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Archive for the ‘Prince Valiant’ Category

These two latest volumes of the reprint of the Prince Valiant comic strip by Fantagraphics cover the years 1971-1974. For the most part, they contain the same typical adventures of Prince Valiant and his companions as in every previous volume, with the exception that on May 16, 1971, Hal Foster drew his last Prince Valiant strip and the week after John Cullen Murphy took it over. It should be noted, however, that Foster had been trying out different possible successors for quite some time, and once he settled on Murphy, he allowed Murphy to do backgrounds and then draw characters before he completely handed the strip over to him.

In Prince Valiant 18, John Cullen Murphy takes over for Hal Foster as Prince Valiant must win back his wife after he and Aleta have an argument.

Although Foster got some complaints, including people saying they would never read the strip again, if one did not know which day Foster quit drawing the script, it is unlikely anyone would have noticed the difference. Murphy continued in Foster’s tradition, and nothing noticeable is different about the strip from the drawing and the colors to the storylines.

Among the last strips Foster did, his humor remains apparent. In the April 11, 1971 strip, Val has been traveling with Sir Lancelot when he meets up with Boltar and his Vikings. They stay at King Ban of Benwick’s castle where “The Vikings behave so well that only one is killed and two wounded.”

As for the storylines in these volumes, my favorites concern not Val but his children. One of the great joys of the strip has been watching Val and Aleta’s oldest son, Arn, grow up. Now he is basically a man. Although at one point in these volumes the strip refers to him as being fifteen, he looks and acts more like eighteen. Here for the first time Arn falls in love, with a young maiden named Lydia. A misunderstanding that Lydia’s brother is a man she’s interested in causes Arn to go on a journey to distance himself from her, only to have her brother follow him and explain the situation. After many adventures throughout Europe, Arn returns home to Lydia. We will have to see if marriage will ensue for them.

As for Val and Aleta’s other children, the twins are now teenage girls as well and willing to continue to cause mischief as young men are first starting to notice them. And young Galen takes the place Arn previously had of an imaginative and adventuresome young man getting into troubles that can be described as cute. Aleta also names Galan as heir of the Misty Isles since Arn will inherit Val’s father’s kingdom of Thule.

There are plenty of adventures here, stories of love lost and won, giants to fight, sea battles to wage, evil conspirators to overcome, adventures ranging from Thule to the Misty Isles, and tender moments of love between Val and Aleta who because of an argument are estranged for much of the story.

Also of note is that Sir Gawain is now appearing with gray hair. He looks like a hearty knight who can’t be more than fifty yet, but while the characters in the Prince Valiant strip age very slowly, age they do, which adds to the realism.

In Volume 19, Prince Arn, son of Valiant and Aleta, loses his heart to love for the first time.

Each volume also has an article at the beginning and again at the end of interest concerning Foster or the strip. Volume 19 ends with the illustrated novel of The Song of Bernadette, which Foster drew. Foster was not really religious so his illustrating a Catholic story is surprising, and little information exists about why he may have done it, but the story of St. Bernadette seeing the Virgin Mary in a grotto in Lourdes may have been why Valiant and Aleta ended up being married in a woodland grotto outside rather than a church—an odd departure for the Middle Ages and even for the early period when the strip was written in an age before hippies and outdoor weddings were common. Certainly, Foster was no fan of organized religion as often evidenced in the strip. For example, in Volume 18 a fanatic Muslim gets angry when Val is praying to the Christian God. I have also written about Christianity in the strip previously, especially in Volumes 7 and 8, and Volume 9 about how Christianity comes to Thule. Foster was obviously interested in Christianity from a historical perspective, but in illustrating The Song of Bernadette, it might also have just been a job for him. It certainly, being black and white, does not reflect his best work, but it is an interesting side note to Prince Valiant.

For this reader, the change to John Cullen Murphy as illustrator is no reason to quit reading Prince Valiant, and while at times the storyline becomes redundant, the artwork remains as resplendent as ever. I look forward to Volume 20, to be released in November.

If you’d like to visit some of the places Prince Valiant sojourned over in Britain, consider taking the Scholarly Sojourns’ Arthurian tour Uncovering Camelot.

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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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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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This latest volume of the Prince Valiant comic strip is largely concerned with Prince Arn’s visit to North America. About three-quarters of the volume details his journey there and back. The last section mostly concerns Prince Valiant trying to stop a plot by Mordred to take the throne.

Prince Valiant 15 — the the bottom right panel is from a storyline in which Val enters a crypt in Scotland and uses a skull to scare off a druid following him.

I hate to admit it, but this was one of the dullest books so far in the Prince Valiant series. The illustrations, as always, were splendid, but something was missing in terms of the storyline.

It all begins well enough. Arn hears tales of how his parents had once gone to North America and visited with the Native Americans. His mother was regarded as a goddess and the Natives were sorry to see her leave. When she did leave, she told them someday her son might return to lead their people to greatness.

Foster is playing on the myth of the white man being thought of as a god by the Native Americans—a myth that goes back to the first white explores to the New World like Cortez. However, Foster is writing in the 1960s, so he’s a bit more up-to-date.

In any case, Arn decides it’s time for him to fulfill this prophecy, even though he’s only just shy of fifteen, and his parents agree to let him go, with a shipload of warriors and Tillicum, his Native American nurse.

Once they arrive in North America, however, the plot gets dull. Foster understands whites have a tendency to think themselves better than Natives, and Arn is no different. He wants to bring civilization to the Algonquins, but with the guidance of his nurse, Tillicum, herself Native American—he learns to appreciate that Natives good qualities.

There isn’t much else to the story. There are a few skirmishes between the Algonquins and Iroquois. Arn finds himself in some sticky situations, having to hide out from Natives searching for him. Eventually, he helps the Algonquins defeat the Iroquois, and then the Ottawa come to befriend the Algonquins so they won’t be hurt like the Iroquois. In the end, Arn does succeed in leading the Algonquins to greatness, not by civilizing them, but by causing them to create a federation with other tribes that leads to the birth of the Algonquin nation.

I don’t have much else to say about it. What I’ve said about Foster’s depiction of Native Americans can be read in my previous blog on Val and Aleta’s first trip to North America:

https://childrenofarthur.wordpress.com/2013/04/13/prince-valiant-vol-6-1947-1948-the-north-american-journey/

Bottom line, however, more work needs to be done on Foster’s treatment of Native Americans. Volume 6 in this series, as noted in my blog from that volume, has a preface about how Foster tried to treat the Natives with respect, but I doubt Native Americans today would find it so respectful. Foster could also let racism seep into his depictions of other peoples, such as Arabs. Ultimately, he was a product of his time. I wish this volume had addressed Foster’s treatment of Native Americans in more detail. Instead there is an interview by an author who helped make Prince Valiant books for Dell—interesting in itself, but perhaps not as suitable for this volume.

That is not to say there are not breathtaking images in the book. The scenes of canoes on the lakes and rivers were particularly striking to me. Foster’s plots, however, are repetitive and leave much to be desired. Part of the problem is reading the strip in two year groupings. The strip at the end of 1966 ends in the middle of a new plot, and then we must wait several months for Fantagraphics to bring out the next book so we can continue the story. The strip itself has a serial, soap opera feel as a result of its weekly rather than yearly grouping of its storylines. One wishes Foster had more thought to how the strip might be packaged in book form down the road, but of course, he could not foresee that when he began it in the 1930s.

And so, this book left me disappointed, but I’ll go on to read the next volume regardless.

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The Prince Valiant strip’s subtitle is “In the Days of King Arthur,” but I have to admit the scenes that take place at Camelot are often less inspired than those that take place elsewhere in Foster’s strip, and I felt that was the case with this volume, though there are still notable moments.

This volume opens with Val, Aleta, and their family on their way back to Camelot, and other than a little subplot in which Arn gets kidnapped and is rescued, they arrive there safely.

Prince Valiant, Vol. 14 includes King Arthur’s famous Battle of Mount Badon.

In the two years of work presented in this volume, Foster seems to be wanting to push his storyline closer to the catastrophe that brings about the end of Arthur’s reign, but at the same time, he holds back, making it happen very gradually. Once Valiant is back in Camelot, there are two key Arthurian moments in the book. The first concerns Modred (Foster’s spelling). Modred is complaining about how he and the other knights do all the work but Arthur gets all the glory and money. He has enlisted his four brothers of the Orkney clan, along with several younger knights, in his cause. When Gawain brings Valiant to one of Modred’s meetings, Valiant quickly makes the other knights see the treachery and lack of validity in Modred’s words so that soon all of the knights abandon him other than the Orkney clan. Valiant notes also that none of the established Knights of the Round Table are at the meeting other than those of Orkney.

The Orkney clan still wishes to plot with Modred. Modred wants to catch Lancelot and Guinevere in a trap and include Aleta in it. At this point, Gawain is torn between his friendship for Valiant and Aleta and his loyalty to his brothers. He warns Aleta to be careful, but she doesn’t understand the warning. The plot Modred ends up hatching is to distract and lead Valiant’s twin daughters away from the court just long enough so everyone will go looking for them. Both Aleta and Lancelot go looking in Guinevere’s private garden. The Orkneys lock them in the private garden for the night, thinking in the morning they will be found and it will look like they’ve committed adultery. (This plot doesn’t hurt Guinevere directly, but, of course, she’ll be heartbroken if Lancelot has to leave Camelot, and it will hurt Valiant also. If two of Arthur’s chief knights leave Camelot, Modred will have better opportunity for overthrowing the king.)

Of course, Modred’s plans come to naught. Valiant and Arn realize where Aleta is and climb over the garden wall. When the garden is later unlocked, Modred sees Lancelot and Aleta together and starts to accuse them, only to have Valiant and Arn then step out to show there is no dishonor because the four of them have all been together. Valiant then tells Modred he does not appreciate his insinuations. Modred, fearing Valiant will challenge him to a duel, flees Camelot, planning to continue to plot against King Arthur from a distance.

The other major Arthurian moment in this volume is the Battle of Mount Badon. I admit I found the battle a bit dull, but what is wonderful is the lead-up to it, involving Valiant’s son Arn. We have watched Arn grow up throughout the strip, and now he is old enough to go out as a scout, only to be captured by the Saxons. He gives them information about Arthur’s plans, then fakes his death when he escapes from them so they cannot know that he lives and has returned to Camelot to warn Arthur. The result is that Arthur knows exactly what to expect from the Saxons, so he takes them by surprise and soundly defeats them.

I’m not a fan of battle scenes, though Foster draws them well. What I love is the cleverness that Valiant and Aleta always display in getting out of sticky situations, and now it’s clear they’ve passed that cleverness on to their son.

It’s important to note that, according to most versions of the legend, Mount Badon was Arthur’s last great victory against the Saxons, followed by twenty or so years of peace before Camelot’s fall. One wonders whether Foster was starting to consider moving toward the fall of Camelot in the strip. By this point, Foster was in his early seventies, so he must have realized he could not draw the strip many more years, although it wouldn’t be until 1970 that he started looking for a successor and 1975 before he retired completely from the strip. In the end, I assume he couldn’t bear to see the strip end with his retirement, and so the fall of Camelot was put off indefinitely.

Valiant and Aleta’s twin girls are also growing up in this volume—they end up having their first crush on the same boy, and they employ a bit of trickery themselves to try to get him interested in them; however, they’re still too young to succeed, as is their victim, a twelve-year-old king. Nevertheless, I imagine they will be quite able to manipulate men with their feminine wiles just like their mother before too many more volumes have passed.

Two other passages worth noting in this volume are examples of Foster’s postmodern intrusion into the strip. I believe these are the first times he breaks the spell, reminding readers they are reading a story. The first is when he mentions that two characters ride out of the story. The second is when he claims the manuscripts he is basing the story on were damaged at one point, and so he can’t complete a specific episode and has to guess what happened. He then picks up the story with Valiant and Aleta traveling to Thule. The volume ends here with Valiant’s arrival in Thule where he has to trick some raiders to protect his father’s kingdom.

I wouldn’t say this is one of the stronger volumes in the series, but it still has its moments. Of added interest is the introduction by Roger Stern about other cartoon artists who engaged in “swiping” Foster’s work. “Swiping” is a term meaning copying or even plagiarizing. Numerous frames are presented as examples of Foster’s Tarzan and Prince Valiant strips beside frames of other cartoonists who have figures in similar poses—most notably a comparison between Tarzan and Batman’s poses—and also backgrounds that are so similar the artists obviously copied from Foster—one of an interior banquet hall in the Valiant strip is compared to one by Don Rosa for a Clan McDuck strip. Also interesting is the essay at the end of the book about Foster’s desire to be a fine art painter before he became a famous cartoonist. Several of Foster’s landscape paintings are presented—some are not overly impressive but some are quite exquisite. While he never saw his dream realized of being a famous painter, I’m sure Foster delighted far more people with his Tarzan and Prince Valiant strips than he ever would have with landscape paintings.

Volume 15 of the Prince Valiant reprints by Fantagraphics will be released in June. In it, there will be a return to the New World. Watch for the review later this year.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., 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 the upcoming 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. You can learn more about him at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

 

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I finally got a chance to read Volume 13 of the Prince Valiant strip put out by Fantagraphics, and I don’t know why I waited so long. This volume is one of the best in the series.

princevaliantvol13It begins with a foreword by Charles Vess, who was offered the opportunity to take over the strip in 2003 but declined because he felt the strip had become crammed in its smaller format in modern newspapers compared to its previous full page, and that it would limit him, although he thinks those who have drawn the strip since then have done excellent jobs. But what I really liked about the foreword most of all was how Vess pointed out the morality of the principal players in the strip. He argues that the world would be a better place if more people read the strip and learned from it. I couldn’t agree with him more. I could definitely see how young readers of the strip would be won over by the sense of fair play and ideas of right and wrong in it.

As I read this volume, that point stuck with me, and it made me look for examples of how Foster presents moral values to his readers. I discovered that those values also made me realize he was ahead of his time. When we look back at many of the books and comic strips of the early and mid-twentieth century, it can sometimes be disarming to discover racism in them. However, at least in the strips from 1961-1962, that is not the case. Yes, there are the occasional evil Arab characters but there are just as many evil European characters. Foster had no problem in handing out the good and bad characters in equal proportion regardless of race or creed.

One place political correctness and acknowledgment of equality amidst diversity is apparent is when Val journeys to the Holy Land in this volume. In the May 14, 1961 strip, Foster writes: “To some of the pilgrims has come humility but to others the hardships of the long journey have changed faith to fanaticism, and to these Val pleaded: ‘Respect the beliefs and customs of others that future pilgrims be not endangered.’ Had this advice been heeded there would have been no Crusades.” Not only is this statement true, but it is criticizing Christianity more than the Islam or Judaism of those living in the Holy Land.

Later in the book, a Christian preacher, Wojan, begins drawing crowds of poor people to him, which threatens the stability of England. Wojan is innocent, Christ-like, and a bit of a simpleton, so he doesn’t realize his advisors are collecting money from his followers to make themselves rich. This episode in the strip speaks out against religious fanaticism. At the same time, earlier volumes have depicted Valiant seeking the Holy Grail and actively working for the spread of Christianity in Thule and England. In other words, Foster is preaching Christianity but in moderation rather than fanaticism.

Another notable part of this volume is that Valiant purchases a slave, Ohmed, whom he then frees once he hears how Ohmed was taken captive from his home where his loved ones were slaughtered. Foster not only repeatedly has Valiant travel to places all over the globe, but he also has Valiant befriend people from other cultures and make them part of his circle. Tillicum, a Native American woman who was introduced into the strip in Vol 6 (1947-1948), is one such character who plays a supporting role throughout the storyline. In fact, in 1953, her marriage to a white man will produce the first interracial baby in the strip. Ohmed, however, isn’t so lucky. He ends up murdered in the strip a few months after he makes his appearance. Still, that Valiant frees him and seeks to help him is a sign of Valiant’s generosity and Foster’s appreciation for treating everyone fairly.

Also noteworthy in this volume is that Valiant’s wife, Aleta, gives birth to her fourth child, a young boy named Galan. This event leads to Valiant’s oldest son, Arn, deciding he will abdicate his right to the thrones of the Misty Isles and Thule so his younger brother can have the throne and he can then simply enjoy himself. It should be noted that Arn gives no thought to his twin sisters, who are passed over for the throne—Foster isn’t that politically correct yet to let women be in the line of succession.

One of my favorite things about the Valiant strip is watching Arn grow up. In this volume, he is now old enough to travel with his father, go hunting and camping on his own, and truly become a man. Foster doesn’t give Arn’s age, but the drawings make it look like Arn might be about twelve or thirteen—he hasn’t had a romance yet, but it looks like he will soon from the way things are going for him—his female friend Diane is now afraid to undress in front of him when they go swimming, so Arn and his friends are definitely growing up.

I love Aleta, but she didn’t get a lot of time in this book, and the one week when we do go inside of her head, we find her remembering all the times Valiant has been “a magnificent brute” in the past, tossing her into a pond and even spanking her, and how she likes it. Again, not as politically correct as it should be.

Nevertheless, this volume was full of fabulous journeys to the Holy Land, Baghdad, Rome, and Spain, several stories of cleverness outwitting villainy, and just some all-around fabulous drawings. Valiant’s hair is also starting to look a little shorter and less girlish and subtly Foster is making Valiant look more mature—I suspect he’s well into his thirties by this volume and even Aleta is showing a bit of her age after her pregnancy. In their hearts, though, the lovers seem forever young.

I’ll be reviewing Volume 14 soon, so stay tuned.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., 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 the upcoming 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. You can learn more about him at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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Finally, in Volume 12 (1959-1960) we come to the quest for the Holy Grail in the Prince Valiant strip, but not before some rather less-than-exciting adventures in Volume 11 (1957-1958).

PV11

Volume 11 of Prince Valiant.

I’ll admit that Volume 11 was a disappointment overall for me. It begins with a long essay about Pal Palenske, who was likely an interesting man as an advertising executive, but the essay’s point isn’t clear until the very end—that Foster worked with him. I can imagine that it is difficult to keep coming up with new essays for this series, but this one was rather marginal in its connection to Foster. I’ll admit not really being interested in Foster’s advertising work, so many of these essays are rather tedious for me. Of course, Foster’s artwork in his ads was marvelous regardless, but it is all tangential to Prince Valiant, which is the main reason why I read the series, and it’s not even Prince Valiant himself who interests me so much as what Foster did with the Arthurian legends in his strip.

Volume 11 has several adventure stories but some of them feel largely like rehashes of earlier plots. The big treat of the volume is seeing Prince Arn growing up and the adventures he undertakes, but overall, I found nothing worth getting excited over in this volume.

Volume 12 is a different story. First off, I appreciated Neal Adams foreword, which told it like it is. Adams describes his own indifference to the Prince Valiant strip growing up, and he hits the nail on the head in pointing out the strip’s faults. He says that the strip is not a comic book so the story didn’t flow as well. Valiant’s page-boy haircut was also a turn off for him. I have to admit both Valiant’s haircut and also his name are turnoffs. He sounds like some sort of romantic and unrealistic Romeo and he is decidedly lacking a masculine look most of the time. One exception being the opening of Volume 12 when he is enslaved, has his hair cut short, and is shirtless. Then he seems manly enough to be a hero. This raises questions of why the strip still appeals to so many people when the modern reader must see Valiant as sort of girlish and old-fashioned in look; even the 1990s television cartoon series cut Valiant’s hair to make him look more manly. But Adams goes on to discuss how as he got older he saw that Foster’s drawings were far superior to those of other comics—they are more like artful movie stills. He also credits Foster with trying to be historically accurate in his drawings, and I admit that I sit in wonderment at the details of the drawings and even how there will be layers of figures on top of each other which must have been incredibly difficult to draw. My problem is I read more for the story, which just doesn’t always come up to the standards of the artwork.

As for the stories in this volume, it is better than the last volume, although some of the plots are becoming the same old, same old, and tiresome. The major plot of interest is the quest for the Holy Grail. King Arthur asks Valiant to look into the truth of the Holy Grail because many knights have gone off to seek it and not returned, which is hurting the Round Table as Merlin had predicted.

Volume 12 of Prince Valiant, in which Valiant goes searching for the Holy Grail.

Volume 12 of Prince Valiant, in which Valiant goes searching for the Holy Grail.

When Valiant agrees to go, he and Aleta have a fight about it, resulting in his getting mad and spanking her. This act of brutality would not be acceptable in a strip today, and even worse, when Valiant leaves on the quest, ashamed of his behavior and thinking Aleta will never love him again, Aleta confesses to herself that she enjoyed being spanked and thinks of Valiant as “a magnificent beast.” I’m gagging. It’s disgusting to think women find being mistreated by men to be appealing—a sexist view of the time akin to the scene in Gone with the Wind when Scarlett is happy and smiling in the morning after Rhett rapes her. While Valiant and Aleta usually make an attractive couple and Aleta knows how to keep her husband in line, this was not one of her finer moments.

Of course, Valiant and Aleta will patch things up when he returns, but not until after he travels the land to find out information about the Holy Grail. I was both happy with the results of his Grail Quest and also disappointed that there were not more adventures along the way—there is no one achieving the grail—no Galahad or Percival having mystical experiences—but I can only hope this is not the last we have heard of the Holy Grail in the strip and Foster plans to do more with it gradually. The main highlights of Valiant’s quest is his meeting St. Patrick and later the Beaker folk, an ancient people who have been at Stonehenge one thousand years before the Druids. Ultimately, St. Patrick tells Valiant that no one knows whether it’s true that St. Joseph of Arimathea brought the Holy Grail to Britain, so the Grail is probably not a chalice but “ a symbol of faith, courage and hope.” The knights, by questing for it, are spreading the message of Christianity throughout Britain, and that is what is most important. When Valiant returns to Camelot, King Arthur accepts this and decides the quest is a good thing despite how it hurts the Round Table.

This volume ends with Valiant and Aleta returning to her kingdom of the Misty Isles so her people can see Prince Arn, whom she wants to succeed her. Some tension returns between Val and Aleta at this point because Valiant wants Arn to rule Thule after him. The summary for Volume 13 at the end of the book tells us the couple will soon have another son, so I imagine this issue will be resolved.

I admit some of the strip has become boring to me, but yet, I read on, wanting to discover what happens next. As long as Fantagraphics keeps producing these books, I’ll likely keep reading and blogging about them.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, which includes the novels Arthur’s Legacy, Melusine’s Gift, Ogier’s Prayer, and the upcoming Lilith’s Love and Arthur’s Bosom. He has also written the nonfiction scholarly work King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition. You can learn more about Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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This tenth volume of Prince Valiant is full of the usual adventures, fabulous artwork, humor, and variety we’ve come to expect from Hal Foster’s greatest comic strip. While I would not say it is one of the best or worst in the series to date, it has several notable moments and some awe-striking images.

Prince Valiant, Vol 10 - witches and war just barely start to describe the adventures in this volume.

Prince Valiant, Vol 10 – witches and war just barely start to describe the adventures in this volume.

The story begins with Prince Valiant, Aleta, and companions leaving the Misty Isles. Because they wish to return to Thule, they decide that rather than sail through the Mediterranean and then up through the English Channel to the Baltic, they will journey to Constantinople, through the Black Sea, up the Dnieper River, portage overland, and then sail into the Baltic Sea.

It is a long journey full of danger, excitement, and dress buying—after all, Aleta insists they stop off in places like Constantinople and Kiev so she can buy new clothes and get a good bath. In the process, she often puts Valiant and his companions in some sticky situations, but her sense of humor and ability to flirt quickly get her out of them. At one point, she even finds herself married to the local khan, whom she then convinces to dance to his death for her, making her queen of the land—that is, until Valiant shows up to rescue her. No one seems to care that Aleta committed bigamy—after all, she was forced into it and played along with the monarch to buy time while never really stepping over her boundaries. If any woman in literature ever knew how to get herself out of a sticky situation with aplomb, it is Aleta.

The portage scenes were truly striking. Not only is the image of a giant Viking ship being rolled over land and slid through mud beautifully drawn, but the thought of such an undertaking is completely mindboggling, yet I am sure Foster is not exaggerating in depicting such an event.

Once the Valiant family is safely back in Thule, we get a good sense of how much Prince Arn has grown. Foster doesn’t give his age, but in the illustrations, he looks to be between about eight and twelve. And he is ready for his own adventures. Thule has issues with having enough food to feed all its people, but over its mountains lie pleasant valleys, perfect for farmland. Arn decides that finding a mountain pass to those valleys will be his first big adventure, and he wants to have it by himself, though eventually, he agrees to take Garm, a grown squire, with him. The two go into the mountains, but winter is coming on, so before they know it, they get trapped in a storm and have to build a shelter. They have quite the time trying to survive before they safely return home.

These winter scenes in the mountains are some of Foster’s most dramatic in this volume, and they reflect his knowledge of winter climes, given his Canadian background. There is also one striking image of sailing into Thule, which Foster notes is based on drawings done during a visit to Norway in 1955. Foster truly did visit the places he drew—he cared that much about accuracy, and it is reflected throughout this volume.

Of course, Valiant can’t sit around in Thule forever, so as spring approaches, he decides he’ll return to Camelot for the tournament at Pentecost. This adventure results in his discovering a new champion at Camelot whom he will aid in winning a fair maiden for a wife, and by a strange twist of events, he’ll also pick up a new squire, Alfred, whom I suspect will figure in future volumes.

Volume 10 concludes with some additional advertisements and commentary on Foster’s work for the Northwest Paper Company and his drawings of Canadian Mounties that there wasn’t room to include in Volume 8. In addition, it is clear from these images that Foster was inspired by many of his winter scenes for this work in later depicting winter scenes in Prince Valiant, including in Volume 6 when Valiant is shown snowshoeing in North America.

For me, seeing Prince Arn growing up is perhaps the most fascinating part of this volume. As the strip progresses, the characters do grow up and age, and while that aging is a bit delayed compared to real time, that’s all the better because then Prince Valiant and his companions stay young longer, and as a result, we have a strip now approaching its eightieth anniversary.

Fantagraphics has already produced Volume 11 of the series with plans to release Volume 12 in December so stay tuned for more reviews.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, which includes the novels Arthur’s Legacy and Melusine’s Gift, and he has written the nonfiction book King Arthur’s Children. You can learn more about him at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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