01 July 2012


And while I am in a Neal Adams mood (see my last post on Thrill Kill) I thought I might share these fines scans of his Tarzan covers for Ballantine Books. The series was published between 1976 and 1978 and 24 books covers were split between Neal Adams and Boris Vallejo as the Black Edition books. I was never a huge fan of the work of Boris but was excited to see the covers by Adams gracing the book jackets. I was not enough of a Tarzan book fan to buy any and read them however. I do love Tarzan movies and comic books, but have never read a single Tarzan book in my life, though I own them all now in some sort of epub format. I may read one here on the iPad2 someday. Who knows. In any case these drawings are simply marvelous. He looks to be working in pen and ink and some sort of colored ink or even water color over the inks. These really show what Adams could do when set he set his mind to it. I have included here some black and white preliminary sketches as well as an interview with Adams from tarzan.cc. I only took the section of the interview that relates to the Tarzan series for Ballantine and I think it is interesting to see how some of the conflicts between the artist and the publishers are resolved, or maybe not resolved. These are almost as monumental as the Frazetta covers for Lancer and Ace books in the late 60’s. Almost I said. Tarzan is seen striking several classic Adams poses, even one where Tarzan’s face is not even shown, only his ready to pounce calf muscles. Quintessential Neal Adams there. I would like to have seen a Neal Adams Jane actually. Can’t have all our desires fulfilled in a single lifetime of course. These are wonderful to behold even without Ms. Porter.


TCC: Now that brings us to the reason that Tarzan.CC is so pleased to be able to speak with you, and that is your artwork for Ballantine Books that was used for 12 of the Tarzan novel covers in the late 70's, with the other 12 handled by Boris Vallejo.
NA: Right.
TCC: Some refer to that series as the "black" edition, and it became the longest running and last complete set of the 24 Tarzan novels in paperback to date, available until the early 90's. How did that commission come about for you?
NA: Well, there was a fan up at Ballantine who wanted me to take a shot at these Tarzan books. For some reason, he was smart enough to figure it out. (Laughs) I'm always amazed when that happens, you know, where somebody goes to somebody that isn't known for doing something and says, "Can you do that?" And of course, my answer was "Yes." And we settled on a price and in-between all the other stuff I did, I started to do that series of book covers.

He got a little cranky after a while, because I wasn't either turning them out fast enough, or I don't know what it was with him, but we sort of parted ways. He didn't turn out to be a very nice fella.

TCC: That's unfortunate.
NA: Yeah, it is, isn't it? Because I would've finished the series. I was quite happy doing it, but he was cranky, you know, and I'm not the kind of person that takes being insulted real easy. I've got a pretty long fuse, but after a while, ya know, (Laughing) you just kind go, "Alright, that's it for me."

TCC: Oh! So originally, you were set to do more than just the 12?
NA: Yeah, I was going to do the whole series.

TCC: Now, that's interesting... Boris had told me the same thing, but mentioned that it never came about -- I guess Ballantine made similar proposals to each of you at some point before they decided who to use. But when everything fell into place, you created yours first, right?
NA: Actually, I did mine, and when I dropped out they called Boris. You know, I like Boris' work and all that. I don't really think that what we do is the same thing. I think they are very different.

TCC: Boris' portraits were obviously oil paintings, but I've read that yours were "tinted line art", rather than full oils.
NA: Yeah... No, I wasn't an oil painter. I'm not much of a fine artist at all, really. I really don't have a tremendous amount of respect for art, I hate to say. (Laughing) To me, it's the idea... it's the story your telling. And I don't mind delving into technique and stuff, like in that one with the two Tarzans facing one another and the jewels in the sand. The rock behind them was made with one of the various water colors over a guache. I laid this guache down with a palette knife, and then I laid this wash over it so it kind of dribbled down the guache and kind of made it look like rocks. So, that rock back there has a real sense of "rockness".

TCC: I have a friend ("Korak the Foot-Long Sandwich Killer") who has described those covers as sort of a "cross between Frank Frazetta and Russ Manning -- the best of both worlds". Have you heard this comparison before?
NA: I have not. I find it odd for them to be compared to Frazetta, because Frazetta is a classical painter, and certainly I find it odd to be compared to Manning, who is kind of a clean, slick kind of painter -- I don't know if you'd call him a painter so much as an artist. I think probably what I do is different than either one of them. But I'm pleased that somebody thinks that, so, good! But I don't think that way.

TCC: They are epic in scale and detail, but using colors that were a little brighter and also coming from an artist with a background in the comics... I think he was viewing them only from the perspective of Tarzan art among other Tarzan artists.
NA: I guess he was, exactly! That's what it sounds like. What I did with those paintings -- and you can check them out for this -- there are a couple of things: First of all, I picked a scene that was actually in the book. (Laughing) I'm a little taken with people that'll do that. And second, what I did was I tried to tell a story with the picture. So there was an instant something happens, you know, like Tarzan leaped for his life and a lion is going after his feet, and he gets pulled up into the trees by other apes. That's, to me, a very dramatic moment, so I picked that moment. But within that moment, what I did was I gave myself a compositional problem, and the idea was to solve that compositional problem, so that each painting is different from the other in that each painting solves a different compositional problem.

For example, there's "Tarzan and the Leopard Men". And the idea of that was to create a swirl of movement that was like looking at a washing machine -- that it would just go around, and if you tried to follow it with your eye, then your eye would spin around. So that was a compositional challenge to do that -- to make the leopard men, and Tarzan, and the tree, and everything else added make your eye swirl around.

Then I did "Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar", and he goes toward this sacrificial alter, and he's coming out of this colonnade in the foreground, and it's black on the right-hand side and black on the left hand side. The idea was to break the cover into these three sections -- one very dark on the right, one very dark on the left, and lighter in the middle, and to have Tarzan kind of exit out of that as a compositional challenge, so that it was a limited, chopped picture with one person, one figure entering the picture. So that was the challenge behind that.

Each one of them in their own way was intended to be, first, realistic, so that you believed what was going on, sort of. The other was to solve a compositional problem, and finally to really tell a Tarzan story, or Tarzan moment, which I really feel strongly about.

TCC: Very cool! Of all your covers, do you particularly favor any one?
NA: Nah, I love 'em all.

TCC: How did you choose which scene you interpreted?
NA: Well, first of all I read the books when I was 10, but then I got to re-read 'em while I was doing this, and I would just sit and read it, and I would find my scene. That would take care of that problem. I didn't read the books to find the scene; I read the books to enjoy the books. But somewhere along the line, something would jump out at me, and I'd go, "Hmm... That's a really interesting moment. Maybe not the best for this kind of a picture or that kind of picture, but I really like that moment." And that's what I did.

TCC: You always managed to capture the pure fearlessness and ferocity of the jungle lord in whichever scene from the novel you chose to illustrate. Were you a Tarzan fan before -- either of the books or the movies -- and if so, how did they influence your interpretation of the character?
NA: Yeah, I've always been a Tarzan fan. But let me just share something with you, ok? You're a Tarzan fan. But someplace in your head, you are Tarzan.

TCC: (To the Readers: On hearing those words, my eyes narrowed with a knowing glint, and one side of my mouth turned upward into a grim half-smile... ) Yeah.... haha! I STILL AM!!!
NA: (Laughs) Someplace in your head there's a secret place where you go, "There's something about me that's like Tarzan", or, "I want it to be like Tarzan"... "There's something about me that I relate to what Tarzan is." There are certain things, for example, his quietness. He's quiet, and I can consciously make myself quiet. And that steely gaze -- sometimes, you sit there and you bring your eyebrows down... Maybe that's not what you do, but the idea is to bring your eyebrows down as you look out under your brows and you think, "Boy... I can imagine being Tarzan". Being in a room and have everyone kinda look at me under the corner of their eye, and just look into the grey of my eye, or whatever the hell color it is...

NA: ... and to see that and for them to recognize it. That's what goes through people's mind when they read Tarzan. You know damn well it does! There's something about you -- it doesn't have to be true -- but you relate to it, in that if I were like somebody, boy, ya know, I'd like to be like Lord Greystoke. I'd just like to be that civilized / uncivilized creature that is totally unafraid, will face anything, live or die, and deals with it. That's what we do. People that like Tarzan are like that. Not like that all the time... you know, it comes and goes. But when you read Tarzan, that's what you do.

So for me, when I was a kid and I read Tarzan, I felt like Tarzan. I felt that I was Tarzan. Of course, I wasn't Tarzan! I'm simply saying that when I read the books, I read them because of that, 'cause I could feel that thing. And you know, other people can pretend, and I'd just think that if they pretend, that it's not true -- it's just bulls***. 'Cause otherwise, there's no reason to read Tarzan, if you don't have those feelings.

So for me, how hard was it for me to find to do that when I was doing those illustrations, if that's the way I think? Now, this is not to criticize Boris, or anybody else. But I think a lot of people do Tarzan out of drawing a handsome man, or a handsome jungle man, or you know, doing the stuff that Tarzan does. I do it out my feelings for the character. What you see in those drawings is how I feel about Tarzan... feel. I can draw him -- I have a facility to draw -- but if I draw Superman or Batman I don't draw them the same way I draw Tarzan. Tarzan's different.

TCC: Wow! So he's a kind of a unique character to draw for you?
NA: In my opinion, yeah.

TCC: Obviously, I'm a huge Tarzan fan. I started reading the books when I was a young teen, and my first mental image of ERB's literary ape-man came from your cover for "Tarzan of the Apes" (Neal titled the piece "Primitive" **). It's just a fantastic cover, but your son Jason mentioned to me that your original art for this had been stolen?
NA: Gone with the wind...

TCC: What a loss! How did this happen, and do you hope to recover it in the future?
NA: (Sighs) I don't know. I can't think about it. It's not something I deal with...... Nah...... I don't think I'll ever find it.

TCC: That's a shame.
NA: 'Cause what happens with time is that as time goes by a certain artist's work rises in value. And it's sort of like, how do you get a Frazetta piece back? Well, you give somebody, you know, half-a-million dollars. That's how you do it. It's not easy after a while. So I don't know, if somebody had it, what they would hold out for money-wise. But I think it'd be a big chunk of money. Why do I have to care about it? I have other things to do. I can always do it over, you know! (Laughing)

TCC: Technically, you refer to your Tarzan artwork as your "Savage" ** illustrations, right?
NA: Yes. I'm not sure if "technically" is the right word, but sure.

TCC: These illustrations don't refer to just your interpretations of Tarzan, but also to Conan and possibly some others?
NA: Well, you don't want to call them "Conan". You know, 'cause then you have to pay a royalty. But who knows what Conan looked like? So, (Chuckles) my Conan looks a little like Frank's Conan. Frank's Conan looks a little like mine, but he did it first, so mine looks like his. I think that my Conan looks more like Conan than anybody else. I think Frank's Conan is a little short...

TCC: Hahahaha!
NA: ... and mine's taller, and perhaps a little bulkier. But Frank's is meaner, more slobbering, so I think Frank likes it for that reason. You know, the thing is, if I didn't like the way I did this stuff, I probably would do it a different way. So I kinda like the stuff. I hate to admit it, you know. The artist doesn't want to have to admit that he likes his own stuff. But, the reason I did it that way I did it was because I kinda like it.

TCC: You sell a few of the "Savage" ** portfolios containing some of these prints on your website, and I notice some are sold out. Have they been pretty popular, and do you plan on producing more?
NA: Well, you know, it's one of those things in publishing where if something sells out, you imply that it did well. But I don't know if that's the case. I mean, what I'd rather do now is print better quality prints. We've got a couple of them on PODGallery, sold as prints. So you can have them printed on canvas, you can have them printed on water-color paper. And they're pretty nifty that way, compared to the old prints that we did. So they're selling sort of regular, but you know, you can sort of decide the quality yourself. A few extra bucks in your pocket, you can get it on canvas. Personally, I like water-color paper.

TCC: That's very nice! Now, I did see that you have something -- and I'm probably going to mispronounce it -- it looks like "Gicklee"?
NA: Oh (Chuckles). Giclee (pronounced, "zhee-klay"). It's a French word, it means bulls***.

TCC: HAHA! Does it really?
NA: (Chuckles) It's really basically a print on good paper, that they make with... they're like the printers that you use with your computer? Only they're bigger, and more expensive, and they take like 2 hours to make a print. And a good one will adhere to the material very well, so they get good paper. But it's like saying that there's something highly sophisticated and cool, but unfortunately in this day and age, we have such good machines, that turns out to be bulls***.

The thing you have to worry about is, is the print a good print? Is it what I want it to be -- on really nice paper, and does it look really great? And once you find that out, and if somebody says they're selling giclees on the Internet, you kind of go someplace where they do prints and say, "Oh, that's a giclee. Hmm... I like the water-color paper." And then you order it based on what you were able to see. Water-color paper works pretty good with my stuff. If I were going to buy 'em, I would buy 'em on water-color paper. I'd buy 'em kind of big if I wanted to see the brush-strokes. (Laughing) But that's me!

TCC: I actually have #18 out of 200 of your print "Going Ape" ** hanging front-and-center on the wall behind my desk at the office...
NA: (Laughs)

TCC: My office is a virtual Tarzan museum, with almost no wall-space left to hang anything else. And I see that Jason is working on a sculpture version of "Going Ape" **, that he hopes to make available in both kit and bronze forms.
NA: Yep!

TCC: I just have two questions... How much is it, and can I buy the first one?
NA: (Laughing) Well, I think you have to ask Jason! He did a pretty good job, I have to admit. He did a really, really nice job.

TCC: It's beautiful! Hey, Neal, thanks again for your time! Is there anything you'd like to say to the fans in parting?
NA: There's so many nice folks out there, I wouldn't know what to say! I'm going to be around for a long time, trying to do stuff that challenges your brain, and pick up my science book even if you're not interested in science, because it'll make you smarter, and it'll make you think. And sometimes, even comic book fans have to think!


Unknown said...

Damn Bill-
No Comments? Seems like you and I and Mr Adams are the only Tarzan Fans out there! I am a huge fan of Mr Adams stuff- even bought commissioned Tarzan stuff from him. Nice interview!

Bill Courtney said...

Hey Unknown, yea I give up now on getting comments here. I cannot understand it. Thanks for yours, and it is possible I will be disabling my comments option soon and just write stuff. I get some weirdo comments now and then too. Most are weirdo and never get published. Yea, this was a cool collection of stuff. BUt seems it was another case of pearls before swine ;) Thanks... Bill

Anonymous said...

Sorry you didn't get many comments. I just found this and love it. Was such a huge fan of this series back in the early eighties. Wish they would reprint all these since the only copies I can find are beat up. Would love each one of these reprinted as deluxe editions with the same Adams and Vallejo covers. Maybe hardbacks.

Tony said...

I heard that Adams did these paintings with Dr. Martin dyes. He is a real master of illsutration. May be the best depicition of Tarzan I have ever seen. I was wondering, regarding the stolen art, was it only the first book art cover, or all of them? Also, I've seen another one not shown here with Tarzan and a medevial night on horseback. Was that rejected or Adams own personal work?