SDCC: What's New with Tarzan, John Carter & Edgar Rice Burroughs?

As pop culture pushes forward with an unprecedented amount of genre films, television and publishing endeavors on the way, it's important to remember the forerunners of today's popular characters. At Comic-Con International in San Diego, fans and professionals gathered to honor the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, the prolific author that created such seminal characters and concepts such as "Carson of Venus," "John Carter of Mars," "The World of Pellucidar" and the granddaddy of them all, "Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle," all of which live on today in one form or another.

The panel of experts on all things Burroughs consisted of moderator Scott Tracy Griffin, author of "Tarzan, the Centennial Celebration," the artist of the "Cave Girl" comic strip Diana Leto, Dynamite Entertainment Senior editor Joe Rybandt and president of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., Jim Sullus. Sullus called the company he oversees "a small, family run company ran by the Burroughs heirs, committed to not allow the properties to go stale." Rounding out the panel was writer of the online Burroughs comic strips "Korak the Killer" and "The Mucker," Ron Marz, and long time Burroughs World artist Thomas Yates.

The annual panel kicked off discussing the biggest current event of the Burroughs world, the 2016 Warner Brothers "Tarzan" film, which was greeted warmly by the Burroughs faithful in attendance. Sullus informed the audience that the film will feature "True Blood" star Alexander Skaarsgard as Tarzan, Margot Robbie ("Wolf of Wall Street"), Samuel L. Jackson as Tarzan's "sidekick," as Sullus called him, and Christoph Waltz as the film's antagonist. Sullus described the film's plot as, "Tarzan is the lord of the jungle but now he is also lord of Parliament. He is tapped by the Queen to go to Africa -- and Samuel L. Jackson is a U.S. Marshall -- together, these guys go to Africa and solve some problems."

Sullus then updated the audiences on the Constantine "Tarzan," Animated film which has been released in Europe and South Africa with sporadic showings in the U.S. Sullus proudly announced that the film "will soon be shown in China, in 5000 theaters, and will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray in the U.S. on August 5.

After mentioning some newer business ventures, like "Tarzan" slot machines and online games, Sullus moved to the publishing world. The first book up was the "Worlds of Edgar Rice Burroughs" an anthology by top genre authors like Peter David, F. Paul Wilson, Mercedes Lackey and Kevin J. Anderson. The book features many of Burroughs creations like Tarzan and the "World of Mars," "and there is a talk of doing a second one," according to Sullus.

Sullus then plugged the upcoming second volume of the "Russ Manning 'Tarzan'" by IDW Publishing, calling Manning "a master of 'Tarzan' art.

Moving away from the world of "Tarzan" to Burroughs' other major property, "John Carter," Sullus showed those in attendance the upcoming new edition of "Princess of Mars" with 20 new paintings by Mike Kaluta. According to Sullus, "We had to get special permission from Disney Worldwide Publishing, because they have the publishing rights for us, but when they found out Mike Kaluta was going to be the artist, they were like, 'You bet.'" Sullus said. "They don't give that permission easily, but because of the artist, they felt it was a great idea to do it."

Sullus then took the time to plug the Burroughs online program. "We currently have eleven strips up. The most recent ones are 'John Carter of Mars.'" At the mention of "John Carter," Sullus took the time to address last year's the Burroughs estate's litigation with Dynamite Entertainment. "We worked hard, both sides, to find some middle ground and we found it. So we made a joint press announcement about two months ago." Sullus was proud the two sides could reach an accord, allowing both Dynamite and the Burroughs Estate to publish "John Carter" stories.

The next strip that will be introduced to the online World of Burroughs will be "The Monster Men," which Sullus described as, "a professor and his beautiful daughter go to the island in the South Pacific to create human beings -- but create twelve miserable monsters who don't have any capacity other than brutal force -- and the thirteenth is a perfect individual." Looking to the future of the online Burroughs strips, Sullus said, "We're not done. We want to expand this program, we do need subscribers. It really is the bargain of the century, $1.99 a month or $21.99 a year -- we can have as many as thirty individual web comic programs from Edgar Rice Burroughs." They're considering launching strips based on Burroughs properties "The Lost Continent," "The Girl From Hollywood" and "Beyond the Farthest Star."

Moving on to Dynamite Publishing, Rybant said that his company is currently wrapping up "Dejah Thoris," but November will see the relaunch of "John Carter: Warlord of Mars" by Marz and Abhishek Malsuni. In regard to his take on "John Carter," Marz said, "This will not be a comic where superheroes stand around and talk for 22 pages -- This is literally the book I wanted to write since I was ten years old. I discovered Burroughs in general, and John Carter specifically, at that magic age of ten to twelve when the stuff you discover at that age is important to you for the rest of your life -- When Dynamite announced they were doing 'Warlord of Mars' and 'Lord of the Jungle,' I found [Dynamite publisher] Nick Barrucci and said, 'What the hell are you doing, not calling me?' Three years later, it was at this convention last year, Nick came to me and said, 'We are thinking of relaunching those and would you be interested in "John Carter?"' Which is like the dumbest question I ever heard." Marz called artist Malsuni the "perfect artist for Barsoom, and more importantly, Dejah Thoris." Marz said he is thrilled to play with the Burroughs' world on a monthly basis. The relaunch hits in November and Marz asked the Burroughs faithful to give the books a try. "'Avengers' and 'X-Men' will always be there -- if you want these kind of books on the shelf, tell your retailers to order plenty." Rybant added to Marz's enthusiasm and called the new book "an accessible, new #1 -- even if a fan had never read a novel, past comic or seen the film," and called Marz a "natural for the series."

Addressing the elephant in the room, Marz called Disney's critically and financially (at least in the U.S.) panned "John Carter" film "pretty damn great," to which the audience agreed with a nice round of applause.

In addition to his work for Dynamite, Marz is also doing "The Mucker: The Adventures of Billy Byrne" for EdgarRiceBurroughs.com. For those who never heard of this somewhat obscure Burroughs creation, Sullus explained that the original "was set in the Chicago slums, and Burroughs went in all sorts of directions with it. It's a lost world tale, and a jungle tale, and a contemporary adventure and it eventually turned into a Western." "Mucker" artist Lee Moder "just nails the period stuff" according to Marz, who also called "The Mucker," "Burroughs' first anti-hero," and described the new strip as, "The kind of Sunday comics you read as a kid."

Marz informed the crowd that he is also doing the online strip for "Korak the Killer," the first strip featuring the solo adventure of Korak. According to Marz, "Inspiration from Korak came from reading the DC Comics strip as a kid... I specifically remember a Joe Kubert cover with Korak fighting an alligator, so when the opportunity to do 'Korak' came up, I jumped in with both feet."The artist on the strip is Rick Leonardi, the co-creator of "Spider-Man 2099" and a big Burroughs fan. Like his "John Carter" work for Dynamite, Marz's "Korak stories "are not adaptations, they are all new. If anyone read a book a few years ago, it was my Batman/Tarzan crossover -- there might be some settings and characters in this 'Korak' strip that are slightly familiar."

The panel then moved to Leto, who proudly announced the upcoming graphic novel "Jungle Tales of Tarzan," available June 2015, a year before the upcoming movie. The book will feature twelve Burroughs adaptations by twelve different artists, set in the days before Tarzan met Jane. Published by the Sequential Pulp imprint of Dark Horse Comics, the book will feature art by Leto, Daren Bader, Pablo Marcos, Lowell Isaacs, Steve Gordon, Jamie Chase, Mark Wheatley, Carlos Artiglio, Tom Yates, Terry Beatty, Steve Price and more. All the artists have a "different style and specific emotion for each story." Leto will be doing a story called "Tarzan's First Love," for which she used "mixed media combining nature photography and water colors to bring the lush world of Burroughs to life."

The panel had time for a few questions, the first of which was from a fan who requested more information about the 2016 film. Sullus said "The film is scheduled to be released July 1 -- filming has begun in an actual castle. There will be a bit of shooting of Africa, and much of the film will be set in Britain."

A fan asked if there is any truth to the rumors of a "John Carter" musical. No such luck, but the panel talked about a "Tarzan" musical that had been very successful in Europe. Moving back to the film, Sullus said Disney "has the sequel rights to 'John Carter of Mars,' -- if we were ever to get the rights back, we would explore every possibility trying to get the sequel made, and if we couldn't do it in the U.S., we would go off shore... We would love to have a sequel because, oddly enough, 'John Carter' has received such notoriety now, that everybody knows who John Carter is. So we think attendance figures would really skyrocket. It was really U.S. attendance that ruined the performance of that film; internationally, it was over $200,000,000 in sales. Just in the U.S., the sci-fi community kind of went negative on it early, and the blogs went negative thanks to the Super Bowl ad that wasn't well done, and changing the name from 'John Carter of Mars' to just 'John Carter,' losing the reference point. They really went negative, and you saw what happened at the box office. Next time around, it could be a blockbuster.

To wrap up, Sullus preached to the Burroughs converted. "To many of us, 'John Carter' was unjustly maligned. The best thing you can do to show your support for the franchise is buy 'John Carter' product. Talk about it online; there is a 'Take Me Back to Mars' Facebook group, there is an online petition. Our strength is in our numbers."

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