The last thing I had to clear before returning to work was the lovely oversized (27 X 36cm) Prince Valiant hardcover I picked up from Gosh . The first in a series, this collection crisply reprints the first 98 Sunday strips of the Prince Valiant feature from 1937 in uncluttered black and white on a smooth glossy stock. Together with Alex Raymond and Milt Caniff, Hal Foster is lauded as one of the titans of newspaper strips but I've never really read any of his stuff as Tarzan and prince Valiant never really appealed to me much. However, when I stumbled across this collection of strips starting from the feature's first instalment, I decided to give it a shot as I was already looking for something different to read.
I'm glad I did as it's bloody amazing stuff. My only prior exposure to Prince Valiant was the cartoon series, the pull-your-eyes-out-to-relieve-the-boredom 50s movie (starring Robert Wagner in the title role) and Wally Wood's sole page after Foster retired from art duties on the strip after 33 years (he was nearly 80at the time!). I was pleasantly surprised at how accessible and easy the strip was to read but I was more impressed with the quality of the art, which MORE than stands up decades later. Foster clearly WAS a master artist and after reluctantly adapting Tarzan of the Apes into a Sunday strip (and thus creating the first "serious", non-humourous comic strip) in 1929, the comic medium opened up to new genres and Foster's art continued to inspire countless artists (Raymond, Mac Raboy and Joe Kubert are all clearly influenced by Foster's work). Foster therefore truly was the father of real sequential storytelling art and his sense of composition, attention to detail and innate talent make Prince Valiant a joy to read. I usually tend to try and get my hand on all of any given series that I'm following but with over 30 years of Valiant strips, I think I may just take the occasional sampling!
As a side note, I remembered a little-known fact when I saw Valiant disguise himself as a demon, which Jack Kirby ripped off for Etrigan over 30 years later! I've always wondered where Kirby came up with those polka dots for Thor's design and noticed a Hal Foster Viking wearing a finned helmet identical to the one Thor sported in his very first splash page from Journey Into Mystery, as well as a series of metal circles on his tunic--this could be a bit of a stretch but given that Kirby was not above dipping into Foster's work from this era as inspiration, Foster could arguably have inspired the design of Thor, a character whose roots would lie in a similar historical period...anyway, here's a look at Etrigan's first REAL appearance from 1937!