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Posts Tagged ‘John Cullen Murphy’

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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