Friday, October 2, 2015

The Grooviest Covers of All Time: Neal Adams' Tarzan Paperback Covers

Hey, hey, hey, Groove-ophiles! Back in the mid-to-late 70s, Neal Adams did a bunch of Tarzan paperback covers for Ballentine Books' "black edition". Young Groove actually ordered the first, Edgar Rice Burroughs' immortal Tarzan of the Apes through one of those book order outfits that sell books to kids through school. I'd read several Tarzan novels via the library, but those Adams covers made me wanna buy 'em all! (And yeah, I bought the whole series, including the Boris Vallejo covers, but those are a subject for another day...) I always wondered why Adams did only 12 of the 24 covers, and thanks to the Interweb, I found the answer in an interview with Adams on the Tarzan.CC site...

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.

You can read the whole Adams interview at Tarzan.CC by clicking this link. It's a fantastic interview, covering tons of ground--a definite must-read for Adams fans.

And now...on wit' da covers!


  1. Love, love, love these. While it wouldn't be entirely accurate to say that the covers made me buy them (I probably would have anyway, as at the time I was reading Marvel's Tarzan comics and they sparked my interest in the books), they certainly made the decision easier. The fact that a famous and even then legendary comic-book artist did the cover art quite ideally facilitated the segue from comic books to novels...

  2. Tremendous information. I love the "Black Edition". I bought the first six books in the series as soon as I arrived at college in my freshman year. I took my food money and bought them, so beautiful and dynamic, it was worth forgoing a few meals. Later I picked up the balance of them. There has never been a more handsome set produced. Picked up the Neal Adams portfolios with the cover art in them a few years ago at a convention; needless to say those cost me more than the books did back in the day, though I didn't miss any meals because of them.

    Rip Off :)

  3. Slurp. That's the sound of me drooling over the amazing artistry of the one and only Neal Adams. Thanks for posting. Off to eBay again. I have some Adams' Tarzan paperbacks to look for.

  4. I love these covers as well. I recently found some of these at Powells Books in Portland, Oregon and snapped them up. BTW, I *LOVE* your new masthead on top of the site, it is GROOVY man!

  5. Great work! But on cover #10 (Tarzan & the City of Gold) it appears Neal didn't properly work out the perspective, as Tarzan looks to be a midget next to the giant woman. Any artist could put some tracing paper on it and find the horizon line and some vanishing points to correspond to the two figures, showing the size discrepancy. Cover #6 (Jungle Tales of Tarzan) has some wobbly anatomy on Lord Greystoke, but a great feeling for action and movement.


    Chris A.

    1. perspective isn't a science, it's a convention

  6. Awesome covers! Great Interview!



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Special thanks to Mike's Amazing World of Comics and Grand Comics Database for being such fantastic resources for covers, dates, creator info, etc. Thou art treasures true!

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