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 Algonquin 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.
I seem to have jumped the gun slightly (two months) starting this discussion as another "epic" to follow Lone Wolf & Cub. (I was delayed by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, another epic, among other things.) Lately I have been talking about comic series I buy on "faith" without necessarily reading them right away. Prince Valiant is not that. As mentioned above, I have previous read from the beginning through 1980 at least once. And the 24th volume, solicited for December 29th release? It already shipped last week, a month early. Now my goal is to read through 1984, picking up where I left off last time. My intention is to post reactions one volume at a time, rather than each individual story.
VOLUME 7: 1949-1950
This volume picks up with the the christening of Arn and Valiant in a large, beautifully rendered and highly detailed panel, of of Foster's best. After that, King Arthur assigns Prince Valiant and Sir Gawain to investigate reports of black magic in Wales. They meet a terrified knight named Sir Cador who reports that the castle of Illwynde is ruled by all manner of frightening creatures. Val has learned from Merlin that magic is but science in disguise. Resolving to fight fear with fear, he issues a challenge to Illwynde's Demon Knight to a trial by arms. The "demon" is unseated by Cador and turns out to be a woman, Lady Gwynn. In fact, the entire castle is held by women and led by Lady Wildwyn. Sir Cador falls in love with Lady Gwynn and stays behind. So too does Val's squire, Osk.
On their way back to Camelot, they are challenged to a joust by 14-year-old Geoffrey. Geoffrey is easily unseated, but is brought back to Camelot for proper training. Geoff falls in love with Aleta (platonically) and begins his training by becoming a squire.
Arthur next sends Valiant to inspect Hadrian's Wall where he finds the Picts gathering to invade. Val plays the Pictish forces against each other, but this is only a delaying tactic. Meanwhile, in his eagerness to gain knighthood, young Geoffrey has stolen one of King Arthur's horses and ridden off to join the fray. Val is wounded and sends Geoff back with a report to Arthur. Aleta returns to care for her injured husband and ends the invasion by talking with the Picts and offering them food and safe passage back into Scotland.
Aleta travels with Valiant to Newcastle so that the injured knight can return to camelot by ship. She sends Geoffrey to Camelot to fetch Katwin and Arn, but he is promptly arrested. He escapes long enough to deliver the message, but Arthur banishes him from England for a year and a day. Katwin, Geoff and Arn set sail for Newcastle and encounter Val's Viking friend, Boltar, along the way. Since Arn is forbidden to set foot on British soil. Boltar ties Arn's feet inside sacks of Caledonian soil so that he may come ashore. Geoff is recognized by one of the locals as a runaway named Arf, who changed his name and fled a wicked stepmother. He learns that she is now out of the picture, but he decides to continue his quest for knighthood with Val.
Because of Arf's exile, they decide to go to Prince Valiant's home in Thule. Boltar engages in a raid first, endangering the passengers. Arn's maid Tillicum berates him for his carelessness, and they pass Orkney Island and Shetland Island without incident. They arrive in Thule and King Aguar meets his grandson for the first time. They spend the winter of 457 in Thule.
A Jarl named Egil makes a pass at Aleta, who rebukes him. That would have been the end of it, but Arf saw and pressed the matter, which eventually led to a dual between Egil and Valiant. Val is at a disadvantage because of his wound. His horse is killed and the battle continues on foot. This is really a no-win situation for Egil. If he is not killed, then his king will seek his death for killing Valiant. Arf brings the battle to an end by climbing a nearby roof and dumping them with snow.
In the Spring, Christian missionaries arrive. Aguar sees value in turning his people from their violent ways and sends Val, Egil, Arf and Rufus Regan to rome to bring back some learned teachers. With Val away, Hap-Atla of the Inner Lands leads a raid against Aguar's kingdom, which Aleta repels using tactics her husband had told her about. She meets Hap-Atla's wife during a peace conference and the two women bond over their children and bring the war to an end.
On their way across France, Valiant and his party overthrown a petty king and arrange marriages for four of his five daughters with prisoners held for ransom in the dungeon. The youngest daughter takes a shine to Arf and invites him to return some day to be married and to take the kingdom from her sister's husbands.
Next they encounter a democratic leader named Sieur du Lac, who has divided his land among his men so that he may devote his time to alchemy. One of his experiments (with gunpowder) backfires and burns off most of the knights' hair.
Then they meet a troubadour who convinces them to rescue his red-haired, blue-eyed girlfriend. They separate and each of them finds a woman fitting the description, but none of them is she. The actual redhead can't stand him, and when the boyfriends and brothers and fathers and husbands of of other three appear in a mob, Val and his friends beat a hasty retreat.
Next they get caught in a feud between warring neighbors, Ruy Foulke and Black Robert, but that's where the volume ends so you'll have to wait until next time to find out what happens.
[EDIT: Shoot, that's long. Maybe I shouuld do this by story and not volume.]
VOLUME 8: 1951-1952
As volume eight begins, the castle of guy Foulke is under siege by the forces of his neighbor, Black Robert. Prince Valiant and his companions help repel the assault, and when the battle dies down he helps bring about peace by uniting Robert's son and Guy's daughter, who are in love. Furthermore, Val suggests giving the disputed lands to them as a wedding present.
As they continue their journey, they begin to see signs of the impending collapse of the Roman Empire. (It is now AD 458.) They decide on an overland route through the Alps. Val is forced to kill an armed stanger and is pursued by the man's friends. He escapes by causing an avalanche which buries them. He returns to camp to find young Alf suffering from frostbite. Descending the mountain, they are forced to leave Alf in Torino while they continue their mission.
In Rome, they are unable to see the Pope, but a committee agrees to send missionaries back with them to Thule. Returning to Torino, Val learns that one of Arf's feet had to be amputated and the boy has lost the will to live. Valiant tries a little "tough love" on him, relating the stories of two previous characters who lost limbs. Arf regains enough of his spirits that Val assigns him to be the official secretary. It is Arf's job to prepare a report of the journey for King Aguar (in triplicate, send by multiple couriers to better ensure that that at least one copy makes it back).
Arf could not endure the lenghty journey himself, so Egil and Regen accompany the missionaries by land while Valiant stays behind to travel with Arf by sea. They sail to Sicily first, then catch a ship bound for Thule via the Mediterranean. they pass landmarks such as Mount Etna and Gibraltar while Hal Foster delivers a history lesson. Arf falls into depression again, and Val levels with him that he would never have made a good knight anyway because he's too much of a thinker. He suggests that Arf develop his mind instead. Arf sets himself the task of writing a biography of Prince Valiant. It is revealed that his writing constitutes "The Chronicles" (mentioned from time-to-time hereafter) that Foster is "adapting" for the strip.
The ship stops to take on passengers, including a merchant and his 15-year-old daughter bound for Bristol. She helps to improve his mood considerably. He puts his efforts into writing poetry and singing songs from this point on. The sailors must fight off a ship of pirates before returning to Britain, but other than that the return voyage is uneventful. Upon arrival, the sailors present Arf with a fine wooden leg they have carved. It has been well over a year since Arf's exile, so he can now set foot on British soil again. Because his father's castle is midway between Bristol and Camelot, Arf suggests they go there first. It has been two years since Arf left home, but his stepmother is now gone. When King Geoffrey sees young Adele, he knows what's up.
Prince Valiant returns to Camelot.
Prince Valiant and Sir Gawain engage in several pranks and generally cause a nuisance until a message arrives from King Aguar (who knew his son would stop by Camelot) urgently summoning him home. Gawain and Valiant swing by to pick up Arf on their way to Gawain's home in the Orkney Island to arrange passage to Thule. Gawain puts down a plot to ransom Val by his treacherous brothers and helps draft a trade agreement between Orkney and Thule which Arf puts to paper for King Aguar to sign.
When they arrive at Aguar's castle, the king is very cagey about Aleta's condition. He says she stays mostly in her apartments these days. Is she sick? Injured? Val rushes to her side only to discover her with two four-month-old daughters! Then Foster turns the strip over to Prince Arn (which he does from time-to-time) for three weeks to have a comic adventure. (Arn is about two years old at this point.)
The treaty with Orkney is signed, and the merchant ship of Adele's father is the first to sail under Aguar's flag bearing his protection. Boltar plunders it, however, technically an act of treason, and is imprisoned, awaiting the king's judgement. Before that happens, though, Tillicum silently springs him. He is so touched by this gesture that he kidnaps her. while on the run, Boltar learns of the Danes' plans to invade Thule. He helps Aguar repel an invasion and gets back in the king's good graces. Aguar is about to sentence Boltar to life in prison, unless someone steps forward to be responsible for his actions. Previously, Aleta suggested to Tillicum that the best way to honor her obligation to care for Prince Arn would be if she had an offspring who could act as his squire when he got older and went off on adventures of his own. Tillicum stands up for Boltar, and they are married in a simple ceremony.
I buy Valiant "on faith," as I stopped reading the original softcovers at some point and am buying the HCs but don't know where to begin since I don't remember where I left off. So I'm just buying them and setting them aside until the day I can just start over reading them from the beginning.
I do remember wondering at the origin of the name "Arn." Now I know!
Also, I did not realize that the HCs had already passed where the softcovers ended. Yay!
At this point the narrative moves into several shorter stories. First, Val and Arf go on a hunting trip but get swept away in the current of a swollen river. It takes then three weeks (strip time) to make their way home. After that, Val challenges Aleta to a falconing contest, wagering only to eat what their respective birds bring down. King Aguar gets into the act, and Val ends up (quite literally) eating crow. After that, Rufus Regan returns with the Roman missionaries and aleta plans to have her twins christened. A church is built. Aleta chooses names and the baby girls are christened Valeta and Karen.
I know it's a typo, but I'd really like to see the adventures of Arf.
No, I am referring to Arf Geoffrey, the young scribe who has been tasked with recording Prince Valiant's life in what has come to be known as "The Chronicles."
Volume eight continues and concludes with more stories of a shorter nature. First, Val and his friend Rufus investigates a Thule river which has been diverted by settlers across the boarder in Scandia. In order to prevent battle, Val dams the river and gets the two sides to share it.
On the way back to Vikingsholm, Val is shot by an arrow intended for the Siguard Holem, whom he resembles. He gets the story from the would-be assassin, Os, who then becomes their guide. Val meets the tyrant, but when he and Rufus leave the castle the next morning they are met with the news that Os was killed in a drunken brawl the night before. They are provided with a new guide, Jarl Oder. Beyond sight of the castle, Val switches clothes with Oder and reenters Holem's castle.
He learns that the peasants in the castle are slaves. He then sneaks out of the castle and sends Rufus back to Vikingsholm for troops. Val leads the troops and local serfs against the castle, but their real objective is to dig a tunnel in the soft clay the castle is built on. The tunnel through to the mote on the far side and, as the water rushes underneath the castle, they begin their attack. Before too long, the rushing water undermines the structural integrity of the castle and Holem is killed in the collapse.
At this point, Arf becomes serious about The Chronicles and spends six Sundays interviewing Prince Valiant about his early exploits while picnicking with Val and his family. This episode consist of flashbacks from 1939 (with a few framing panels added), giving Hal Foster the opportunity to take a vacation with his wife.
In a one-page story, Prince Arn shoots a rabbit while on a visit to Boltar's castle, and Tillicum gives him the unpleasant task of cleaning it himself. After that, though, Boltar's enemies kidnap Arn in an attempt to disgrace Boltar. Tillicum tracks the kidnappers, leaving an easy-to-follow trail, and Boltar follows Tillicum. they trace the ones they did not kill outright back to Caerlon and make them pay for their evil deeds.
The Vikings are resisting King Aguar's attempt to convert them to Christianity, so he sends his son out to follow the missionaries to see what's up with that. They meet a Druid who plies Val with drugged mead, giving him an hallucination of the Bifrost, the Valkyries, Odin and Thor. Morgan LeFey had given him drugged wine in the past, though, and Val is not fooled.
I've stopped doing the summaries (at least for now), but here is the latest solicitation.
PRINCE VALIANT v25: 1985-1986:
Fantagraphics is proud to present the 25th volume of one of the most enduring comic strips, based on
Arthurian legend, ever created. As this latest collection begins, Val and Arn are in Lappland, where
they get involved with two twin brothers' struggle over succession. Arn consults a mystical hermit about whether his destiny intertwines with Maeve's, the daughter of an archenemy. With the sinister Mordred in control of Camelot, Val and Aleta seek to raise an army; this goal requires Val to capture a notorious outlaw, battle a troll, and find a hidden treasure. Arthur's forces come together at High Cross, and he wages an epic battle for the fate of Camelot, during which Arn becomes a knight of the round table. Also included, Prince Valiant writer Cullen Murphy and colorist Meg Murphy pay tribute to their mother, Joan, model for Aleta and other female characters for their father.
Since this thread concerns itself with Fantagraphics collections of classic newspaper strips, I figured it was a good place to post this article from The Comics Beat.
Fantagraphics and Sunday Press are now partners (comicsbeat.com)
I have decided to make a concentrated effort to catch up with Prince Valiant. I left off [reading] with Vol. 10, but the most recent one to be released is v26 (through 1988). As I explained above, I had previously read all the way through Vol. 50 of Fantagraphics' previous (softcover) series, but in the hardcovers I'm not even up to that point (Vol. 22).
Under the aegis of Hal Foster, Prince Valiant adhered strictly to an internally consistent "story time" mostly based on historical record. In other words, although "story time" does not equate to "real time", if one pays strict attention to the passage of seasons within the strip, it is possible to determine when the stories take place. Most [comic strip] historians synch the story up to history using The Sack of Rome in A.D. 455 (Vol. 5) as the base reference point. Several other historical incidents referred to in the strip could also be used, which would merely shift the hypothetical timeline a few years either way. Counting back, the strip begins circa A.D. 439 when Prince Valiant is about six years old, but quickly jumps ahead to when he is a teenager.
[NOTE: When John Cullen Murphy takes over as writer, the timeline is no longer consistent and the seasons correspond to the publication date, therefore a year in the strip becomes equal to a year in real life (475 = 1980; 476 = 1981, etc.). When Mark Schultz begins as writer, there is no longer a set timeline.]
VOLUME 11: 1957-1958
In Vol. 11 (circa A.D. 463-465), Val returns to Camelot and crushes a rebellion in Cornwall. He acquires Arvak, which will be his warhorse for the next 22 years (real time). He visits London, then returns to Thule. He sends his son Arn to Hap-Atla of the Inner Lands for training. In exchange, Prince Valiant will train Hap-Atla's son, Sven. (Arn will be away from home for the next three years, but the story will return to him from time to time.) the Council of Kings is held in Thule; Val and Aleta return to Camelot, stay in London. Val cleans out Saxon camps. Merlin is led into limbo by Nimue the water maiden. [Merlin previously appeared in four stories, as King Arthur's advisor and Val's tutor. This was the last time Foster would use Merlin, in fulfillment of ancient prophecy.]
King Arthur is supposed to be a figure of the early Middle Ages, but most of the familiar Arthurian literature is from the second half of the Middle Ages, and reflects the culture of that period. For example, the culture of jousting. So Arthurian fantasies have many anachronisms.
Prince Valiant has these in its depictions of weapons and castles. But it's visually a wonderful depiction of the Arthurian age as imagined in the later Middle Ages.
Excalibur (1981) solved the problem by going all-out over the top. It's rather glorious. King Arthur (2004) went for pseudo-period-realism, and was charmlessly revisionist.
I think the 1954 Prince Valiant movie was the first comics-based A picture. Wikipedia says it was one of the studio's two biggest productions of the year! It took designs directly from the strip.
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