100 Years of Tarzan at Milan’s WOW Spazio Fumetto

On a recent trip to Italy my faithful sidekick and I made a stop in the city of Milan.  After a week in and out of cities with historical Renaissance charm such as Bologna, Venice and Verona, Milan was a change of pace with its metropolitan feel. Neither of us had ever been to Milan before, but we had our list of sights to see including the Duomo, the Galleria and especially Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper.

On our second day in Milan my faithful sidekick chimed:

“Did you know there’s a comic book museum in Milan?” she said.

Apparently the map we received at the tourist information booth at Milan’s central train station listed the museum as an attraction (Bless ’em!).  My faithful (non-comic book reading) sidekick was now more in the know than I was.

WOW Spazio Fumetto (translation: the WOW Comic Book Space…I have no idea what the WOW stands for) was located on the other side of town from our hotel, but the streetcar system could get us there within 25 minutes.  Needless to say, it was now on our “to do” list in Milan!

Walking through the gate of the museum’s property, you’re greeted by a giant statue that resembles Gertie the Dinosaur flanked by concrete barriers spray painted to caricature well known superheroes.  Off to the side is the Gotham Cafe which serves snacks, soda and coffee.  The museum opens at 3:00 daily, but when we arrived precisely at 3:05 on a sunny Tuesday the door was still locked.  Hmmm, maybe they’re running behind schedule.  Then I read the sign next to the door which translated to: “The museum will be closed today for repairs.”

Crap.

So the next day I came back with my (extremely patient) sidekick and finally made it into the museum.  We were in luck because the main exhibit was a retrospective on 100 years of Tarzan in books, film and comics.

The first floor of the museum had a small exhibit on the art of illustrator Aldo Di Gennaro which was supposed to end July 29th, but was extended to September 23rd.  I wasn’t familiar with his work prior to my visit to the museum but several of the subjects in his paintings (Westerns, adventure, alien moonscapes and 1930s crime) instantly made me a fan.  They also made me wish for more non-superhero stories in the American comic book market.

The Tarzan exhibit took up the entire second floor of the museum.  I have to admit I wasn’t expecting much when I saw the size of the space, but as I made my way through the exhibit I realized I was wrong to judge.  The Spazio Fumetto did a great job representing Tarzan’s history from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ books through film, TV and comic books.  Movie posters and video clips from Tarzan films and TV shows set the tone for the exhibit, but the highlight for me was the original artwork.

Paolo Ongaro and George Wilson were two other artists I wasn’t familiar with prior to being introduced to their work at the Spazio Fumetto, but these pieces of Tarzan original art added them to my list of artists to research.

Walking through an exhibition like this makes me regret taking a great character like Tarzan for granted over the years.  I remember watching Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan movies, Saturday morning cartoons and reading the comic books in the 70’s but Tarzan had been off of my radar since the early 80’s after watching the film Greystoke (a childhood favorite of mine).  I have to correct this egregious oversight on my part, and I’ll start by reading Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Apes this weekend.  Watching Greystoke again is also on the agenda.  IDW recently published Joe Kubert’s Tarzan of the Apes: Artist’s Edition.  I’m now inspired to add this to my collection of Artist’s Editions that include Dave Stevens’ The Rocketeer, John Romita’s The Amazing Spider-Man and Walt Simonson’s Thor.

Grazie Spazio Fumetto for a wonderful experience, and happy 100th Tarzan!

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