By Dale Dalenberg

August 5, 2013

 Note: You can click through the slideshow above.

Disney may not have succeeded in making Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter a household name, but few characters in popular literature are more universally known by name amongst even people who don’t read than Burroughs’s creation: Tarzan.

2012 was the 100th anniversary of both great Burroughs’ heroes, John Carter of Mars & Tarzan.  The US Postal Service celebrated by releasing a commemorative Edgar Rice Burroughs Forever Stamp, sporting a portrait of Burroughs in the background, behind his creation, Tarzan, dagger drawn, shirtless in a leopard skin loin-cloth. The Dalenberg Library couldn’t resist buying a First Day Cover, cancelled in. . .you guessed it . . . Tarzana, California, a town founded by Burroughs and named after Tarzan.

The postage stamp and the John Carter movie are the two latest Burroughs’ tributes to come along, but there are sure to be more (once the sting fades on Disney’s $200 million dollar loss on John Carter .)  It seems that every new generation gets a shot at Tarzan, with major movie versions in recent memory released in 1981, 1984, and 1999, and now a new 3-D motion capture animated production out of Germany announced for later this year (no word on when or if it will play in the USA.)

Burroughs relied on the movie rights to his stories for his sometimes tenuous wealth.  Nobody ever got rich selling stories to the pulp magazines for less than a penny a word.  But before there were movies of Tarzan and John Carter, there were many illustrators who tried their hand at Burroughs.  Here is a sampling from the Dalenberg Library.

James Allen St. John is best remembered for his illustrations in the early Burroughs editions.  He was a mentor to the greatest Burroughs artist, Frank Frazetta (represented below), and he is known occasionally as “the godfather of fantasy art.”  Tarzan with bow and arrow is the frontispiece to “Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar,” published in 1918 by A. C. McClurg & Co. (Chicago.)

Ace Books reprinted a wide variety of Burroughs’ novels during the Burroughs revival of the 1960’s, many of them with covers by Frank Frazetta.  Long considered by many fans to be the quintessential Burroughs artist, it was a questionable decision when Disney purposely decided NOT to design the John Carter movie to look anything like Frazetta’s art work.  In an ironic twist, Burroughs threw some comedy into “Tarzan and the Lion Man,” when he had John Clayton, Lord Greystoke (the real Tarzan of the Apes) travel to Hollywood to try out for the part of himself in the latest Tarzan movie—only to have Greystoke get rejected by the casting director as “not the type.”

Several of Frazetta’s most iconic images from Burroughs novels were the covers and frontispieces of the Doubleday editions of the Mars novels in the early 1970’s, which were in wide circulation as book club editions of the Science Fiction Book Club.   The spirit and composition of this cover for “A Princess of Mars” is not only an iconic fantasy art work, but it was undoubtedly an inspiration for the original Star Wars movie poster.

The Ballantine paperback editions of the Mars novels have sported various covers over the years, but my favorites were the ones I grew up on with the cover paintings by Italian artist Gino D’Achille.  “The Chessmen of Mars” was the 5th of the 10 volumes in the Mars series.  The story introduced Jetan, or Martian Chess, and included an appendix that gave the rules, purportedly as reported to the narrator by John Carter himself.  Around the age of 15, I actually built a Martian Jetan board and chess set according to Burroughs’ specifications and played the game a few times with my childhood friend and fellow science fiction fan, Dennis Troyer.  Mars and all things Martian were clearly important to my formative years as a patron of “antique popular literature.”