Thursday, February 16, 2012

Monday, February 13, 2012

How It All Began

This past weekend saw the publication of the wonderful installment of Prince Valiant by Gary Gianni and Mark Shultz that celebrates the 75th anniversary of the renowned adventure strip. Today, February 13, is the actual anniversary, and to mark the occasion here at A Prince Named Valiant I share the page or installment that began it all. Yes, it's Hal Foster's very first Prince Valiant page, originally published Saturday, February 13, 1937. It's followed by an official statement released earlier today by King Features, the publishers of Prince Valiant. Enjoy!

Click on the image above for a larger view.

Prince Valiant Turns 75

Hal Foster's epic adventures of Prince Valiant in the days of King Arthur
celebrates 75 years of continuous publication

NEW YORK, Feb. 13, 2012 – Horrit the Witch foretold that he would have a life of adventure, but never contentment. True to the prophecy, Prince Valiant has never rested in striving for the Arthurian ideals of chivalry: defeating evil, defending those who do right, and through feats of courageous derring-do, seeking truth and justice for the common good. Today, those 5th century quests may seem at times as alien and unattainable as the Holy Grail, but they live on to inspire all who read them each and every week in the Prince Valiant comic strip, which marks its 75th anniversary today.

From the moment its first page appeared on Saturday, Feb. 13, 1937, Prince Valiant has been continuously published, offering its readers an epic series of unforgettable adventures, an exquisite panoply of artistic creation, a fascinating look at history, and a lasting tribute to Arthurian legend, one of the most consistent folk and literary traditions of Western civilization.

In the very first story arc, readers met the young prince, still a mere boy, and his parents, rulers of the Scandinavian kingdom of Thule, as they fled from the evil Sligon, who had usurped the throne. The family found sanctuary in the fens of King Arthur’s British realm.

During that first year of the strip’s syndication, Valiant grew to manhood, met Sir Gawain, Sir Lancelot and King Arthur and performed a host of knightly deeds such as slaying dragons and rescuing fair maidens. In 1938, he acquired his famous Singing Sword, the blade twin to Arthur’s own Excalibur and, after being knighted by King Arthur in 1939, he was able to ensure his father’s restoration as king of Thule the following year.

One of the intriguing aspects of the Prince Valiant story is its domestic dramas. In 1946, Val married the fair Aleta, Queen of the Misty Isles. When Aleta was kidnapped and taken out to sea, Valiant’s dogged pursuit took him all across the Atlantic before he finally caught up with her in the Americas. The couple’s first son, Arn, was born in America in 1947. Val and Aleta would eventually have four more children: Karen and Valeta, twins, were born in 1951; Galan, in 1962, and Nathan, in 1982. Val became a grandfather when Arn and his wife, Maeve, had their first child in 1987. And so the saga has continued . . .

Above: Prince Valiant and Queen Aleta's growing family. Art and text by Hal Foster
(from the April 16, 1961 installment of Prince Valiant).

Hal Foster [left], who had authored the popular Tarzan comic strip, was invited to create his new strip at the suggestion of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, whose King Features Syndicate has distributed the strip from the start. Prince Valiant became a legend during Foster’s own lifetime. The National Cartoonists Society gave Foster its highest honor, the Reuben Award for Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year, in 1957.

The Sunday-only page has continued to earn kudos from readers and professional peers alike under the lengthy and able stewardship of Foster’s successors. While Foster continued to write the strip, his hand-picked assistant, John Cullen Murphy [right], assumed the artistic mantle for the strip in 1970. Murphy surmounted the huge challenge of following in Foster’s footsteps and, when his son and editor of The Atlantic, Cullen Murphy, began to pen the scripts in 1979, the father-and-son team successfully guided the venerable comic strip to new successes during their tenure. John Cullen Murphy received the National Cartoonists Society’s Best Story Comic Strip Award an unprecedented six times for Prince Valiant.

John Cullen Murphy passed the mantle to renowned comic book illustrator Gary Gianni [left]. Murphy had carefully chosen and worked for two years with him before Gianni took over full responsibilities for the strip in 2004. Cullen Murphy continued to write the strip until later that same year, when another comic book great, Mark Schultz, took over.

20th Century Fox made Prince Valiant into a feature film, starring Robert Wagner in the title role, in 1954. In 1991, an animated version, The Legend of Prince Valiant, became a regular feature on The Family Channel. In 1997, a second live-action version was released in Great Britain.

In 1995, the United States Postal Service included Prince Valiant in its “Comic Strip Classics” series of commemorative stamps.

Beginning in the 1930s, Prince Valiant has been the subject of many comic books and anthologies published through the years all around the world. Today, the Prince Valiant strip continues to inspire a great deal of interest in the publishing industry and currently several new reprint series are available worldwide. In addition to issuing an ongoing series of hardcover anthologies, Bocola Verlag in Germany has published for the serious collector Prince Valiant: The Camelot Edition, a numbered, slip-cased folio edition. Limited to 700 copies (the first 300 are in German, and the remaining copies in English) the editions are packaged with an original, historical newspaper broadsheet comics page. In Spain, Planeta DeAgostini is publishing a multi-volume series of the complete Foster opus. Other collections are being published in Austria, Switzerland, Canada, the Benelux, Russia, Eastern Europe and Uruguay.

In the United States, Fantagraphics Books has published four volumes to date of a multi-volume series of Hal Foster’s classic pages. Andrews McMeel have published Prince Valiant: Far from Camelot by Gary Gianni and Mark Schultz, the award-winning artistic team currently producing the strip.

See also the previous posts:
Prince Valiant Celebrates 75th Anniversary
Something Very Special . . .
A Valiant First Effort, Wouldn't You Say?
"He Wasn't a Superhero But He Was a Hero"
Mark Schultz on the Art of Hal Foster: "Uniquely Appealing, Innovative and Influential"
John Cullen Murphy on Prince Valiant: "It's My Duty. I'm Responsible For It"
Mark Schultz on Prince Valiant as an American Invention

Recommended Off-site Links:
75 Years of Prince (February 13, 2012).
Prince Valiant's 75th Anniversary – The Archivist (, February 15, 2012).

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Something Very Special . . .

To mark the February 13 75th anniversary of Prince Valiant, the team currently producing the strip – artist Gary Gianni and writer Mark Schultz – have created something very special . . .

Yes, it's this weekend's installment, page #3914, of the ongoing adventures of Valiant, Prince of Thule and Knight of the Round Table; a page that in harkening back to a surreal adventure experienced by Valiant in his youth, provides a wonderful opportunity for Gianni and Schultz to not only convey the strip's key values of adventure, camaraderie, family and hope, but also highlight and celebrate many of the characters that have appeared throughout Prince Valiant's 75-year history and helped make it one of the most beloved and enduring 'comic' strips of all time.

Be sure to click on the image above for a larger view!

These highlighted characters include Valiant's wife Aleta, eldest son Arn, twin daughters Karen and Valeta, second son Galan, father King Aguar of Thule, good King Arthur of Camelot, Sir Gawain, Sir Tristram, Horrit of the Fens, Boltar, Tillicum, Geoffrey, Gundar Harl, Angor Wrack, Makeda, Sir Lancelot and Prince Arn of Ord.

And if you look carefully you'll see standing with the wizard Merlin none other than Hal Foster (1892-1982), the creator of Prince Valiant, and his successor John Cullen Murphy (1919-2004), who drew the strip for over 30 years before passing it on to Gianni in 2004.

Without doubt, Gianni and Schultz's 75th anniversary page is a beautiful and fitting tribute to Prince Valiant, the greatest work ever produced in the comic art medium.

See also the previous post:
Prince Valiant Celebrates 75th Anniversary

Recommended Off-site Links:
Happy 75th Birthday, Prince Valiant! – Tyler Tichelaar (Children of Arthur, February 1, 2012).
Supporting Cast: Happy Wedding Anniversary, Aleta and (February 10, 2012).

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Prince Valiant Celebrates 75th Anniversary

This coming Monday, February 13, 2012, marks the 75th anniversary of the Prince Valiant adventure strip!

In marking this impressive achievement, King Features, the publisher of Prince Valiant in more than 300 American newspapers, notes that the strip created by "the immortal Hal Foster" and first published on February 13, 1937, "continues strong to this day as the pinnacle of comic strip adventure storytelling."

It's a view shared by many, including Matt Seneca who, in his recent review of Prince Valiant, Volume 4: 1943-1944, writes, "Prince Valiant . . . has probably done more time than any other [strip] as the popular imagination’s pick for 'greatest comic ever.' . . . [T]he mastery Foster brings to bear on his every panel may have been equaled both before and since his prime, but it’s never been surpassed."

Of course, two artists who have in their own unique ways equaled the artistry of Hal Foster are John Cullen Murphy and Gary Gianni. It has been to these two that the mantle of 'artist of Prince Valiant' has been passed. Murphy was Foster's handpicked successor and drew the strip from 1971 to 2004.

Right: Prince Valiant and his wife Aleta, Queen of the Misty Isles, as drawn by John Cullen Murphy in 1978.

Gary Gianni, in turn, was Murphy's choice of successor and has drawn the strip since 2004 up to the present day.

Left: Prince Valiant and his companions are attacked by harpies in this memorable 2007 illustration by Gary Gianni.

Others involved over the years in the creative endeavor that is Prince Valiant include writers Cullen Murphy and Mark Schultz, colorists Mairead Murphy and Scott Roberts, and, briefly in the early 1970s, artists Gary Morrow and Wally Wood.

Right: The Prince of Thule as drawn by Wally Wood. For more rare images of Wood's "try-out" time on Prince Valiant in the early '70s, see this post on Thomas Haller Buchanan's excellent The Pictorial Arts blog.

Generally regarded by comics historians as one of the most impressive visual creations ever syndicated, Prince Valiant is noted for its realistically rendered panoramas and intelligent, sometimes humorous, narrative. Instead of word balloons, Prince Valiant is narrated via captions positioned at the bottom or sides of panels. Frank Plowright in The Comic Guide (1997) notes that: "In the strictest sense, Prince Valiant isn't a comic, being illustrations accompanied by blocks of text, but it's nevertheless stylish, influential, and an exceptional body of work." In his introduction to the first edition of The Definitive Prince Valiant Companion (1992), Todd H. Goldberg suggests that Prince Valiant be considered "a massive illustrated novel presented in a comic art-like style."

Above: The July 31, 2011 installment of Prince Valiant,
with artwork by Gary Gianni and text by Mark Schultz.

Left: The cover of one of the Prince Valiant comic books my father, Gordon Bayly, collected as a teenager in the 1950s. It was these comic books, published and distributed by Associated Newspaper Ltd of Sydney, Australia, that first introduced me to Prince Valiant. They were comprised of black-and-white compilations of Prince Valiant installments from the late-1930s to the mid-1940s.

To mark the 75th anniversary of Prince Valiant an art exhibit featuring Hal Foster’s work on both Prince Valiant and his earlier strip Tarzan, will be on display throughout February at Tinley Park Library (7851 Timber Drive, Tinley Park, Illinois). The exhibition is curated by comics enthusiast Sid Weiskirch, and will travel to different libraries throughout Illinois, including Blue Island Library in July and August 2012, and Orland Park Library in January 2013.

Above: The fall of Camelot: A panel from the September 9, 1984 installment
of Prince Valiant, with artwork by John Cullen Murphy and text by Cullen Murphy.

Twenty-five years ago, when I was a college student in Australia, I wrote an article celebrating the 50th anniversary of Prince Valiant which was published in the Canberra Times.

Last year on the 74th anniversary of the strip I started this blog, A Prince Named Valiant.

And it is at this blog today that I celebrate the 75th anniversary of Prince Valiant by sharing the following pages and illustrations. As you'll see, they all reference various milestones in the strip's history. Be sure to click on each image for a more detailed view.

Above: A memorable panel from the early days of the strip – November 27, 1938, to be exact. The scene of a young Prince Valiant in the grip of a life-threatening fever provides Hal Foster a powerful and poignant opportunity to revisit the significant characters and events of the strip's first two years.

Keeping vigil by Prince Valiant's side is his father, King Aguar of Thule, while "ever hovering near" is the specter of his first (and lost) love, Ilene.

Above: A limited edition Prince Valiant print created by Hal Foster.

Above: Page (or installment) 2000 of Prince Valiant – June 8, 1975.

About this page Thomas Haller Buchanan writes: "Published well after [Hal] Foster retired and laden with iconic Foster artwork from the past, [this page] was quite a treat to see in the midst of John Cullen Murphy's run on the strip."

Above: Page 3000 of Prince Valiant by John Cullen Murphy – August 7, 1994.

Above: A panel from page 3700 of Prince Valiant by Gary Gianni – January 6, 2008.

See also the previous posts:
A Valiant First Effort, Wouldn't You Say?
"He Wasn't a Superhero But He Was a Hero"
Mark Schultz on the Art of Hal Foster: "Uniquely Appealing, Innovative and Influential"
John Cullen Murphy on Prince Valiant: "It's My Duty. I'm Responsible For It"
Mark Schultz on Prince Valiant as an American Invention
"We Are the Daughters of the Queen of the Misty Isles and the Prince of Thule"
Man of Action
Looking Good

. . . and my October 2010 Wild Reed post:
Journeying Into the Truth . . . Valiantly, of Course!

Opening image: Gary Gianni.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

His Strong and Gentle Aleta

Enslaved in a Sahara salt mine, Prince Valiant wonders how his wife, "his strong and gentle Aleta," is coping with the news of his disappearance: "Who will comfort her as fear and shock fray the fragile strands of hope?"

Art: John Cullen Murphy (February 1980).
Text: Cullen Murphy.
Source: The Sun Herald (Sydney, Australia); from the collection of Michael J. Bayly (August 15, 1982).