Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Pulp Comics: Prince Valiant

I've been intending to discuss this comic for a long time, and there's a lot of reasons why. When creator Hal Foster presented the concept to William Randolph Hearst, Hearst was impressed enough that he gave Foster ownership of the strip. It ran in a full page format from early on until Hal Foster retired from it, and was taken over after weekly strip 1788, when it changed to the half page format it continues in today.

This is the Fantagraphics archival collection I'm discussing in particular, though the whole Hal Foster run is excellent. No, you don't NEED to start at the beginning of the whole thing, but it is a continuous story still. As a historical fantasy, it drifts a lot in time and place.

Prince Valiant is a great creation of its time, and should appeal to both the pulp and superversive crowds. There's action, virtue, romance, and Arthur and his knights. Yes, this is initially titled "Prince Valiant in the time of King Arthur", though Gawain plays far more a role than any other knight, as both his friend and, initially, the knight he's apprenticed to.

Even in this volume, though, Valiant takes to action alone as oft as not, tricking enemies to their own deaths and fleeing in fear. We see the skin of a goose turned a demon mask, a bundle of clothes stopping arrows, and a safety belt sending an overconfident foe to death on approach. 

At the start and end of the volume, we have some great supplemental material. First, there's an essay that's an introduction to Foster and Prince Valiant. Following this is an interview with Foster. At the end of the book is a discussion of the history of Valiant reprints and the fact that this is the first with the original color restored, though others have had quite good coloring as well.

You want comics to be fun again? Curl up with some Prince Valiant, there's no boredom or virtue signalling here. We've stories to tell, monsters and bad guys to beat, and romance to be sung of. The art is too lush, and the text spare enough that there's NO ROOM FOR THAT. No word balloons, the text is in places it doesn't intrude on the art. Just want to check out the current incarnation?  Comics Kingdom has it online(They've also got Flash Gordon and 2 Phantom strips!), and prints of the strip are available. The art is true to Foster's, and the writing appears to be in line with the old adventures.

When you play Social Justice, the world loses.

1 comment:

  1. What you said.

    Prince Valiant has been a favorite of mine for as long as I can remember, starting when my father used to read the Sunday strips to us. I have the Fantagraphic books (volumes 1-40) and even run my Pendragon campaign in a Prince Valiant setting. It is great artwork and great story telling, not to be missed.

    One thing of interest: when I was prepping my novel Queen's Heir, I asked the older members of my family (grandmother, aunts and uncles, parents) what kind of stories they enjoyed the most, they mentioned different books, but all of them brought up the same three Sunday comic strips: Flash Gordon, Tarzan of the Apes and Prince Valiant.

    Prince Valiant is great pulp fiction, and hugely superversive, especially the original run by Hal Foster.

    If you haven't read Prince Valiant, give him a try. You won't regret meeting him, Aleta, Gawaine, Boltar Sea-King and the others.