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Posts Tagged ‘Hal Foster’

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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This latest Fantagraphics reprint of Hal Foster’s wonderful strip begins with an insightful article by Mark Schultz, which says about everything I’ve thought that makes this strip so worthwhile. I have to admit the plots tend to become repetitive, and as wonderful as the illustrations are, the soap opera feel of the storyline becomes a bit tedious, but Foster shined for two things in particular—the breathtaking landscape scenes he did and the way he could draw a face and convey expression in it.

PrinceValiant9I’ve always liked to draw since I was a kid, but I have never been able to pull off realistic-looking faces. Foster was a master at this and someone we could all learn from. In this opening essay, Schultz talks about how Foster depicts Valiant and Aleta’s relationship through his ability to show their feelings for each other, as well as how they mask those feelings. Schultz says Foster was unique in this ability to reveal the characters’ internal lives through their expressions and body language, and I very much agree.

This particular volume picks up with the end of Valiant’s efforts to bring Christianity to Thule—and with rather alarming results. Valiant is shown destroying Pagan idols, something that in the twenty-first century I found upsetting and disgusting because we tend to be more open to diversity in these days, and while I was raised a Christian, I couldn’t help but feel the unfairness of this behavior, and when the destruction of these idols infers that they are false because they do nothing to avenge themselves, I can’t help noticing that Foster has the Pagans burn the Christian church down next, and the Christian God doesn’t intercede either, which leaves the reader wondering whether either God is real or exists, at least from Foster’s viewpoint. Of course, the Christian church is rebuilt, and then Valiant and Aleta go off on adventures, leaving the religious theme behind for now until later in the volume when Valiant ends up in Ireland and meets St. Patrick.

Valiant and Aleta part ways early in the volume because Aleta wants to go visit the Misty Isles, but Val ends up being called to help King Arthur in fighting against the Saxons who have allied with the five kings of Cornwall. By the time these battles are done, Val has introduced the idea of using stirrups for the knights, which is often introduced as a reason why King Arthur was successful and able to hold back the Saxons in several Arthurian novels that have been published since then, though I’m unsure who first introduced this idea into Arthurian literature—perhaps it was Foster.

But the real highlight of the volume, as Schultz remarks, is how Aleta manages as a woman to gain control in the Misty Isles, putting down a possible rebellion in her kingdom through her female presence and her cleverness. One of the things I really love about Foster’s storytelling is that while there are battles and swordplay and violence, many of the conflicts are resolved through Aleta or Val’s trickery and cleverness. It’s always more fun to trick or outsmart an enemy than to have to kill him. Bullies and cowards then end up showing their true colors and getting what they deserve.

A trip to the Holy Land, although not overly dramatic, but again with a little trickery to save the day, rounds out the volume along with the introduction of a girl character, Diane, who becomes friends with Valiant and Aleta’s son, Arn. Arn seems to have really grown up in this volume and transition from being a toddler to now a young boy; the strips from his viewpoint are refreshing, plus Diane appears to be a clever young version of Aleta.

The volume concludes with an essay about the 1954 film version of Prince Valiant starring Robert Wagner. The essay puts the film in context with what was happening in Hollywood at the time and changes in the movie industry, as well as discussing the film’s reception. It was rather a flop of the film, but it’s still a film I find entertaining (see my previous review of it at https://childrenofarthur.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/prince-valiant-in-glorious-technicolor-a-review-of-the-1954-film/), though it takes a lot of liberties with the strip. Apparently, Foster wasn’t too crazy about the film either, according to the article.

Volume 10 has just been released this month, so watch for my next review soon. In the meantime, Volume 9 has plenty to entertain.

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Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and the new Children of Arthur series, available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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In the past, I’ve written an individual blog for each volume of the Prince Valiant series, but I decided to group these two together because I couldn’t get myself too excited about Volume 7; furthermore, the adventure in it continues into Volume 8 because the books are printed by the years the strip was published and not by breaks in the storyline. Volume 7 contains the strips from 1949-1950 and Volume 8 covers 1951-1952.

Prince Valiant, Vol. 7: 1949-1950, published by Fantagraphics Books

Prince Valiant, Vol. 7: 1949-1950, published by Fantagraphics Books

Volume 7 begins by concluding Valiant’s trip to North America that was covered in Volume 6. Valiant, Aleta, newborn Prince Arn, and his other companions return to England and Camelot. They don’t have much time to rest, however, before new adventures begin for them. First there is an adventure with a haunted castle, and then a journey to Hadrian’s wall where the Picts are invading. Aleta is the great negotiator and trickster here as she wins over the Picts and stops the war. However, Valiant is wounded during the skirmishes, so he cannot travel by land back to Camelot because it would be too painful for him. Consequently, they take a sea voyage to visit his family in Thule. During the time in Thule, an enemy tries to overthrow Valiant’s father, King Aguar, and once again, Aleta steps in and saves the day through trickery; Foster, I believe, uses this method frequently to resolve conflict to provide a humorous tone to many of the adventures, while avoiding a lot of bloodshed in a Sunday comic strip—a couple of times when he did create frames that were too violent, they were censored and he had to change them.

To me, the most interesting part of this volume was that King Aguar listens to Christian evangelists who try to explain Christianity to him, but he finds they are poorly informed and they argue among themselves about the key points of their religion. Consequently, Valiant, who has been exposed to Christianity in Camelot (although he’s never been depicted as being baptized as a Christian) decides to travel to Rome to find teachers who can return with him to Thule to convert his father’s people.

The adventures in Volume 7 end there, but there is also an interesting article included about Hal Foster’s work painting illustrations for the Union Pacific Railroad. Many of these paintings show mountain scenes with railroad trestles, and this work may have informed his creation of scenes of the Alps and others in the Prince Valiant strip. While Foster’s storylines read like a soap opera and tend to wander about, no one can fault his ability to create great landscape drawings, so it’s interesting to see how his early career influenced the Prince Valiant strip in this way.

Volume 8 was much more to my taste. Valiant has several adventures on his journey to Rome to find Christian missionaries to return to Thule. He has even more adventures on the way back to Thule. However, we are informed briefly that the people of Thule do not warm to the missionaries easily, and it will still be centuries before the country converts to Christianity. The illustrations of Valiant crossing the Alps in this volume are incredible and reflect the influence of Foster’s Union Pacific Railroad artwork.

Prince Valiant, Vol. 8: 1951-1952

Prince Valiant, Vol. 8: 1951-1952

Other highlights of this volume include Valiant’s squire, Arf, who ends up losing a leg to frostbite during the journey and getting what must be one of the first prosthetic legs in history. On the way home, Valiant travels back to Camelot and then to the Orkneys to take a ship over to Thule. Gawain is his companion on this trip, and they stop to visit Gawain’s family, his mother Morgause, as well as brothers Gaheris, Agrivaine, and Mordred. We are only given the first hints here of the sinister role of Mordred in the strips that are yet to come.

Foster isn’t above some cutesy moments. Besides Val returning to Thule to discover Aleta has given him twin daughters, Valeta and Karen, we have Prince Arn, now a toddler, being jealous of his sisters, including several frames from his viewpoint. Arn even gets his own adventure when he is kidnapped and rescued by Tillicum, the Indian woman who returned with Val and Aleta from North America. Tillicum has her own subplot romance in this volume as well with a surprising twist.

At the end of this volume, another great adventure is in the works. Val travels around Thule to discover how receptive the people are to Christianity. He meets a druid (I didn’t know the Norse had druids) who gives him nectar to drink, resulting in Val having a vision of the Rainbow Bridge, the Norse Gods, and Valhalla. This vision is supposed to be proof, according to the druid, that Christianity is not the only true religion. Val will apparently explore this idea in more detail in Volume 9.

While I find moments of the story lag in places, the illustrations throughout these volumes are beautiful and breathtaking, whether it’s of Val and his men fighting the rapids in North America or Val seeing a rainbow bridge, or just splendid landscapes showing mountains and castles. I am looking forward to seeing what Val learns about the Norse Gods, as well as seeing his children grow up, and how Mordred plays a larger part in successive volumes. Stay tuned for more.

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I have been slowly working my way through reading the entire Prince Valiant comic strip as Fantagraphics brings out each volume in the series. My reviews of Volumes 1-6 can all be found on this blog and reviewers for Volumes 7 & 8 will be forthcoming. One commenter to one of these blogs was kind enough to inform me that there had been a Prince Valiant television series in the 1990s, shown on the Family Channel. Somehow I missed The Legend of Prince Valiant when it aired from 1991-1994, but I was curious to watch it, and now having done so, I can say that it is extremely well-done and its being a cartoon in no way detracts from its value or quality. In fact, after the BBC’s Merlin, I would say it is the best King Arthur television series, far surpassing the 1950s The Adventures of Sir Lancelot, the 1970s Arthur of the Britons, and the 2011 flop Starz’s Camelot (all of which have been reviewed here in blogs). For its character development, story arc, episode plots, and overall entertainment value, The Legend of Prince Valiant deserves high praise.

PrinceValiantOneThe series is available on DVD, complete with 65 episodes, plus interviews with some of the writers, creators, Noelle North (the voice of Rowanne), and many other bonus features. Each episode runs 23-24 minutes. The episodes need to be watched in order because of the story arc running through the two seasons, which really makes the series standout from most cartoons and many television series in general.

To describe all the plots and characters in The Legend of Prince Valiant and how the series differs from the Prince Valiant comic strip would take many blogs, and in general, I don’t feel comparisons are always that helpful to make. Television is a different medium than a comic strip so it naturally requires some different adjustments be made. But I think Hal Foster would have been pleased with this show. It is faithful to the spirit of his work while updating the story a bit to the 1990s in terms of themes and content—but all the fun and adventure is there with the themes being a bit more serious in message than in the comic strips. In fact, the Prince Valiant of this series is a bit wiser and gentler and what is required of him on his path to knighthood is more developed than what I remember in Foster’s strip. I also appreciated that Prince Valiant’s haircut was made a bit more modern because sometimes I just shake my head over his girlish looking medieval haircut in the comic strip (and Robert Wagner’s in the 1954 film Prince Valiant).

The storyline mainly follows the beginning episodes of the strip, beginning with Valiant’s father losing his kingdom of Thule and fleeing to the fens of England where Valiant grows up and then begins his journey to Camelot to seek knighthood. Along the way he meets Arn and then Rowanne (a female main character was invented for the series, and she is a welcome addition), and after several episodes, they reach Camelot. From that point, the show deviates from the strip but retains its energy and appeal. Valiant and his two friends seek to become knights, something Valiant achieves first. Most of the episodes are individual adventures, but the characters develop over time and characters from previous episodes keep reappearing. Major moments in the series include Valiant fighting to win back his father’s kingdom, his meeting Aleta and falling in love with her, Mordred plotting against Camelot, and ultimately, King Arthur’s death.

The end of the series left a few things hanging—notably that Valiant and Aleta are engaged but not yet married, and Rowanne’s relationship with Prince Michael and Arn’s feelings for her also. Valiant is named Arthur’s heir—in the strip, his granddaughter is Arthur’s heir. How this series treats King Arthur’s death was a surprise to me, and I won’t give away the details, but I will say that the outcry against Arthur’s death in the BBC series Merlin would not be heard by viewers of this program. While a gentler ending to the legend makes it less effective in my opinion, The Legend of Prince Valiant was a “family” show geared toward younger viewers than was Merlin, so I will forgive it in this respect.

That said, as a family show, The Legend of Prince Valiant has definite appeal to adults, and some of its storylines and themes are quite daring for the program. In fact, in the interviews on the DVD, it’s pointed out that the themes of tolerance, liberty, and others often opposed the morals of Pat Robertson and the 700 Club that owned the Family Channel. The program won awards for its high concept, values, and television writing that “advances the human spirit,” and it deserved them. I wish it had been more of a model for family and cartoon entertainment, had not ended so soon, and had many more followers both in terms of viewers and other shows following its example.PrinceValiant2

I was also thrilled by the talent employed in the show. Noelle North, who did the voice of Rowanne, also was Slouchy Smurfling on The Smurfs (my favorite cartoon of all-time). Aleta and Valiant’s voices were by the same actors who did the voices of Disney’s title characters in Beauty and the Beast, Paige O’Hara and Robby Benson. Benson especially did a fantastic job, showing all Valiant’s character traits, his voice ranging from soothing and thoughtful to strong-willed and angry. Tim Curry (Sir Gawaine) was the only person doing a voice whose name I knew before watching the series, but all the actors were quite fabulous in their voice work. I also liked that two of the show’s writers, Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, who are interviewed on the DVD, also worked on the television series Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World (one of my all-time favorite television shows, largely because it also has an Arthurian twist to it).

Watching The Legend of Prince Valiant is time and money well-spent and should give any fan of the comic strip or the Arthurian legend weeks or months of satisfying entertainment. I am sure it will not be long before I re-watch the entire series. I only wish there had been more of it.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, and the novel Arthur’s Legacy, The Children of Arthur: Book One, to be released in June 2014. You can visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.GothicWanderer.com

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The jury is still out on theories that King Arthur visited North America (more on that topic to come in future blogs), but I wonder whether Hal Foster knew of such stories; regardless, in this volume he brought Prince Valiant to North America, and he definitely knew of theories that the Vikings had made it to North America.

Valiant doesn’t set out to discover America in this book, but rather it is an unexpected journey that begins with Aleta being kidnapped by Val’s fellow countrymen from Thule, which sends him and his men on a journey over the sea to an unknown land that turns out to be North America. The journey takes Valiant down the St. Lawrence Seaway and over Lake Ontario all the way to Niagara Falls.

Of course, Val succeeds in rescuing his wife, but by that point, it is autumn so Val and his men decide to spend the winter in North America among the friendly Native Americans who have aided Val after he convinced them to help him because Aleta’s kidnappers were wreaking havoc on the land.

Prince Valiant, Vol 6 - yes, that's Niagara Falls in the bottom frame

Prince Valiant, Vol 6 – yes, that’s Niagara Falls in the bottom frame

This special Fantagraphics edition comes with an introduction that discusses Foster’s own journeys through the area depicted during a canoe trip in his youth with his pregnant wife, which inspired the story and Aleta’s pregnancy and the birth of Val’s son. This introduction is interesting for two reasons. First, it discusses how Foster sought to be respectful in depicting the Native Americans, not turning them into the typical enemies or sidekicks they were in other media at the time. While for the most part, this is true, he does make a reference to the Indians taking pleasure in cheating their customers when bartering. Worse, he builds on the myth of the Fair God, allowing the Natives to think Aleta is a goddess, and Val does prophesy his son will someday return to the land to lead the people to greatness, which supposedly became a legend that made it to the Aztec empire, causing them to think Cortez the fair god—a bit of a stretch in my opinion. (Later in the 1960 installments of the strip, Prince Arn does return to North America to teach the Natives white people’s ways, only to realize they already are doing fine on their own, which shows some progressive thinking on Foster’s part, though perhaps it was in line with Civil Rights thinking of the 1960s and not something he would have considered in the 1940s). The strip is more groundbreaking in the sense that a few years later, one of the native women marries one of Val’s men, and in 1953, the first interracial baby will be born in the strips.

The other key event mentioned in the introduction, and perhaps the most significant part of this volume, is the birth of Valiant and Aleta’s son, Prince Arn. The introduction even includes photos of birth announcements sent out in Foster’s circle of friends regarding this event. Arn was actually the name Foster first proposed for the strip, but it was decided Valiant would be a better name. Still, he introduced a character named Arn into the strip, who possessed the Singing Sword and loved the same woman as Val. When that woman died, Arn and Val both agreed never to marry another. In friendship, Arn then gave Val the Singing Sword.

After returning back to England and some other adventures, Val reunites with his old friend, Arn, wanting Arn to be the newborn Arn’s godfather. In a comical moment, Arn berates Val for not being faithful to their oath never to marry, only for Val then to see a baby who turns out to be Arn’s son, and named Val for him—truly the most delightful moment in the book.

All in all, I have seen many reviewers rave that this is the best volume of Prince Valiant to date. Honestly, I thought the story could have used more plot. Once the characters arrived in North America, it was a bit slow for me. I am turning out to be less of a fan than just curious and interested in the Prince Valiant strip. I will continue to read each volume as it comes out—though Fantagraphics appears to be taking longer and longer between each volume—Volume 7 won’t be published until September. I am perhaps most looking forward to seeing how Valiant’s children turn out, so I will be patient and continue to read on.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition. He is currently working on a series of novels about Arthur’s descendants. You can visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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Prince Valiant Vol. 5 continues the long-drawn out tale of Prince Valiant’s love for and frustration over Aleta, Queen of the Misty Isles. At the end of Volume 4, Aleta and Val had fled the Misty Isles and they were wandering through the desert, with Aleta as Val’s prisoner, since he is convinced she is a sorceress who has enchanted him, and he is angry at her for the death of his servant.

Aleta dances on the cover of “Prince Valiant, Vol. 5”

Aleta, however, is not the slave or prisoner type; nor is she vindictive, for through various ruses, she manages to save Prince Valiant’s life, trick his enemies, and even rescue herself when needed. In fact, Aleta proves herself worthy of her queen status and to be the love of Valiant, who really is quite foolish and irrational as a youth of only about twenty in this volume. After Val manages to rescue Aleta from a sultan who ends up capturing her and taking her to his harem—although Aleta was capable of taking care of herself all along as she proves—Val tells Aleta he will marry her, but she doesn’t want to be told; she wants him to woo her properly. It takes some doing and consternation for Val before he figures out how to convince her to marry him, culminating in his tossing her into a fountain and kissing her passionately—and then comes Aleta’s long awaited “YES!”

Valiant wants to go to Rome for the wedding and be married by the pope—after all, he’s a prince and Aleta a queen, but Genseric of the Vandals is planning to sack the city. When Valiant tells Genseric he wishes to be married in Rome, Genseric invites Valiant and Aleta to accompany him, and he’ll let them be married before he sacks the city. Things don’t quite work out as planned, and instead a former cardinal turned woodland hermit marries them in one of Foster’s most beautiful drawings.

But married life does not mean “happily ever after”—Valiant’s story is just beginning and the comic strip will continue another seventy-six and counting years. The Medieval Castle is not so lucky. This smaller strip Foster appended to the bottom of the Valiant strip ends in 1945, soon after World War II is over (see my earlier blog on Vol. 4 about The Medieval Castle) and the removal (no loss, it was boring like a medieval documentary) of this lesser strip allows for more space for Prince Valiant—more space for intrigue and obstacles for Valiant to deal with, including Aleta’s handmaid falling in love with him, resulting in tragic results.

Eventually, however, Valiant and Aleta make it back to England, in time for Mordred (here, I believe for the first time, named as Arthur’s half-brother) to catch Lancelot and Guinevere together and accuse them of adultery. Aleta, however, to save Camelot, claims it was she and not Guinevere, whom Lancelot was kissing. Of course, Valiant is enraged and more marriage troubles ensue, but not at the Round Table’s expense.

If readers want to know more of Valiant and Aleta’s adventures in this volume, they will just have to read them for themselves. I have to admit that for me, this volume dragged a little bit for reasons I can’t put my finger on. Perhaps it dragged for Foster a little too because Volume 6 will take a dramatic turn in bringing Valiant and Aleta to North America—long before Columbus or even the Vikings! Unfortunately, Vol. 6 won’t be released until January 2013 so we’ll just have to wait.

One final benefit of this volume is a discussion of Foster’s drawing sizes, which were actually a full page for each frame and then shrunk down to fit the strip. Some additional illustrations are included that Foster did as magazine covers.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition. You can also visit him at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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