an ornate golden chandelier and an imposing statue of a red stag. Beyond the atrium, there's a fairly large movie theater that even has a balcony.
When I arrived at the Town Hall last Friday morning, the theater was showing a two-part episode of the 1960s "Tarzan" TV series starring Ron Ely as the lord of the jungle. Not what you'd expect of a government building that houses the offices of town assessor, tax collector and first selectman... unless you knew that the Edgar Rice Burroughs Dum Dum was calling Clinton home for the weekend.
The Dum Dum, named after the gathering of the great apes in the Tarzan tales, is an annual gathering of Burroughs fans, sponsored by the Burroughs Bibliophiles fan group and held in varying locations each year. The first Dum Dum took place in 1960, 10 years after the death of Edgar Rice Burroughs.
if you've read many of my columns here, or even just a few of them, you already know I'm a longtime fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs. My current gig writing Dynamite's monthly "John Carter: Warlord of Mars" is one I've been dreaming of since I was first read those novels when I was 11 or 12, buying paperbacks one after the other from the local bookshop. I also write Sunday-style strips of "Korak" (with art by Rick Leonardi and Neeraj Menon) and "The Mucker" (with art by Lee Moder and Neeraj Menon) for the official Edgar Rice Burroughs website. In a very real way, I became a writer because the work of Edgar Rice Burroughs sparked my imagination at just the right age.
I've heard about the Dum Dums for years, but never attended one. I've never actually attended a con of any kind where I wasn't a guest. So I made the pilgrimage to this year's Dum Dum, accompanied by my friend (and fellow Burroughs fan) John Belskis, who runs the Albany Comic Con and his own shop, Excellent Adventures in Ballston Spa, NY. I wanted to experience an event like this from the other side of the table.
The only reason I even knew the Dum Dum was within a few hours drive of my house was a note from Jim Sullos, President of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., during an e-mail discussion (more on that later). Being able to meet up with Jim as well as ERB, Inc. archivist Cathy Wilbanks was an added attraction. Thanks to Jim and Cathy, I was able to meet Dejah and Llana Jane Burroughs, the great-granddaughters of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and tell them what their great-grandfather's work meant to me.
The dealers' room -- called the Huckster Room -- was downstairs in the town hall. Tables laden with Burroughs merch, including a great deal of Tarzan memorabilia, filled the space. The breadth of Tarzan material, dating all the way back to the 1930s and '40s, is a testament to the character's vast popularity. Conventional wisdom holds that Tarzan was the first merchandising superstar, his literary beginnings spread to a wide audience via film, radio, comic books and strips, television and animation. Tarzan is one of the most recognizable fictional characters in the world, along with Sherlock Holmes, Batman and Superman. The Huckster Room was filled with paperbacks and hardcovers, movie posters, boxes of old comics and new comics (some of which I'd written), flicker rings, buttons, original art, glass sculptures, action figures and more.
For me, much of it fell under the category of "I want that, but what would I do with that?" So I managed to exhibit at least a little restraint. My friend John went home with a haul that included a vintage set of flicker rings, a copy of the lavish "Martian Legion" hardcover, and a Tarzan "comic game" with illustrations by Jack Kirby. To my knowledge, it's the only time Kirby ever drew Tarzan, and just looking at that art sends my imagination into overdrive, thinking about what Kirby's version of John Carter might have been like.
Dum Dum guests included illustrators Thomas Yeates and Diana Leto, and writers Alex Simmons and Will Murray. Author and Burroughs expert Scott Tracy Griffin was on hand with his coffee table tome "Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration," published by Titan, which is the definitive work on the character's multimedia history, not to mention beautifully designed and illustrated.
The Dum Dum seemed like a family reunion. In some ways, I almost felt like an interloper at a family gathering, but I was made to feel welcome. It would be impossible not to notice the Dum Dum was populated by an aging fanbase. To be fair, it was Friday, and there were likely some whose work commitments kept them from attending until Saturday. But it was not lost upon me that there was a lot of white hair in the crowd. It was a bittersweet revelation, realizing that I was among the younger attendees. It was a pleasure to be in the midst of people brought together by a fervent, common love. Yet I couldn't help but wonder where the next generation was.
My generation discovered Burroughs in the 1970s paperback boom, lured in by the covers of Neal Adams and Boris Vallejo on the two dozen Tarzan novels, and Gino D'Achille on the eleven-volume Mars series. I don't want to believe that my generation of Burroughs fandom is the last one. That's one of the reasons I'm writing what I'm writing: to spread the stories and characters to others, and hopefully pass the torch.
The full title of the new book my friend John picked up is "The Martian Legion: In Quest for Xonthron." (The mysterious word "Xonthron" is actually the last entry, prior to his death, in the writer's notebook Burroughs kept.) Much to my delight, a copy of it had already found its way to my desk, and it's a magnificent volume.
"The Martian Legion" is an obvious labor of love, written by Jake "Buddy" Saunders, who also owns Lone Star Comics and MyComicShop.com, and lavishly illustrated by Mike Hoffman, Craig Mullins and Tom Grindberg, who collectively contribute 130 pieces. Tom and I worked together on issues of "Thor" and "Green Lantern," among others.
The leather-bound book is huge (almost a foot square) and heavy, not to mention ornately and beautifully designed. "The Martian Legion" is the definition of a collector's item, available in a few different editions, each limited, and none cheap. But in my humble estimation, worth every penny.
The story is quintessential pulp adventure, bringing together John Carter and Tarzan as they attempt to preserve a threatened Mars. A host of other Burroughs heroes appear, as do pulp stalwarts Doc Savage and The Shadow. Even Edgar Rice Burroughs himself appears as a character. The story is epic in every sense of the word, covering varied locales and including a vast array of characters (there are exhaustive reference appendices), with cliffhangers worthy of the best of Burroughs.
In the books, John Carter reaches Mars by essentially wishing himself there. "The Martian Legion" had a similar effect on me. But instead of flinging me across the gulf of space to Barsoom, it served as a time machine, and transported me back to the summers of my youth. That's a rare feat.
"The Martian Legion" has a dedicated website with a sample chapter, extensive gallery, and ordering information. Highly recommended.
One more Burroughs-related note, something that's important to me. Like so many people, I was horrified and outraged when Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer shot and killed famed Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe. Or more accurately, poached Cecil by shooting and wounding him, tracking him for 40 hours, executing him, beheading and skinning the corpse, then discarding the rest of the magnificent beast like carrion. Oh, and unsuccessfully trying to destroy Cecil's tracking collar to cover up the crime.
The trophy hunting of endangered species is a barbaric, archaic practice that we as a species should have outgrown by now. I hold trophy hunters like Walter Palmer, Donald Trump's sons, Jimmy John's sandwich shop founder and CEO Jimmy John Liataud, Kendall Jones, Rebecca Francis, Melissa Bachman, and former Go Daddy CEO Bob Parsons in utter contempt. Actually, that's putting it mildly; I despise them.
They almost uniformly hide behind the canard of "I'm a conservationist," but I personally have the strange idea that the best way to conserve endangered animals is to not kill them. I know, I'm a bit of a simpleton. The hunters invariably claim their hunt money goes toward conservation... but if they were truly more interested in helping the animals than hanging a stuffed head on the wall, they'd donate the money and eschew the hunt. But that never happens. The sociopathic need for notches on the gunbelt, not to mention the rug on the floor, is always more important.
When Cecil was butchered, I wanted to do something, find some way to contribute to the preservation of these magnificent animals. Being a Burroughs fan, I couldn't help but think of Tarzan and his golden lion, Jad-bal-ja. So I asked my collaborators on the Korak strip, Rick Leonardi and Neeraj Menon, if they'd be willing to donate their time and talent to an image of Tarzan and Jad, in order to generate funds for lion conservation. They agreed immediately, and the beautiful accompanying image is the result.
Jim Sullos gave us enthusiastic permission to use the Tarzan logo on an 11" x 17" print. We're selling the prints via eBay for $20 each, with $5 flat shipping. All proceeds are being donated to National Geographic's Big Cat Initiative, whose mission is to preserve lions, tigers, cheetahs, leopards and other big cats in the wild.
We'll also be auctioning Rick's original art for the image. I hope you'll consider lending your aid to animals who are, in every sense of the word, endangered.
Ron Marz has been writing comics for two decades, and thinks it's pretty much the best job ever. His current work includes "Witchblade" and the graphic novel series "Ravine" for Top Cow, "The Protectors" for Athleta Comics, his creator-owned title, "Shinku," for Image, and Sunday-style strips "The Mucker" and "Korak" for Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. Follow him on Twitter (@ronmarz) and his website, www.ronmarz.com.