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From the 'Fifty Years of Prince Valiant', by Esad Jakupović

"That strong, proud Prince of Thule was the kind of man I'd like to have been." These words belong to one of the greatest comic artists of all time - Harold Foster, and they refer to one of the best known heroes of the 'ninth art', Prince Valiant.

Harold Foster, selfportrait

uring the 30's and 40's, to the pleasure and delight of all youngsters and majority of older people, the realistic adventure comic strip appeared. It all began on January 7, 1929, with the birth of 'Tarzan', when the United Features Syndicate employed the young illustrator Harold Foster to draw 74 pilot episodes based on a novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs. But it was only in 1937, when Foster created 'Prince Valiant', a saga about the knights of the round table, that the adventure comic strip really made its way with the public."

• Bennett Davis, American theorist

On January 7, 1929, accidentally or not, two new series began: 'Buck Rogers' and 'Tarzan', two epochial characters of the adventure comic strip. 'Buck Rogers' was man's dream of the future, of solutions to social problems and injustices, a dream of escape to other planets, to the world of 25th century; while 'Tarzan' on the other hand, reflected a nostalgic yearning for simpler times, when man had to confront his life surroundings and learn how to control his life.

"Tarzan" by Harold Foster
For a full six years, Foster did the Sunday episodes of 'Tarzan' (Rex Maxon did the daily episodes during the first 25 weeks of this comic strip), enjoying real freedom in creating and shaping this popular hero. His 'Tarzan' reflected to a certain extent the very personality of his author — he was more intelligent, stronger and faster than Maxon's, and besides, along with the ape language, he spoke English, French, German, Swahilli and Arabic.

Those were, by the way, the golden years of the adventure comic strip. Meanwhile there appeared (after 'Tarzan' and 'Buck Rogers'), Flash Gordon (by Alexander Raymond), 'Brick Bradford', 'Phantom', 'Mandrake', 'Tim Taylor', 'Secret Agent X-9', 'Jungle Jim', ... And that was the time, as it would be shown, for a new comic strip hero to appear on stage. Everyone regarded 'Tarzan' as a masterpiece of graphic art, but Foster was not satisfied with him.

"Brick Bradford"
The entire time he worked on 'Tarzan', a new idea was developing in him about a strip he could really call his own, set in a different time, in different lands, different surroundings, with different psychology, different composition ... and different fate. A character which would become famous throughout the whole world began to take shape in Foster's head - Prince Valiant.
By the end of 1936, when he had completely concocted him and worked out in details, he offered it to his agency (UFS).
But it didn't show enough interest for the idea; why do we need a new hero, they wandered, when the old one, made by the same author, is still highly esteemed?

Foster believed in himself too much to give up. He angrily grabbed his sketches and headed straight for King Features Syndicate, the biggest strip-distributing company. It accepted both the author and his hero, so on February 13, 1937, the first table of 'Prince Valiant' in full color appeared in the New York Journal.

... from "Prince Valiant"
This was a disastrous failure of the United agency - some even say the greatest business failure in the history of comic strips. But, from the standpoint of the ninth art, it was a 'positive mistake'. Thanks to this, 'Tarzan' could pass into the hands of the magnificent Burne Hogarth after some time, to step into the limelight again soon thereafter. And 'Prince Valiant' made it into history in a big way, as one of the greatest comic strips of all time.

"I wanted to create the kind of hero I wanted to be myself, controlling his actions myself", Foster once wrote. "That's how the idea of Prince Valiant got started. However, it took almost a year of research and groundwork for my hero to become properly dressed and armed, in order to claim his place in the world."

.. from "Prince Valiant",
by Harold Foster
In that one year period Foster read a large number of novels and other books on the Middle Ages, studied many English and French legends, as well as the traditions of various other nations. He read hundreds of comic strips dealing with Middle Age characters, made tens of thousands of notes and countless sketches ...
Then he worked out the scenario as well, delegating the leading role to one of the knights of the legendary King Arthur - Prince Valiant. He would trace the Prince of Thule from his earliest days all the way to his old age.

Dring the half a century his comic was coming out (in the 1997 we shall celebrate 60 years of 'Prince Valiant'), Valiant grew from a timid child, a young man and an adventurer, into a bold knight, lover and husband, and finally a father whose children would take to their own adventures.

.. from "Prince Valiant",
by Harold Foster
At the beginning of this comic strip, Horrid the Witch had already predicted Valiant's fate, and thus set the general guidelines for it: "You will become a knight of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere, and you will confront the unicorn, the dragon and the griffon, black men and yellow. You will have high adventure, but nowhere do I see happiness and contentment."
All in all, 'Prince Valiant' is a feat", says critic Steven Becker. "Day in and day out Foster created vivid characters who reflected their age. He drew those characters and their world with great precision.
He told the tale in extraordinary English, with a high sense of the dramatic, always avoiding stereotypes. He never questioned his work. 'Prince Valiant' is a great example of art in its best edition: beautiful to watch, exciting to read, and edifying in its final effect."

.. from "Prince Valiant",
by Harold Foster
The complicated, rich, and, not rarely, even overdone text at times decreased the dynamism of this comic strip, who artwork is aready slow to a certain extent, because it's "massive" (with a lot of very carefully, precisely, and authentically made details) and "mass" (with a large number of variegated and
well expressed characters). Nonetheless, although not marked by rhythm and speed, the strip on the whole leaves an exceptionally strong impression, almost unprecedented in the history of the ninth art. 'Prince Valiant' is not just a life cronicle of a brave warrior, timeless traveller, a would-be explorer - "a knight without fault" - nor a mere adventure strip. It's a genuine illustrated novel, a classic adventure saga, which gave its millions of readers more knowledge about the early Middle Ages than all literary works together.

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