The stellar Sunday page Prince Valiant in the Days of King Arthur debuted on 13th February, 1937, a luscious and luminous full-colour weekly window into a miraculous too-perfect past of adventure and romance, even topping creator Hal Foster's previous impossibly popular comics masterpiece Tarzan.
The saga of noble knights played against a glamorised, dramatised Dark Ages historical backdrop as it followed the life of a refugee boy driven from his ancestral homeland in Scandinavian Thule who grew up to roam the world and attain a paramount position amongst the heroes of fabled Camelot.
Writer/artist Foster [right] wove the epic tale over decades, as the near-feral wild boy matured into a paragon of chivalric virtue: knight, warrior, saviour, vengeance-taker and eventually family patriarch in a constant deluge of wild – and joyously witty – wonderment.
The restless hero visited many far-flung lands, siring a dynasty of equally puissant heroes and utterly enchanting generations of readers and thousands of creative types in all the arts.
There have been films, animated series and all manner of toys, games and collections based on Prince Valiant – one of the few adventures strips to have lasted from the thunderous 1930s to the present day (over 4000 episodes and counting) – and even here in the end times of the newspaper narrative cartoons, it continues to astound in more than 300 American papers. It's even cutting its way onto the internet with an online edition.
Foster tirelessly crafted the feature until 1971 when illustrator John Cullen Murphy (Big Ben Bolt) succeeded him as illustrator. Foster continued as writer and designer until 1980, after which he retired and Cullen Murphy’s daughter Mairead took over colouring and lettering whilst her brother John assumed the writer’s role.
In 2004 the senior Cullen Murphy also retired. Since then the strip has soldiered on under the extremely talented auspices of artists Gary Gianni and latterly Thomas Yeates with Mark Schultz (Xenozoic) scripting.
Before the astonishing illumination of dauntless derring-do recommences, editor Brian M. Kane discusses, in amazing detail, the incredible tales of the creator’s pre-and-early comics days as an advertising artist and the impact of his "Mountie" paintings on early 20th century American ads in the fascinating Foreword essay, "An Artist Nowhere Near Ordinary: Hal Foster's Lord Greystoke of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police."
This volume of sublime strips is also balanced by another erudite Kane piece at the back, describing the now forgotten entertainments phenomenon of the Silver Lady Awards bestowed annually by the fabled, prestigious but now forgotten "Banshees."
"Hal Foster and the Other Woman" reveals the story behind the story of King Features' "Shadow Cabinet" and how Foster won his Silver Lady in 1952 as well as noting many of his other testimonials such as the Rueben, the Swedish Academy's Adamson Award and his election to our own Royal Society (for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce), an honour he shared with the likes of Charles Dickens, Benjamin Franklin and Stephen Hawking.
This eigth enormously entertaining and luxurious oversized (362 x 264mm) full-colour hardback volume reprints the pages from January 7th, 1951 to 28th December, 1952 (pages #726 to 829, if you’re counting).
. . . Rendered in a simply stunning panorama of glowing visual passion and precision, Prince Valiant is a non-stop rollercoaster of boisterous action, exotic adventure and grand romance; blending human-scaled fantasy with dry wit and broad humour, soap opera melodrama with shatteringly dark violence.
Beautiful, captivating and utterly awe-inspiring, the strip is a landmark of comics fiction and something no fan can afford to miss.
To read Win Wiacek's review in its entirety, click here.
See also the previous posts:
• The Comics Reporter's Review of Prince Valiant, Vol. 3 (1941-1942)
• A Review of Prince Valiant (Vol.5): 1945-1946
• "A Timeless Gem": A Review of Prince Valiant (Volume 7): 1949-1950
• Prince Valiant Celebrates 75th Anniversary
• Something Very Special
• Remembering Episode 3000, 8/7/94
• 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
• Looking Good
• Thomas Yeates: The New Illustrator of Prince Valiant
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