Tuesday, March 31, 2009

the Death of Tarzan

The story

The first "Tarzan" story I read started out as an ordinary jungle adventure. Penciled in all probability by Burne Hogarth, it was a tale pitting the Lord Clayton against the tribe that kidnapped his wife and son. Tarzan set out to search for them, eventually having to cross a great desert. The journey seemed too much for even him, as there was no water to be found, and he tried to keep going by tying a rag around his head in order to hide from the sun. It was to no avail, as the hunger and long days of search started to wear on him, with only vultures circling overhead to keep him company. Finally, his pursuers managed to get their reward, as the Lord of the jungle collapsed and passed out in the desert.

As abrupt as it was, that seemed to be the end of the newspaper story. I bought the next issue of the magazine that carried it over but there was no "Tarzan" feature in it - for all intents and purposes I have walked straight in to witness the tragic and lonesome death of the pulp hero. Except that it couldn't have actually ended like that, but in order to understand the circumstances that lead t0 my actually reading the strip as presented, you have to be aware of the conditions in Serbian comics publishing during the civil war 16, or 17 years ago.

Maverick publishing

There was no official fighting in Serbia, as it is now, all of the military operations were carried out on the borders. The country was under heavy sanctions though, so there was little interest in taking care of legal matters in publishing. The newsstands themselves carried very little items during those years of economical collapse, but here and there a few new comicbook magazines could be found. 

One of them was simply titled "Maverik", published by the company of the same name, situated in Kragujevac, one of the largest cities in the region. Amidst all the bootlegs available on audio and video cassettes, "Maverik" publishing was in the business of producing pirate copies of comicbooks. And not even the usual foreign stuff badly lettered and mistranslated, but actual comics previously released by domestic publishers.

Thus, bundled together under one cover, there was a myriad of unrelated, previously available material. There was no more than five or six issues released in that chaotic period, and one certainly can't blame the publishers for trying to earn a living any way they could. The periodical still reflected the tastes of Serbian readers, publishing everything from French's "Spirou et Fantasio" to Italian cult favourite "Alan Ford".

As for the American comics, the assortment followed the decades old preferences of Golden age newspaper strips over superheroes, or any kind of modern publications (Conan is usually exempted from this). In any case, to see "Tarzan" among the reprints of "Asterix" was no surprise, which is how I got to read it.

What was unusual with reading the reprint in large black and white format, was that the story was cut in the middle, with no caption announcing the conclusion. It's unclear if "Maverik" ever realized their mistake in their rush to turn in a profit, but in a strange twist of events, that lead to a short period in which I was unsure if I had actually witnessed the death of the Lord of the jungle.

Of course, it didn't take me a long time to understand fully the machinations of Kragujevac's "Maverik", but to this day there's still a part of me that believes that Tarzan actually died in the jungle, having passed out from under the unrelenting rays of a sinister sun, with vultures circling in for the kill.

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