Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Holy Grails--Bomba The Jungle Boy

Everybody comic book fan has holy grails they've been searching for for years--that long-lusted after but unobtainable treasure that you can never find but just know would be perfect and wonderful.

One of mine?

Yes, Bomba The Jungle Boy.

Bomba has a long history. He started off as a series of young boys adventure novels back in the 1920s. A not-disguised-at-all Tarzan clone, Bomba grew up in the Amazon, and his later adventures shifted to Africa. Bomba had 20 books over 13 year period, and then he vanished.

Not that I necessarily want to read the books. According to the Wikipedia article, "a common theme of the Bomba books is that Bomba, because he is white, has a soul that is awake, while his friends, the dark-skinned natives, have souls that are sleeping." Errr, OK.

But nothing vanishes forever in American pop culture, does it? Because a movie studio made a long series of B-movies about Bomba, starring Johnny Sheffield, who had played "Boy" in the Tarzan movies. So, not typecast at all, eh, Johnny?

The 12 movies ran from 1949 to 1955, and their popularity caused the books to be reprinted. But then Bomba vanished again.

But as I say, nothing can stay the gaping maw of American media hungry for intellectual property to sell to us. The movies were chopped up and re-edited into a syndicated TV series call Zim Bomba in 1962, and apparently became something of a hit, despite having only 13 episodes.

Which brings us to DC. In the late 60s, DC was trying to take advantage of the burgeoning Baby Boom market, by plastering teens in unusual situations everywhere. The Anthro series started up shortly after Bomba, for example. Teen jungle fighter, teen caveman, teen president...DC was going to sell us teens, no matter what!!

I've never, ever seen an issue of Bomba anywhere--quarter bin, legitimate back issue bins, anywhere. The only reason I even know of the series' existence is DC house ads (usually on the same page as an Anthro ad!). And it certainly is unlikely to ever be reprinted, as the rights are no doubt long gone, and probably too expensive to re-obtain just for reprinting a forgotten 7 issue series that no one in the universe has heard of.

But look at the pretty art!!! Check out that Carmine Infantino/Charles Cuidera cover of issue #1 above. And starting with issue #3, Jack Sparling took over cover and interior art. I've always been a huge fan of his 60s and 70s work for DC. Just take a look at these covers (click to embiggen):

I mean, those are freakin' great covers, and I'm having fever dreams imagining what the interiors look like. Plus, the last two issues were written by Denny O'Neill. Yes, I know they would probably suck if I ever found them...but I still lust for these comic books. That's what holy grails are--you want them so badly it hurts, even though they can never live up to expectations.

So, DC...

I don't care how you do it--just get me some Bomba!!


Dougie said...

I'd seen the covers to 5 and 6 in probably the same places as you- for example, the inside back covers of Adventure Comics, possibly. They look amazing!
Yet again, an example of DC being somewhat ahead of its time. I'm thinking of the Ka-Zar and Shanna strips that Marvel launched between '70 and '73, including Savage Tales. But you're probably right- rights issues will mean we won't see reprints.

Martin O'Hearn said...

The Denny O'Neil issues were interesting experiments--written in a Prince Valiant narration style with no word balloons. At this point the editor was Dick Giordano, who encouraged such things.

I'd say DC's TV blurb referred to the movies themselves being run again in a new syndicated "Jungle Theater" package in 1966--they were camp, after all, like the serials thrown into a similar "Adventure Theater" that I remember seeing on late Saturday morning TV.

Rights issues didn't mean DC didn't reprint the first two Bombas themselves, when they desperately needed jungle material for the Tarzan 100-Page Spectaculars. They just changed the name to Simba.

H. Tiberius Miser said...

FYI, these are all over eBay, and for fairly reasonable prices.

SallyP said...

Good grief. I've never even heard of Bomba. But I do have to admit that those are some really nice covers.

As a consolation prize, howzabout some Burne Hogarth Tarzan? Man, the contortions he put that boy through, in order to conceal the fact that he was butt-nekkid were AMAZING!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the background info on Bomba I wasn't aware it was anything other than a DC created comic character - I picked up issue 3 at a comic mart in Glasgow about 15 years ago as I hadn't seen or heard of this title before just as a curiosity - nice interior art by Jack Sparling and I agree they are all great covers. McScotty

Anonymous said...

I had that "Tampu Lives-Bomba Dies" issue when it was new. Now I really feel old. As I recall, it was competently done, but unexceptional.

Anonymous said...

The books great! The author is writing as Roy Rockwood (!) for crying out loud. There are man eating spiders, cave monsters and cannibals "en masse". The outnumber Tarzan ten to one.

-3- said...

Y'know, with you being the F4F that you are, this all surprised me. I thought you were going to loop it all around to tie your love of Bomba in with Ben Grimm's love of the character back in the 60s.
I was always aware of Bomba, but partaking of far too much ERB to ever get into his stuff.