By GW Thomas
Manly Wade Wellman decided to try writing comics after his friend and fellow Weird Tales author, Frank Belknap Long, had ventured into the world of "squinkies" as Manly called them. By March 1941, Manly would be writing the very first Captain Marvel tale "Captain Marvel vs. Z" in Captain Marvel Adventures #1. But before that he sharpened his pen on a few other comics including "Lee Granger, Jungle King" for Slam-Bang Comics (March-September 1940).
In later episodes Granger defeats the invading Arabs, a race of flying demons called the Djinns, helps scientists who struggle to find the lost ruins of the Gelka (guarded by savages and gorillas), and fights the usual greedy white hunters bound to steal Eric away. He also encounters the queen of the giant ants, a woman raised by insects. The longer, ten-page format allowed Wellman to expand his story where many jungle characters had to make due with only five pages. The art was most likely drawn by Jack Binder in his usual serviceable but crude style.
What strikes me most about this strip is first off that Lee Granger is not a Tarzan wannabe. Only once does he use vines to swing down on foes. Usually he uses his superior understanding of science, making him more of a jungle Doc Savage than a Lord Greystoke. Secondly, Wellman's scenarios are usually not too typical of jungle stories, having a more fantastic element to them. I especially liked Issue #3 that has the feel of Robert E Howard's "Almuric" to it, with winged foes and sword fights (both that story and issue #3 appeared in May 1939 so it might have been Edgar Rice Burroughs' Pirates of Venus (Argosy, October 2, 1931) or Howard's "Wings in the Night" (Weird Tales, July 1932) that inspired him just as easily.
Wherever Manly got his ideas, they were better than most of the jungle crowd. Only once does he stoop to overt racism in the strip, when he claims he must save the scientists because they are white. Such narrow-mindedness seems odd from the man who flew in the face of convention with his debut "When Planets Clashed" and wrote of space war from both sides of the conflict. His work as a whole speaks of a love for all humankind. It was this deep compassion that made stories like "Song of the Slaves" (Weird Tales, March/April 1940) memorable, or his work on the Civil War worthy of Pulitzer consideration. And it was this sense of honor that directed Manly to tell the truth on the stand in 1948. Manly was always, first and foremost, a gentleman.
GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is gwthomas.org. He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.
Thanks for this overview of the strip and Wellman's comics sojourn. I love it. The strip is pretty high concept but still manages to be pedestrian by comics terms, it looks like. As much as I love this sort of comics history, I still find the game of "follow the artist"more enjoyable than "follow the writer." Still waiting for a treatment of Patricia Highsmith's oeuvre...
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