Courtesy of Dynamite, here's exclusive commentary on Lord of the Jungle #1 from series writer Arvid Nelson. Half of the pages from the comic follow, and for even more on Lord of the Jungle, an interview with Nelson on the book is here.I cannot tell a lie. Prior to writing Lord of the Jungle, my experience with the source material was limited to Jungle Hunt, a sadistically difficult coin-op video game, at Arnie’s Place, my local arcade. This was in 1982 or '83. I don’t think I ever made it past the second level. (Expletive) crocodiles.
So part of writing this series was immersing myself in the adaptations that have come so far. I was really surprised at how far every single one, at least those I’ve seen, strays from the original novel – Jungle Hunt might actually be the most faithful. The idea behind Lord of the Jungle is to present the spirit of the original story, in all its pulp fiction glory. No Phil Collins, I promise.
PAGES 1 - 2 The original novel devotes a lot of space to Tarzan's parents; to Tarzan's "origin story.". I thought it was space well spent, so we'll be telling you how Tarzan got to the African jungle. At the same time, not showing the main character in the first issue is a huge risk, so Joe Rybrant, my editor, suggested we open with a two-page teaser including Tarzan. I’m very glad we did.
But we want to keep Tarzan mysterious for now. I promise you, it will make his big appearance in Issue Two all the more exciting!
Note the text on the pages of the book on the last panel of page one – this is taken directly from the original novel. Wherever possible, I try to include little details from the novel in the comic. It’s something I hope those familiar with the original will get a kick out of.
PAGES 3 - 4 The story begins! One of Roberto’s many talents is his ability to draw textures and landscapes. The jungle environments are an important part of this story, a silent – or not so silent – star.
Beginning with Lord and Lady Greystoke’s abandonment in the jungle was the first major decision I had to make. There’s so much more in the novel, detailing the mutiny that precipitated their being stranded, but doing two issues on Ma and Pa Greystoke is out of the question, of course. The story is about Tarzan.
PAGES 5 - 6 Lord and Lady Greystoke don’t just survive in the jungle, they thrive — that was the “point” of these two pages, along with establishing the Greystoke cabin, the most important setting of the story. In a lot of ways, the original novel is written like a movie, with spectacular set pieces. Another reason I don’t understand why other adaptations stray so far from the original.
PAGES 7 – 8 One of the things that made me uncomfortable about the novel was the amount of violence inflicted by and against animals. But it’s an integral theme, “human ingenuity versus beast”. Taking it out would alter the story unforgivably. I also reject the idea wild animals should be protected because they’re cuddly and cute. Gorillas, leopards and crocodiles are dangerous, and the reality of surviving in the African jungle would necessarily entail protecting oneself against predators.
PAGE 9 Tarzan is coming! As his parents start losing their struggle against the jungle, Tarzan’s struggle begins.
PAGES 10 – 11 The only double-page spread in this issue. I love double page spreads, but they’re hard to read in a trade paperback, so I try to make them "worth it." Hopefully this spread will be a nice contrast to the densely-paneled pages that precede it. Again, Roberto’s talent for texture and landscape shines through.
Another thing that made me uncomfortable about the original novel was the racism – it practically drowns in it. This was something I absolutely did need to change, and I make no apologies. At the same time, it was important to stay as true to the spirit of the original novel as possible. So I kept the Bantu tribesmen in the story — for a little while.
PAGES 12 – 13 Surprise! The first major diversion from the original. Substituting the Bantu tribe with the ape-men was my solution for eliminating (I hope) the racism from the story. I think it only serves to heighten the fantasy and the pulpy action. It was really important for Roberto to make it clear the things attacking the Bantu tribespeople are half-ape, half-human. The weapons, jewelry and loincloths they wear go a long way towards that.
Note that on the front covers Tarzan wears the weapons and ornaments of the ape-men – this is taken directly from the novel (the weapons/ornaments are Bantu in the novel). Poking around online, I came across observations that Tarzan wearing armbands and using metal weapons is “inaccurate”. It just goes to show how little awareness there is of the original story!
As you can see, we’re not shying away from the violence. I love the contrast on page 13, of the slaughter of the Bantu tribe with little Tarzan. Because I’m sick.
PAGES 14 - 15 Roberto did a great job showing Lord and Lady Greystoke’s slide into gloom and despair. These are the most emotionally powerful pages of this issue, in my opinion.
PAGES 16 – 18 These pages were a big risk; we tell the story of Tarzan’s foster mother, an ape, without using words. Movies can give you all kinds of information with music and sounds, but not comics. The original novel, of course, simply narrated the events covered in these pages. I felt like using narrative captions for this scene was too blatant, so we had to pick our panels very, very carefully. I also gave specific ideas in the script about how to make the apes visually distinctive and recognizable from panel to panel.
Later, when Tarzan appears, we’ll see him speak to the apes in their language, but we’re going to hold off on the apes speaking until then.
PAGES 19 – 22 The story of Tarzan’s parents ends, and Tarzan’s story begins. Note the last panel of page 21 – it’s the exact same angle and scale of the first two panels on page 2. And check out the first panel of page 22 – it’s the same angle and scale as the first panel on page 1. We did that on purpose, to show you the story’s come full circle, that the first issue is over, but the story is just beginning. Which it is! Expect lots of mayhem and action in Issue 2.
The final panel, of Tarzan suckling on his ape mother, is pulled right from the novel. I think it’s a very iconic and powerful image of Tarzan, so that’s how we ended.
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