The Mystery Artist of the 1953 G&D Bomba Books

by Robert R. Barrett

Three G&D Bomba coversRobert Barrett has been a prolific scholar, collector and friend of all things Burroughs, as well as comics and illustration art for over 50 years. He has written biographical articles about every ERB illustrator for The Burroughs Bulletin, ERB-dom and Erbania. His book on the Tarzan newspaper comics, Tarzan of the Funnies, is the definitive account of the history and production of the Tarzan comic strip from its inception in 1929 through 1950. He has been close friends with many iconic ERB illustrators including Frank Frazetta, Roy Krenkle, Ed Monroe, and many, many others. The discovery of “lost” art and illustration has always been a passion of his and this article, though not dealing with a Burroughs artist, per se, is a fine anecdote about the persistence needed to identify an illustrator.

Back in 1953 I was in my second year of high school and had just begun my first job. I was in the midst of my recent enthusiasm for the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs and was on the lookout for any books that seemed to cover the same ground as his, especially if they resembled Tarzan of the Apes. Here in Wichita, Rector’s Book Store was the largest in the city and I had made a habit of stopping in to look over their books at least once a week. On this particular day I noticed they had stocked a shelf with ten Bomba the Jungle Boy titles. Of course I couldn’t resist looking them over and was struck by their colorful dust-jacket art. At 75 cents each I could easily afford to buy the whole set and, being so taken with the cover art, I did just that. You can easily imagine my disappointment when I later sat down with them and discovered they were virtually unreadable! I put them away and would only dig them out when I felt the urge to look at the dust-jacket art.

Original cover painting for "Bomba the Jungle Boy and the Underground River," the ninth book in the series.
Original cover painting for “Bomba the Jungle Boy and the Underground River,” the ninth book in the series.

Jump ahead about four decades to 1992. Since my father bought me my first Tarzan book, one of the new Grosset & Dunlap Books for Boys and Girls reprints in 1948, my favorite Tarzan art has always been those dust-jackets by Ed Monroe. My friend, Roger Hill, comic art collector and founder of the Comic and Fantasy Art Amateur Press Association, knowing my affection for the Monroe dust-jacket art, would occasionally look to see if he could discover any of the original paintings during his trips to the east coast. One morning, after returning from one of those trips, Roger called and asked if it would be convenient for him to drop by as he had something he wanted to show me. When he arrived, and after some conversation, he pulled out Ed Monroe’s painting for The Return Of Tarzan. He also had the dust-jacket painting for the 1953 edition of Bomba The Jungle Boy—The Underground River, as well as the dust-jacket painting for Jeffery Farnol’s Winds Of Chance painted by George Avison. I ended up trading, plus some cash, for all three of the paintings.

Howard Hastings' frontispiece for the Cupples and Leon Bomba series.
Howard Hastings’ frontispiece for the Cupples and Leon Bomba series.

The 1953 Bomba the Jungle Boy dust-jacket art was not signed, nor was any credit given to the artist on the dust-jackets or in the books; so I had no idea who the wonderful artist was who had painted those striking paintings. In 2002 I picked up a book about children’s series books, Storybook Culture: The Art Of Popular Children’s Books by Joseph and Cheryl Homme, published by Collector’s Press. The book printed one of the 1953 Bomba books and the authors credited the cover art to Howard L. Hastings. At last, I thought, I could put a name to the artist who had painted my painting. As it turned out the Hommes didn’t know what they were writing about! While Howard Hastings did execute a handful of black-and-white frontispieces for some of the original Cupples & Leon Bomba titles, it became evident that this was the only reason that the Hommes identified him as the artist who had painted the dust-jacket art for the 1953 reprints. Not only was Hastings’ artistic style on the Bomba frontispieces different from the 1953 covers but it was different on any other paintings or illustrations that I could discover by him. So I was back where I started from.

Carl V. Burger pulp magazine illustration.
Carl V. Burger pulp magazine illustration.

Some time later I acquired three issues of The Blue Book Magazine which contained short stories by C. T. Stoneham, another author whose works I collect. Two of the stories were credited to an artist whose name I was unfamiliar with, Carl Burger. But the one thing that drew my immediate attention was my feeling that his style was very much like that of the 1953 Bomba titles. During one of my conversations with Ed Monroe I asked him if he was familiar with Carl Burger. He replied that he knew of Burger and that he had provided covers for Field & Stream magazine as well as interior illustrations for Collier’s, which Monroe had also worked for. I began to look for issues of those magazines with art by Burger, locating a handful. I then became even more convinced that Burger was the elusive Bomba artist. I also tried looking through the local library’s reference files but was unable to find any information about him.

The dust-jacket for "Underground River."
The dust-jacket for “Underground River.”

Recently I dug out the Bomba painting for The Underground River and took it to the framer to be matted and framed so that I could hang it up and get some enjoyment out of looking at it, instead of it being hidden away—stacked with other pieces of unframed art behind a door. Doing that got me motivated to begin a new search for Carl Burger art using the internet, where I found quite a bit of information about him as well as more examples of his work. While I may not be able to convince anyone else that the 1953 Bomba dust-jacket art is by Carl Burger (although Roger Hill is now convinced as well!) I am 100% convinced that he is the artist who painted the art for these dust-jackets.

Carl V. Burger was born on June 18, 1888 in Maryville, Tennessee. He attended Maryville College and Stanford University before transferring to Cornell University where his mentor was noted naturalist and painter Louis Agassiz Fuertes. Burger later studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. He married Margaret Rothery on September 18, 1920. They had one son, Knox Burger, who became a well-known editor and agent.

Portrait of Carl Burger by William Oberhardt
Portrait of Carl Burger by William Oberhardt

Carl Burger wrote and illustrated several books dealing with animal life and he illustrated the Newbery Award winning novel, Old Yeller, by Fred Gipson. He passed away on December 30, 1967 in Pleasantville, New York.

Interestingly, I have discovered only one other extant Burger painting for the 1953 Bomba reprints. The original cover art for book 7, Bomba The Jungle Boy—The Swamp Of Death, was offered for auction in 2003. Two paintings out of a series of ten, an indication of just how rare these paintings are.

Though Bomba can’t measure up to Tarzan or any of the creations of ERB, he is one of the many spin-offs of the Lord of the Jungle who tried to cash in during the years of John Clayton’s greatest popularity. Johnny Sheffield, who played Boy in eight Tarzan movies, portrayed Bomba in 12 movies for the Saturday matinee set. As a white boy in the jungle, Bomba eventually found his parents, something Tarzan could only do by proxy. Tarzan grew to manhood among the beasts of the wild and, though he was certainly capable of maintaining a sense of noblesse oblige for the “civilized” types he came into contact with, it is the romance of the wild man comfortable with savage Nature that continues to attract us to him over the century. Jessica Amanda Salmonson has a complete gallery of the 1950s Bomba covers at her delightful site,

1 thought on “The Mystery Artist of the 1953 G&D Bomba Books”

  1. My mother, Lucia Crocheron Greer (1924 -2014) was given an original by Carl Burger in 1938. She knew Knox and the family. She lived in the same area. It is a watercolor of two rhinos. 5″ by 6.5″ . I would like to see it saved, perhaps in someone’s collection. If anyone wishes to respond, my name is Ms. Crow Johnson Evans and I welcome ideas.

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