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Archive for November, 2018

The Prince Valiant saga continues in Volumes 16 (1967-1968) and 17 (1969-1970) published recently by Fantagraphics. I’ve decided to review both volumes in the same blog post because, frankly, not a lot of interesting things happen in the two volumes worth mentioning. That is not to say that there aren’t plenty of adventures, but a lot of it is the same old kind of storylines that have been in the strip for the past thirty or so years by this point.

Prince Valiant 16 includes Valiant having to settle a dispute over who is heir to an earldom and Valiant having to rescue Gawain when he is captured, which includes a trip to the Misty Isles along the way.

Of course, the Foster fans are legions, and Foster deserves all the praise he gets for his fabulous illustrations. He also deserves credit for his ability to create story arcs that kept readers interested week after week. Personally, I think I would have gotten bored reading the strip that way, so I prefer to read it in a volume that covers two years at a time and takes me about two hours to read, so I usually do it in one or just a few sittings.

I, like all the Foster fans, and I am a fan, but not a super fan, love staring at the images of castles and all the breathtaking landscapes he draws. I also enjoy looking at the attractive knights and ladies, and the more sinister facial expressions of the villains and the scarier places, from fens to caves and dungeons, that Foster creates. As I said, the artwork is fabulous.

The storylines, though, become tiresome as Val or Aleta trick one more scoundrel after another, or young knights and ladies overcome impediments to their love affairs. The saving grace of these volumes for me is watching Val’s four children growing up. Arn is now almost a man and the artwork shows his expressions ranging from boy to man, a sign he is going through puberty. The twin girls, Karen and Valeta, are becoming boy crazy, and even young Galan is ready to give up his toys for weapons—one of the most charming moments in the strip is in 8-25-68 when he uses a sword to cut up his mother’s flowers.

However, one gets the sense that even Foster was getting bored by this point. In 1967, the character of Reynolde gets a lot of attention for several pages, but then is quickly written out as a new story starts and I suspect Foster just got sick of him. In 1970, several different weeks the strip was drawn by other artists, as the essay in the back of the book explains, because Foster was looking for his replacement. He would end up choosing John Cullen Murphy.

Prince Valiant 17 includes Val’s son Arn going off on his own adventures and Val’s son Galan trying to catch a unicorn. Plus, Val has to face the magic of Morgan le Fay.

For me, the two treats of these volumes was the accompanying essays. In Vol. 16 the essay at the end talks about a parade in New Orleans in 1938 in which a Prince Valiant float was first featured, and then in 1939, the entire parade was devoted to the strip, each float depicting different scenes from the story—the pictures of the float make me long for the old days when parades still had gorgeous floats. In Vol. 17, the opening essay by Brian Kane talks about Foster’s use of humor in the strip. Kane breaks it down into several types of humor, which felt a bit labored to me, but I think what I most enjoy, aside from the pictures, is the humor of the strip so I enjoyed reading this essay. Certainly, Aleta and Val are both experts at trickery to resolve a situation in a humorous manner or get themselves out of trouble. Vol. 17 ends with a series of drawings Foster did as a child between ages nine and eleven. These were also quite interesting because they showed how even at such a young age, Foster was not only a talented artist but thinking about story arcs and incorporating drama and humor into his work.

Overall, both volumes will be enjoyable to lovers of Prince Valiant. I am personally eager to read the next volume when John Cullen Murphy took over the art for the strip while Foster continued to oversee and write scripts for it. It will be interesting to read this volume and the ones to follow to see how Prince Valiant changed.

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of The Children of Arthur series, which includes the novels Arthur’s Legacy, Melusine’s Gift, Ogier’s Prayer, Lilith’s Love, and Arthur’s Bosom. He has also written the nonfiction scholarly works King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, plus numerous other books. You can learn more about Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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