Tarzan: The Jesse Marsh Years Volume 10. Sure, this is a collection. Sure, this is a whole gaggle of Tarzan stories by a relatively unknown artist. That’s not what’s important about this volume. The important part here is that we get another beautifully restored piece of comic book history from Dark Horse that doesn’t ruin the original art, but preserves it for those who want to be part of the experience. Volume 10 offers up more work from the woefully unknown Jesse Marsh. So much comic art in modern times is forced to operate within a certain set of circumstances. Not Jesse Marsh, he took his rough and jagged style and made Tarzan work around it.
Storywise, these adventures are simple. Something wicked comes into Tarzan’s jungle and he’s quick to defend his home. Writer Gaylord DuBois wasn’t a detailed storyteller, nor was he particularly concerned with depth or dramatic impact. He told straight ahead tales of Tarzan fighting for the greater good. In Volume 10, the jungle king gets involved with giant insects, poachers, giant spiders, a Valley Of Monsters, hunters who kidnap Boy and Jane, the list goes on. For the most part, these are single-issue adventures that wrap up almost as quickly as they began. The structure is timeless. Hero takes on evildoer and wins through strength of mind and body. A man, raised in the jungle, outwitting an educated secret society might not make logical sense, but it works in DuBois' world.
While the stories are fun to read, the real focus here is Jesse Marsh’s artwork. Artist and comic icon Alex Toth (whose work on Zorro is just one of his many gifts to us) first shed light on Marsh’s aversion to social situations and how he wasn’t part of the “comic guys” clique of artists during the golden age. That kind of individuality is reflected in Marsh’s modern style.
In comparison to the art we’ve all grown used to in Bronze age and beyond, most of the art during the Golden Age was rough. The original Superman issues, the detective stories and pirate tales, they all had a type of crudeness to them, a tough guy charm that’s largely been forgotten. Jesse Marsh took that a step further. His characters were illustrated as jagged and rough as his backgrounds.
The inks were thick and held on every line, especially with the characters. Look at Boy’s hair, which is so darkly inked that it looks like a thick mop, or Tarzan’s build, which is represented through a series of jagged slash marks. Where some would dismiss this style as unprofessional, others see the true original statement here. Marsh has a vision, and he couldn’t care less if it fit into comics or not.
When Marsh left Tarzan, he was replaced by Russ Manning, and while he loved Marsh’s work, he created a Tarzan that was easier to take. Manning’s lines were smooth, his style more traditional. His Tarzan became a favorite, easily overshadowing Marsh’s work in terms of popularity. In terms of style and originality, that all belongs to Jesse Marsh. Dark Horse continues to do a tremendous service to those comic book folk who live for the history as much as for the modern stories.
Tarzan: The Jesse Marsh Years Volume 10 is not only glorious to look at and read, it also reminds us that all the great artists of today are standing on the shoulders of giants.