Prince Valiant Volume 1: 1937-1938 by Hal Foster
Fantagraphics is reprinting Hal Foster’s classic Sunday strip Prince Valiant in handsome hardcover editions. I’m semi-familiar with Prince Valiant because my Mom is a fan, but I don’t remember reading any of the earliest comics. It was interesting to see how the comic developed in its early years. Prince Valiant is from an exiled kingdom of people who settle in the fens of Britian. He grows up honing his skills by hunting and has the ambition to become a knight despite his poverty. He meets Sir Gawain and helps to rescue him from an unscrupulous attacker. Valiant learns that he needs to have a horse in order to become a knight, so he simply captures and trains one himself. He travels to King Arthur’s court and begins his adventures.
I realize as I was reading the book that I’d previously thought of Val as a bit of a wimp due to his hairstyle, but nothing could be farther from the truth. In the first volume he kills a giant crocodile, wears a false mustache, scares an ogre to death, enters a jousting tournament in disguise, gets drunk, falls in love with a girl who already has a fiance, pursues girl with said fiance when she is kidnapped by vikings, and fights off a horde of vikings single-handed. That Prince Valiant is a busy guy!
One thing I found interesting was that as Foster switched from a grid layout to a more fluid panel structure, for a few transitional strips the panels were numbered in order to show the reader the order they should be read. The art is painstakingly detailed. I was struck by Foster’s expert use of speed lines in the fight scenes – there was one panel where I could see how Val’s foot was sliding sideways and digging into the dirt for balance as he was fending off an enemy.
It has been a few years since I’ve seen the earlier Prince Valiant reprints, so I can’t do a side by side comparison with the new edition. I still noticed the difference in coloring with this book. The coloring seems much more subtle and delicate. Fantagraphics’ production quality is stellar as usual. While the oversized edition makes it difficult to curl up in bed and read the book, it is a perfect size for a coffee table book. It is really great seeing an essential part of comics history like Prince Valiant being treated so respectfully in this new edition.