The first time I heard of the John Carter of Mars series of books by Edgar Rice Burroughs was my first year of art school. One of our teachers, Mark Pennington, gave us an assignment that had us drawing a scene from the first book, "A Princess of Mars".
I really had no idea what to make of some of the descriptions I read from the manuscript he handed out. The men and women of Mars wore no clothes, save for their armor and weapons. The creatures John Carter lived among and fought, the Tharks, were large green Martians with four arms, bug eyes, and huge tusks.
So, I did my best. I'm not sure how the piece turned out because it's been lost after all these years but I wish I could see it now.
So, it was the memory of how much Mark and a few of my other instructors really loved the John Carter books that made me seek out the stories now and read them for myself. Luckily, I found out that the stories, because they were written so long ago, are now free of copyright and in the public domain. After searching around the web for a good place to find the books I found a website called the Guttennerg Project. It's a project that has taken a lot of the old stories that are now in the public domain and posted them for free use on the web. I downloaded the first three John Carter books and printed them out to read.
I'm almost through with the first book and, I have to say, I'm really loving it. Just the images alone that this book brings to my head is amazing.
It also made me wonder. If these books are in the public domain, could I do twenty or so illustrations for the book, take the original manuscript, and publish my own version of the book? Something like an "Edgar Rice Burrough's Princess of Mars with illustrations by Sean Tiffany"? If any lawyer type person out there has an answer I'd love to hear it. Most people, when posed with the question answer, "sure, sounds like you could do that...it's public domain and all." But, then you mention the book you want to do is something like Tarzan. That's when it's fun to watch them back peddle a bit and step over their own feet.
Not that I plan to do a book of illustrations for the John Carter series but it would be interesting to see if it would be possible. Besides, not only was I first introduced to that fantastic world back during my first year of art school but I was also introduced to the artwork of Frank Frazetta.
And, if you have any idea about how great Frazetta is, then you know my illustrations of John Carter woudn't stand a chance.
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