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Prince Valiant Vol. 1: 1937-1938 by Hal Foster

01/09/2009. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy

Buy Prince Valiant in the USA - or Buy Prince Valiant in the UK

author pic

pub: Fantagraphics. 120 page hardback. Price: $29.99 (US). ISBN: 978-1-60699-141-1.

check out website: www.fantagraphics.com

When the King of Thule is driven from his homeland by enemies he ends up shipwrecked on the English shore. Rough Brits fight him and his band, including his son Prince Valiant, but as they are hard to beat, a truce is made and they are allowed to live on a small island in the Fens. Val has a few minor adventures here but when his mother dies, killed off by the infamous beastly climate of that soggy land, he decides to go forth and seek adventure.

He is fighting a shepherd boy when one Sir Lancelot happens along and is impressed by his skill. Val finds out about the Knights of the Round Table and is determined to join their number. He tames a wild horse by the seashore then helps to rescue Sir Gawain from a treacherous robber knight and becomes his squire. Sir Gawain is kidnapped and he rescues him again but the boss is sorely wounded.

His wounds are not healed but he is the only knight in Camelot when the beautiful Ilene comes along seeking someone to rescue her parents from an ogre who has taken over their castle. Val is heated up by Ilene's blonde hair, blue eyes and luscious red lips but the parts of her below the neck are not mentioned. This is a 1937 comic-strip after all. Val and Gawain set off with her and are attacked by a nasty Red Knight who easily beats the wounded Gawain but is felled by Val. All in all Gawain is pretty useless but this is necessary to the story since Val is the hero and has to shine.

Leaving the wounded Gawain and the lovely Ilene with a hermit healer, our Prince goes to challenge the ogre, a monstrous ugly creature indeed. Val kills a goose and fashions a mask from its flesh so that he looks like a demon and literally scares the ogre to death! He actually looks like Jack Kirby's 'Demon' for it was from this strip that Kirby lifted the image (he freely acknowledged the source) obviously remembered years later.



And so on, really. This is a book you will buy for the art rather than the story, I think. The stories are okay but dated and pretty corny by modern standards. There are many feats of derring-do and quite a lot of deaths, too, in this mostly realistic adventure yarn. The form is inherently episodic because Hal Foster did one page a week for the Sunday papers.

Each page took him fifty or sixty hours of work so the art is very pretty and has been very influential, too. Everyone from Gil Kane to John Buscema cites this Golden Age great as an influence. The book also has an essay on Foster by Brian M. Kane and an interview with him.

He admits he got lucky. Newspaper editors were impressed with his 'Tarzan' strip but he didn't like the stories. So he came up with 'Prince Valiant' and the Hearst Group let him keep ownership of it and published it for decades. Therefore he spent most of his life doing exactly what he wanted for good money and not many of us get to do that.

The last strip drawn by him, page 1778, was published on May 16th 1971. This volume covers 1937-1938, the next in the series is 1938-1939. Clearly, there are a not inconsiderable number of books to come. Modern technology means that these are the best ever reproductions of the original art and probably a must buy for ardent fans. Fantagraphics luxurious production values are, here at least, used for material worthy of the effort.

Eamonn Murphy

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