Friday, September 13, 2013

Review- PRINCE VALIANT VOL. 1: 1937-1938

PRINCE VALIANT VOL. 1: 1937-1938 (Fantagraphics, Fourth Printing, 2011; Hardcover)

Collects Prince Valiant Sunday strips 1-98, originally published on February 13, 1937- December 25, 1938

Writer and Artist: Hal Foster

As part of my ongoing effort to gain a wider perspective on the history of the medium, I decided to dive into Prince Valiant after years of procrastination. I have to be in the right mood to enjoy certain eras of comics, be it Golden Age material, Silver Age, Bronze Age, Modern Age, Post-Modern Age, etc. Having said that, I enjoyed this intermittently. Sometimes I read one or two pages, other times 40 pages in one sitting. It is superb for the time and holds up really well today.

I'll start with the low hanging fruit by stating that Hal Foster's artwork is absolutely brilliant. My subpar photography shot in odd hours doesn't do his artwork justice. The introduction states that Foster spent 50-60 hours a week on each strip, and it shows. Every panel is brilliantly composed, and his artwork is lush and lifelike. I seriously doubt that we will ever see artists on par with Foster or Alex Raymond again because youngsters these days are glued to their phones and won't take the time necessary to cultivate their talent. The few that will be artists will rely on Photoshop and never learn to be good artists first in terms of panel composition, speed, accuracy, etc. I have no problem with Photoshop as a tool in an artist's tool belt (so to speak), but it seems to me that many modern artists cannot draw without it. 

One of the more interesting things about this strip is that it occurs in mostly real time. Once Prince Valiant leaves the fens and sets out seeking adventure, two years elapses over 19 months of strips. Of course lots of thing occur between and even off panel, with the narrative serving to carry the weight of the story. One can only imagine how many arcs modern comic writers could milk out of each week's strip. 

This is the strip that Jack Kirby STOLE the design for the Demon from.

The series begins with Val's father, the King of Thule, being chased out of his kingdom with his army in tow, forced to find a new place to live. Thule's young son Val comes of age while living in the Fens before setting out in search of adventure. Vikings, Marsh Lizards, giant prehistoric turtles, giant sea-crocodiles, King Arthur, Lancelot, Merlin, and more are among the things Prince Valiant encounters on his journeys. I love all of the beautifully rendered castles, forests, and knights. The various “monsters” Val encounters give the series the occasional dash of fantasy over the more plausible medieval aspects. 

The strip was technically called Prince Valiant In The Days Of King Arthur by Harold R. Foster at this point in time. I'll let you know if and when the titles gets changed in subsequent volumes. This volume ends with Val warning King Arthur of the impending Saxon invasion. I am going to crack open Volume 2 right now...
Junk Food For Thought rating: 5 out of 5. 

The OCD zone- Fantagraphics always, always, always produces top shelf high quality product. Their books may run fashionably late, but you'll never have to buy an “upgraded” or “remastered” version, as these books are points of pride and labors of love for the company.
DVD-style Extras included in this book: Two informative introductions and one page which explains the history and differences in the various book versions of the strip over the years.
Linework and Color restoration rating: 5 out of 5. With the exception of 17 strips, all of these are scanned from pristine engraver proofs. Out of those 17, 10 are from European proofs. A pleasant surprise occurred to the editors when comparing these to the original US strips: Foster's unedited artwork in one panel where a man has a sword protruding from his chest, and his unedited dialogue in another.
The first ten strips were extremely scarce, so the restoration there is a bit more crude than what you find from April 24, 1937 on. It's perfectly serviceable but is not as crisp as the bulk of the material.
While Prince Valiant has been collected several times over the years (as far back as the 1950s), this is the first time that the original color palette has been maintained throughout the entire process. This is that definitive “Blu-Ray edition” that you have always wanted to see.
Paper rating: 5 out of 5. Beautiful thick uncoated stock paper with zero sheen. It also smells terrific, as do as all Chinese made books.
Binding rating: 5 out of 5. High quality sewn binding with room for the casing to flex, allowing this beast of a book to lay perfectly flat from the first page to the last.
Hardback cover coating rating: 4 out of 5. Fantagraphics does not use dustjackets on their books. The image is printed on the hardback itself, in this case one coated with a dull matte finish. This books will look fine over the long term but the coating is not rigorous enough for long term store shelf life.


  1. Now you can't live without the companion. You're welcome.