Year of the Artist, Day 363: Joe Kubert, Part 3 - <i>Tarzan</i> #220

Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today's artist is Joe Kubert, and the issue is Tarzan #220, which was published by DC and is cover dated June 1973. These scans are from Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan: The Joe Kubert Years volume 2, which was published by Dark Horse in 2006. Enjoy!

Joe Kubert drawing Tarzan. Sure, why not? I mean, it's one tough guy drawing another tough guy. It was a match made in heaven! As we'll see below, the art isn't too different from what we saw yesterday in the Viking Prince/Sergeant Rock team-up, but it's still awesome. And there's still a move toward a bit more abstraction, so that's something. It's also interesting to see the colors in this volume. As I noted with Dark Horse's reprints of Conan (from the same time period, mind you), they got Richard Isanove to re-color the book, and the results were not very good. Tatjana Wood originally colored these Tarzan comics, and Dark Horse got some outfit named Sno Cone Studios to do "digital restoration." I guess they didn't get anyone to actually re-color this, and the colors, therefore, look excellent and, perhaps more importantly, they match the artwork. Why Dark Horse didn't do this with Conan is beyond me. But let's check out the art!

This is part of a five-part story in which Tarzan returns to the jungle from Europe, so we're in Paris where he's fighting a duel that he believes he should lose, which is why he never raises his gun. Kubert, as we've been seeing, can be very sketchy with his pencil work and amazing with his inking work, and over the years, he became even more confident in that ability. He uses thick lines to create the early morning mist of Paris, sketches in the skyline, and uses hatching and blacks for the men witnessing the duel. He uses thick blacks and heavy strokes on Tarzan and the Count de Coude as they face each other, and nice slanted lines on the lawn. It looks simplistic, but Kubert creates a terrific, detailed scene with very little intricate line work. That's part of why he's so good!

Tarzan impresses the count with his non-action bravery, so the count offers him a job in Algeria, and we're off! In the Algerian set-up view, we see that Kubert, in a long shot, can be as abstract as anyone else - he mentions in the introduction that he often found himself up against deadlines, and I wonder if that played a part - but his inking of the surrounding buildings still gives us a wonderful idea of the roughness of the town. In Panel 2, Kubert uses black chunks and some thicker inks to make Paris feel more solid, while Sidi Bel Abbes is a bit more exotic and organic, which contrasts it well with the French city. Kubert, obviously, can be very detailed when he wants to be - notice the stone work on the bridge in Panel 2 - so it's interesting to see when and where he goes a bit sketchy and consider why he does it.

Tarzan wants to see what his target looks like, so he follows him into the café. Notice again the great inking on the side of the building and leading to the entrance in Panel 1, while the beads covering the entrance are really nicely drawn in Panel 3. Kubert is still using blacks wonderfully, as the crispness of the blacks help imply how bright the sun is. Kubert's very nice inking is evident on the wood in Panel 3, as he makes the grain swoop very well, smoothing it out and making it look worn by the weather. There are a lot of little things in this comic that are really well done, and Kubert shows he knows how to create a tone as much as tell a story.

Kubert doesn't get as much of a chance to draw attractive women as much as some other artists, mainly because he was drawing so many manly war comics, but he gets to do so here, as the (unnamed) girl dances in the café. This is where Kubert's sketchiness gets him in trouble a bit, because he wants to make the woman more delicate than the men, so he winds up using a thin line without heavy inking or spot blacks, and her stomach and rib cage look emaciated. Eat a Twinkie or two, young lady! He does a very nice job with the diaphanous pants she wears, and her face and hair are terrific, but her body, while looking like it's in motion (which it is), still looks a bit odd. Kubert does a very nice job with the men watching her, as he's able to use the thick inks to deepen the shadows on their faces, as the inside of the café is probably a bit dark. The contrast between Tarzan, whose face is clear, and the darkened faces around him in Panel 5 is nicely done. The hero is venturing into dark places, and Kubert shows that just by the way he manipulates the shadows.

The (poor, sad, unnamed) girl helps Tarzan escape a mob (who are insulted that he threw money at her feet in the above example) and he helps her escape their clutches, as she was being kept as a slave. He and the girl ride away back to her father, Sheik Kadour ben Saden, and then Tarzan continues on his way. As usual, Kubert's use of blacks on this page is excellent, from the silhouette of Sidi Bel Abbes in Panel 1 to the heavily shadowed faces of the Arabs in Panel 6. Kubert's beautiful inking gives us that impressive sunrise in Panel 5, as the dunes sweep away beneath the lone figure of the "ape-man," while Kubert uses the blacks to burn away the night in the sky. Kubert is getting more impressionistic as he gets older, but only for certain things, which makes it stand out very well when compared to his more detailed moments.

The civilian Tarzan saw with Gernois was his old enemy, Nikolas Rokoff, who captures him in the desert. He's rescued by the daughter of the sheik (still unnamed), but finds himself facing a lion. Tarzan doesn't care, of course, because he's so very manly! Why, he even wears jodhpurs and doesn't care who mocks him for it! Kubert, of course, is always good at action, and his lion is really nicely drawn on this page. In Panel 1, he's all coiled and tense, ready to spring, and Kubert draws him jumping at Tarzan in Panel 3 very well. I love Panel 4, though, because Kubert does really well showing how softly he lands as he misses Tarzan - he's already turned and is ready to strike again, and Kubert is great at showing how fluidly he moves. Sure, Tarzan kills him, but that doesn't mean he's drawn poorly! As we've seen, Kubert can be very simplistic - Tarzan's blade is a basic triangle - but that "simplicity" lends his art a smoothness and motion that makes his action scenes work really well, while his wonderful inking add heft to the characters, as with the lion's thick mane and Tarzan's rugged back. It's a wonderful combination of the two poles.

Tomorrow I'll check out some of Kubert's work from the 1980s and 1990s. Yes, it will be more of the same we've seen, but it's still neat to see how Kubert was keeping up with everyone else even as he became a Grand Old Man of Comics! Find more Grand Old Men in the archives!

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