Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc., the company founded by the creator of Tarzan and still run by his family, has begun publishing webcomics based on six of the author’s most famous creations. Roy Thomas and Tom Grindberg (who have been producing the Tarzan comic strips since 2012) continue creating new stories featuring the ape man, while Chuck Dixon and Tom Lyle explore the Earth’s Core world of Pellucidar. Writer Martin Powell is joined by four different artists on the remaining series: Carson of Venus (with Thomas Floyd and Diana Leto), The Eternal Savage (with Steven E. Gordon), The Cave Girl (with Diana Leto), and The War Chief (with Nik Poliwko).
The ERB Inc. website has samples of each series for free, and readers can then subscribe to all six for $1.99 a month. Each series updates weekly, so that’s about 24 pages for just $2; a great deal.
I had some questions about the initiative, so I contacted Powell, who was extremely helpful. For one thing, these webcomics don’t affect Dark Horse, which still holds the license for printed Tarzan comics. He also explained why there’s no series for John Carter: “I originally auditioned for John Carter of Mars, but Disney/Marvel still has a hold on it. Still, ERB Inc. was apparently impressed enough that they offered me Carson of Venus and allowed me to assemble my own art team, which I’ve done for my other four ERB comic strips as well. So, you could say in a sense that I am Carson … we both aimed at Mars and ended up on Venus!”
I also learned more about the individual strips and the approach the writers are taking. ”From what I understand,” Powell told me, “after a few brief episodes, Chuck Dixon’s Pellucidar series will be original stories. My ERB comic strips are all recreations (I dislike the word “adaptations”) of Burroughs’ books.”
I asked Powell about the distinction between a recreation and an adaptation. “Basically, this is the same method I’ve always used when transforming an existing book by another author into comics, i.e., Frankenstein and The Hound of the Baskervilles,” he said. “I devised this for myself as a way of getting to play with the language and to bring a part of myself to the stories, without deviating from their source. I suspect that 100-year-old dialogue and narration can seem somewhat stilted to modern readers (although I personally don’t agree with that), but I’m aware of this perceived notion regarding many of today’s readers. The trick is to give the illusion of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and his era, while also keeping the dialogue appealing and fun to a 21st-century audience.
“As far as ‘adaptations’ go, movies, books, and comics are very different storytelling mediums. Transcribing novels word for word, cutting and pasting the contained dialogue, is not the best plan for approaching comics. At least, that’s my feeling. However, the essence needs to be respected and remain intact, or otherwise there’s no point to any of it. Restructuring the chapter of a book into a five-panel comic strip, with a beginning, middle, and an ending that urges the reader to want to turn the page is a formidable challenge.
“As a former magician, I’ve always thought of creative writing as much like stage magic, being that it is all about misdirection and surprise. Establishing and maintaining a sense of drama and rhythm is all-important, and writing comic strips are deceptively more complicated to compose than a standard full-length comic book script.”
Explaining why he chose to recreate the Carson of Venus, Eternal Savage, Cave Girl, and War Chief novels (as opposed to just telling new stories about those characters), Powell said, “ERB Inc. and I felt that 21st-century readers needed a truer introduction to Edgar Rice Burroughs for these somewhat lesser known properties. After all, to the mass public, ERB’s original books are ’new adventures.’ Our plan is to reawaken the audience and create millions of new readers on an international level. The plots in my comic strips belong to Burroughs, but the narrative and dialogue are mine. This gives a more modern tilt toward the language, while hopefully maintaining the illusion of its proper time period. That way I feel sort of a sense of creative ownership to the material, too.”