Between 1987 and 2004, Fantagraphics Books published 50 softcover volumes of Hal Foster's masterpiece Prince Valiant from the beginning February 13, 1937) through strip #2271 (August 17, 1980). In 2012, the same publisher began a rerelease of the same material, except this time in hardcover and reproduced from the artist's own syndicate proofs. I decided not to buy it... at first, at least not until I saw how absolutely gorgeously stunning the reproduction was. At this point, they are up to the 23rd volume reprinting through strip #2394 (December 26, 1982) with a 24th solicited for release December 29 of this year. Each of these volumes reprints two full years, about three times as much as the softcovers.
I have read though volume 50 of the original series, but everything since August 17, 1980 I have not read since its initial publication. The last time I attempted a read-through from the beginning, I left off midway through Volume 6, which reprints stories from 1947-1948 set circa A.D. 456-457. I have just finished reading some 8400 pages of Lone Wolf & Cub and am in the mood for another epic to sink my literary teeth into. In the Spring of 456, The Viking Ulfrun kidnaps Prince Valiant's wife, Aleta, and flees to sea. Val and his crew pursue him across the ocean, eventually discovering the land which would one day be called North America.
Prince Valiant takes his revenge on Ulfrin and stays in the New World for the birth of his son, Prince Arn. The Native Americans (probably intended to represent the Algonquib tribe) see the blonde Aleta as a woodland goddess and give her many gifts, including a middle-aged squaw named Tillicum who becomes Arn's nurse and Aleta's faithful companion. Eventually, it comes time for the Vikings to undertake their long journey home. I left off on strip #590 as, skirting the shore of Ireland, Val's ship is met by another bearing the lion crest of Sir Launcelot.
I plan to pick up with #591.
Upon reaching the English Channel, Val releases his men to return home to Thule after a year away. He and his party will continue on to Camelot via the River Usk "Indian style," using a canoe brought back from the New World. After a brief adventure deposing the mad King Tourien, it is time to think about Arn's Christening. Val is about 24 years old at this time, but when he was 16, he met and fell in love Ilene. Chief rival for Ilene's affection was Prince Arn, Valiant's son's namesake. When Ilene was kidnapped by Viking raiders, Val and Arn joined forces to save her. (It was during this adventure that Prince Valiant aquired the fabled Singing Sword, a gift from Prince Arn.) They eventually catch up to the vikings, but too late; Ilene has drowned. They both vow never to marry.
Val and Aleta have decided that Prince Arn should be baby Arn's godfather, but Valiant must first break the news that he has reneged on his vow to the memory of Ilene. Arn is at first quite upset, until their conversation is interrupted by a little baby named Prince Valiant! Arn, too, has broken his vow and married the pretty Linet.
When Hal Foster first conceived of Prince Valiant, he wanted to call him Arn, an authentic Viking name, but the syndicate objected. He used the name anyway in the story described above, but now he has given that name to Valiant's own son. The second Prince Arn will eventually grow up to have adventures of his own, so in that respect, Foster got his way after all.