I’ve been a Tarzan fan since I was 10 years old and first heard Johnny Weismuller’s unearthly jungle yodels. If you’re a Tarzan fan, you sort of become a fan of all the other imitation Tarzans, and one of the best imitations was Frank Frazetta’s Thun’da, King of the Congo.
Gardner Fox and Frank Frazetta created Thun’da in 1952. American aviator Roger Drum crashes in the heart of Africa only to find himself in a place like Burroughs’ Pal-ul-don, a land full of mammoths, saber-toothed tigers, ape-men, and even some left-over dinosaurs. Although fit when he started, the rigorous life of survival in this savage world turned Drum into a paragon of physical perfection. Of course he soon met a beautiful jungle queen, and found himself elevated to the status of jungle god. He got his name from the sound his pistol made when he was slaying a gigantic serpent–the sound of thunder.
In August of 2012 Dynamite Comics, re-packagers of every pulp hero they can get their hands on, relaunched the Thund’da comics. Written by Robert Place Napton with art by Cliff Richards and covers by Jae Lee, they tell the story as if it was happening now instead of the World War II setting originally envisioned by Gardner Fox. Today’s comics are more gorgeous than those of yesteryear, and move a lot slower. Napton uses 22 pages to start building the character of Thun’da and gets about as far as Fox did in his first 2 pages of story. But, it’s the same story.
Dynamite has done something that I really want to praise them for. They reprinted the first 10 page Thun’da story in the back of the book. Although I knew Thun’da existed, I had never actually read any of his stories. The Frazetta artwork of the original is clean and beautiful, and doesn’t waste any time on psychological character development. Roger Drum just naturally adjusts to being a lord of the jungle in the original, slaying ape-men and savage beasts with ease.
The 22 pages of retelling in the second issue gets us through pages 3 and 4 of the original 10-page tale. We can see the ratio now. The modern retelling of Thun’da is ten times as long as the original. This is a nice formula. Take some classic pulp story and retell it in the present, but make it ten times as long and detailed as the original. No need to worry about plot–the original tale does the plotting for you. All you as a writer need to do is fill in lots of details that help get from point A to point B in the story. Napton does this extremely well and the comics are just beautiful. Still, it seems a bit wrong to me that I’m paying 30 times as much today as I would have in 1952 for 1/10 of the actual story content. This makes the ratio of money to story an incredible 300 to 1 compared to what a kid could have gotten in 1952. The second issue of the new Thun’da reprints a 7 page story from the 50s.
Well, I’m hooked. Cliff Richards’ art is excellent. His monsters and jungle beasts are especially fine. These comics are everything comics should be–well drawn, colorful, and exciting. And the reprints are making me think about finding the Thun’da archive publication that came out in 2010 and buying it. The original Frazetta art is mighty fine in its own right, and nobody was better at pulp adventure storytelling than Gardner Fox.
In my not so humble opinion, Dynamite has become the best comic book publisher in the country over the last few years, and they have done it by going back to the classics and retelling stories of high adventure that today’s readers were too young to read when they first came out. I love it.
If you like Frank Frazetta, Gardner Fox, Cliff Richards or Robert Napton, feel free to leave a comment.