The Very First Super Hero: Tarzan of the Apes

TARZAN  The Very First Super Hero

Joe Neebe was intrigued with his revolutionary idea of a popular super hero, who appealed to adults within the Sunday comic sections. Remember, the whole idea was to put advertisements into the Sunday comics. They never had them before.  It would create a whole new audience and increase circulation for the newspapers.

He asked Hal Foster, where could he find such a hero, and who could produce the art work that would differentiate the page and make it all believable? Hal Foster was one of the top artists at the Palenski and Young Studios, located on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue, across the street from the Art Institute of Chicago.

Foster was a graduate of the Winnipeg School of Art in Canada. He also took classes at the Art Institute, as well as the Academy of Fine arts. He had, what today would be a PH.D in Art Studies. The Tree Studios, at State and Ontario, was a three story enclave of artists, writers, and musicians, where they lived, worked and gave lessons in their apartments and studios. Foster spent some spare time there and knew Edgar Rice Burroughs and Allen St. John, the artist who illustrated thirteen very successful Tarzan novels. Both lived and worked at the Tree Studios.

Foster decided to bring Neebe and Burroughs together at the Tree Studios. Tarzan was to become the first super hero in the Sunday papers. After some negotiating, it was agree that Hal Foster  would produce six full weeks of the new adventure strip introducing Tarzan to the readers. Neebe took the pages and went around the country showing them to various newspapers. He was only partly successful with only a few papers taking on the new and unusual package. The first six pages were actually printed in a smaller comic book size in 1929. This was really the first comic book, even though the official first, was said to be printed in 1932. Somewhat later, a publisher folded a newspaper page twice  from the then, Sunday comics, and called it the first comic book. Only a small number of the smaller Tarzan books were printed and are very rare, and valuable today.

So far Tarzan was only in a few papers and was not much of a success. This was because Foster did not want to do a weekly page .He was busy and successful in 1929. Neebe had another artist named Rex Maxon do the Tarzan page.

Strangely, it was after the 1929 crash and the beginning of the Great Depression that Tarzan suddenly became a Harry Potter like sensation. In Blog N0 4, you will see how all this happened. There are also three five minute videos on youtube showing the exhibit that was shown in twenty two art centers and galleries around Chicago over the last six years.


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