I love discovering great old stuff that I've never read before. Going into reading the Korak Son of Tarzan Archives, I had no idea what to expect. I'd heard that Russ Manning was a brilliant cartoonist and over the years read a handful of comics drawn by him. I'd long admired his lovely, clean style when I ran into it, and was curious to see more of his artwork.
This book collects nearly 200 pages of comic stories by Manning from 1964. His art in these twelve tales is lovely. It has a nice, almost animated feeling, with a beguilingly simple line style that focuses on the figures at the middle of the panels rather than on the storytelling elements around them. Manning's style is the epitome of clean line illustration, with precisely the right amount of necessary detail in every panel. The more you look at Manning's art, the more impressive it is. A patient eye notices how Manning rarely wastes a line, seldom has a figure out of place and never makes a mistake with anatomy and other details. But his approach is designed primarily to move the story onward, not to attract the reader's attention. Story is always paramount.
There's also a tendency in Manning's presentation that I also noticed with Carl Barks's comics: As a habit, Manning places the main characters for the scene right at the center of every panel. It's very easy for the reader to follow the action on each page because we don't have to think in order to interpret what is happening. The reader's attention lands exactly on the important item that is being presented. We aren't distracted by overly complicated backgrounds.
Manning's artwork is a startling change for a modern comic book fan because his rendering feels so different from the material that we're used to seeing in most comic books these days. Manning appears to be much more focused on ensuring reading comprehension than he is on showing off his ample talents.
And his style helps make these wonderful jungle adventure tales delightful. Writer Gaylord DuBois spins thoroughly entertaining yarns about Korak and his chimpanzee sidekick Pahkut encountering pirates, slavery rings and bizarre native tribes. Korak even fights a giant octopus in one memorable chapter.
The twelve tales collected in this book might feel a bit outdated to a modern reader. Of course, they were first released to the nation's newsstands fifty years ago and cost a thin dime. The attitudes and approaches of the comics were different then than they are now. Thankfully I didn't see too many unfortunate racial stereotypes in these stories; instead, the emphasis on pure thrills and spills, "pretty simple, old fashioned stuff," as Steve Rude mentions in his introduction.
But aren't there times when simple and old fashioned is just what you want? I'd never read Manning and DuBois's Korak before. This collection thoroughly charmed me.