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Posts Tagged ‘Prince Valiant’

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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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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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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