The Art of John Carter
by Josh Kushins
Published by Disney Editions
(Editor's note: Disney have announced no plans for book and merchandise deals in the UK for the John Carter movie, but the books reviewed on this page are readily available from online vendors such as Amazon)
Renowned Oscar-winning director Andrew Stanton (Pixar's Wall-E, Finding Nemo)
takes his audience on a visual voyage through the world of John Carter. Now, in
The Art of John Carter: A Visual Journey, take part in that adventure and
discover the magic from behind the scenes and what it took to bring this century
old tale to life! There's an irony in the fact that Edgar Rice Burroughs' most famous creation, Tarzan of the Apes, has spawned several films (Wikipedia doesn't specify how many but just says "several", and although I should know, I'm afraid I don't), none of which has been any good whatsoever; and his first creation, John Carter, the hero of A PRINCESS OF MARS and ten other Martian adventures, comes to the big screen for the first time almost one hundred years after it was first published in serial form in ALL-STORY MAGAZINE, and by one of the best film-makers of all time, Disney, with an Oscar-winning director, Andrew Stanton, himself a lifelong fan of Carter. To celebrate the film, which opens in just over a week's time across the world, Disney editions have released this magnificent souvenir book, sumptuously illustrated. describing the various processes the director, his assistants and colleagues, and the producer went through to get what they wanted. The book doesn't reveal any trade secrets, although there is one photograph of Taylor Kitsch (John Carter) mounted on some kind of quad bike that will later be turned into an eight-legged thoat... what the book does more than anything is to allow the director and the concept artists to wallow in their esteem for one of the world's greatest writers. The love and dedication they display in creating the astonishingly beautiful architecture and warcraft of Barsoom (Mars) is evident on every page. The trouble they went to to get the physiology of the tharks correct (although Burroughs describes them as fifteen feet tall, the book I'm reviewing has them nine feet tall - but looking taller) is as fantastic as the concept of four-armed green Martians itself. They drew inspiration from the Masai tribes of East Africa, because the green Martians, the tharks, are nomadic, proud, very tall, and very graceful, just like the Masai. They experimented with red body paint for the Heliumites, but it didn't work; which is why you will see Dejah Thoris, lovingly portrayed by Lynn Collins, covered in red tattoos. That works for me. Film-makers change things from the books because they usually (sometimes) know what works in a movie and what doesn't. I haven't seen the film so I can't comment on that, but from what I see in this stunning book, I believe that the film-makers have pulled out all the stops and given us something really close to A PRINCESS OF MARS with some subtle storyline changes that were always going to be inevitable. Fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs will at last be able to jump up and down, rejoicing, and be able to tell their disbelieving friends and relatives: "Edgar Rice Burroughs created this! He always was as good as I said he was, and here's the proof". Forget about Tarzan, all those badly-made films where he's portrayed as an illiterate muscle-man. Films have never done Tarzan justice. This film does ERB justice in a way we always dreamed of, and the book is an essential must-have. The concept art for the cities of Helium, of Zodanga, of the Thern Sanctuary; the concept art for the tharks, the therns, the red men (and women), the banths, the warhoons, and the weaponry - theyt're all jaw-dropping and awe-inspiring, and this movie must surely rival Peter Jackson's LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy as one of the best adaptations of an adventure-fantasy, in my opinion. I always knew that Burroughs was sensationally good - now we have a sensationally-good film to prove it to the doubters, to the unbelievers, to those who never heard of, or never tried Burroughs. If you're tempted to go and see the movie, this book will be a keepsake, a memento to be cherished just as the DVD release will be in a few months' time. If you're a long-time ERB fan, you won't want to be without this book. Trust me. Editor's note: Andrew Stanton reveals in the book how aged twelve he spent long hours in his room with his friends just drawing Tharks whilst listening to Led Zeppelin at full volume. That wouldn't be my choice of music, and I hadn't discovered John Carter and Dejah Thoris at that stage in my life, but I can see how inspiration comes in many forms.
There is a novelisation; that anyone making a film of a classic novel would change certain things is a given. I have the official novelisation, which also contains the original Burroughs novel, to read, and I will give my opinion on it. But it is the film that concerns me at the moment, and although I'm unable to publish any pictures from this book except for the front cover, I can say that it fills me with a sense of eager anticipation, joy, and triumph. Back in the 1970s, my friends and I were publishing THE FANTASTIC WORLDS OF ERB - an unwieldy title for a fan magazine, and only a long-time fan of Burroughs would recognise the epithet ERB. Because although Tarzan has remained steadfastly popular for nearly a hundred years, and in spite of the dire cinematic offerings we have had to endure, the whole Edgar Rice Burroughs thing has been something of a struggle. People simply don't take him seriously as a writer, and that is just plain wrong. He was a pioneer.
In the seventies, members of the British Edgar Rice Burroughs Society including myself (I was librarian) were approached by someone asking about a Russian artist, or rather an artist with a Russian-sounding name. They were making two films, THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT, and AT THE EARTH'S CORE, for Amicus Productions. They were to star Doug McClure (!) and these people had heard of some terrific illustrations by a Russian they thought might help them in the creative pre-production processes, and did we know who this artist was? We racked our brains, and then we realised there was only one artist they could be talking about - FRANK FRAZETTA. Russian? Come on, guys, does that name sound Russian to anyone? Frank Frazetta had been illustrating Edgar Rice Burroughs for a few years. He was captivated by Burroughs' creations, just as we were, and he wanted to put his artistic flair to work to bring those heroes, heroines and fabulous creatures alive. We were thrilled to own those editions, and the ART OF FRANK FRAZETTA books that celebrated his genius a couple of years later. I still have my copies in one of the crates in the garage, carefully wrapped.
Burroughs has always inspired people. Like I said earlier on, he was a pioneer. The author of ART OF JOHN CARTER suggests that Burroughs created the genre of fantasy. Those of us who have remained loyal to ERB through the years would agree whole-heartedly. What author can you think of that was writing fantasy before 1912? Fantasy of the type you would recognise as having spawned LORD OF THE RINGS, and CONAN? Burroughs wrote UNDER THE MOONS OF MARS and submiited it for publication as a serial to All-Story Magazine in 1912 under the pseudonym Normal Bean (Normal Being, meaning he wasn't a fruitcake, but a serious author), but the publisher misread it, or assumed he meant to say Norman Bean, and that was how it was published. TARZAN OF THE APES appeared two years later in the same magazine, again as a serial, and caught the public's imagination in a way that outstripped the popularity of John Carter, for some reason. People were hungry for adventure, and maybe they weren't quite ready for science fiction/fantasy, although they were ready for jungle adventure.
The thing about both John Carter and Tarzan of the Apes is that they are romances. Strong men may deny that they read such books for their romantic elements, but be assured, they do. They may be thrilled by the thought of scantily-clad heroines wielding guns and swords and knives, and of women who need protecting being carried through the jungle in the arms of an ape-man. They may deny that the idea of fighting for and saving the woman you love is the most important element of adventure-fantasy-fiction, but it is. All of Burroughs' books are romances in one way or another. Tarzan fights for and wins Jane Porter (in the second book, THE RETURN OF TARZAN). John Carter fights for and wins that princess of Helium, DEJAH THORIS (in the third book, WARLORD OF MARS). Carson of Venus fights for and wins Duare, John Innes fights for and wins DIAN THE BEAUTIFUL in the Pellucidar novels. It's a common theme. It's inspirational. It doesn't matter where it happens, on Mars, Venus, in the Jungle, at the Earth's core... they're all romances, and it is this that keeps people coming back to Edgar Rice Burroughs for nearly one hundred years. We still read and love Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte and Charles Dickens, along with H G Wells, D H Lawrence, Thomas Hardy. Burroughs is the writer of more than seventy adventure novels, and his work, like that of those other authors, has never been out of print. There has always been a Tarzan comic of one sort or another (Dark Horse are the current publishers). And now there are John Carter and Dejah Thoris comics (from Dynamite). Think of a science fiction or fantasy novelist from the last century and they will all, to a man, tell you that one of their inspirations was Edgar Rice Burroughs. George Lucas's Star Wars has the Jedi and Padwans; that's his acknowledged homage to Burroughs's Jedwars and Padwars, written some sixty years earlier. Burroughs' THE CHESSMEN OF MARS had a dead army in it, something that inspired and informed Tolkien's RETURN OF THE KING nearly fifty years later. If some of the illustrations in the book look familiar or set off a spark of recognition (I'm thinking of the art and architecture, the costumes and the weaponry of STAR WARS, STAR TREK and LORD OF THE RINGS, just remember that Edgar Rice Burroughs started it all, and this book celebrates that in a way that will convince all those doubters who once believed that ERB was not to be taken seriously, and only wrote comic-book stuff. The film will keep ERB alive and introduce his wondrous stories to a new generation, a hundred years after he first wrote them. The book will remind us of just how good the film is, but more importantly, it will remind us of the unparalleled part he played in developing the fantasy/sf/adventure literature that dominated the twentieth century and still inspires us to this day.
Disney, of course, made a Tarzan of the Apes movie. I've never seen it, though I've seen stills and clips from it, of course. I'm not impressed - it's a kids' cartoon, not at all what we wanted to see. But with JOHN CARTER, Disney have got it right, and this book celebrates that fact in all its glory. Here are some of the staggeringly beautiful illustrations from this must-have book, released by Disney at the back end of 2011: