THUNDA, KING OF THE CONGOMedium: Comic books
Published by: Magazine Enterprises
First Appeared: 1952
Creator: Frank Frazetta
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From Ka-Zar (Marvel Comics) to Kaanga, Lord of the Jungle (Fiction House Magazines), the comic book field is rife with loincloth-wearing jungle men in the Tarzan tradition. Thun'da, published by Magazine Enterprises (Redmask, The Avenger) during the early 1950s, started out a little different but wound up just one of the crowd. It did, however, have one outstanding
distinction. Its first issue is widely (if falsely) known as the only comic book completely, beginning to end, done by master fantasy painter Frank Frazetta.
Frazetta, who entered the comics field in 1944, started out drawing miscellaneous funny animals for minor publishers. His best-known early work in adventure comics was in DC's Adventure Comics, where he drew The Shining Knight. By the early '50s, he was working for Magazine Enterprises, where he drew covers for Straight Arrow, Ghost Rider and other titles, as well as some interior stories for White Indian. The only character he actually created there was Thun'da, whose first issue was dated January, 1952. Frazetta set the stage, tho he had scripting assistance from Gardner Fox (Adam Strange, Moon Girl).
The original idea was to set the Thun'da series in a "lost world" of prehistoric beasts, where Frazetta could draw the hero duking it out with dinosaurs. From Warlord to Dino Boy, pitting modern people against that sort of creature isn't uncommon in comics and animation, but the concept was watered down by editorial fiat. By the end of the first issue, he'd been relocated to the ordinary African Jungle, where lions, giant snakes and the like were the most exotic animals Frazetta got to draw. Even the subtitle, "King of the Congo", was familiar to long-time comics readers. Jo-Jo, one of the less literate Tarzan clones, had been subtitled "Congo King" five years earlier. Frazetta quit after that first issue, and the series was taken over by Bob Powell (Mr. Mystic, Cave Girl).
Thun'da started out as Roger Drum, flying across Africa on a spy-chasing mission, when his plane went down in unexplored territory. There, he fell in love with Princess Pha, a local beauty, who accompanied him to the less unknown portion of the continent where he spent most of his vine-swinging career. Starting with the second issue, Cave Girl occupied the comic's back pages.
Changing the character concept wasn't Frazetta's biggest bone of contention with Magazine Enterprises. Tho it had earlier provided a haven where Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster could own their final creation, Funnyman, the company generally operated on the standard comic book principle that the publisher owns everything. After it sold Thun'da to Columbia Pictures without giving him a dime, Frazetta left for good.
Columbia, whose earlier comics-inspired serial stars included Batman and Congo Bill, released the first chapter of King of the Congo on May 1, 1952. Buster Crabbe, better known for his portrayals of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, starred as the titular Congo King. Pha was played by Gloria Dea, whose dozen-or-so other film credits didn't include any others from comics (tho she did appear in the cult classic Plan 9 from Outer Space). No trace of Thun'da's early dalliance with prehistoric monsters reached the screen.
That was Thun'da's only media spin-off. The comic book lasted a total of six issues, the last of which appeared in 1953. Tho Powell is of some interest to collectors, it's the single issue by Frazetta that really put Thun'da on the comic book map.