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Prince Valiant in the Days of King Arthur, or simply Prince Valiant, is a long-run comic strip created by Hal Foster in 1937. It is an epic adventure that has told a continuous story during its entire history, and the full stretch of that story now totals more than 3700 Sunday strips. Currently, the strip appears weekly in more than 300 American newspapers, according to its distributor, King Features Syndicate.

Edward, the Duke of Windsor called Prince Valiant the "greatest contribution to English literature in the past hundred years." Generally regarded by comics historians as one of the most impressive visual creations ever syndicated, the strip is noted for its realistically rendered panoramas and the intelligent, sometimes humorous narrative. The format does not employ word balloons. Instead, the story is narrated in captions positioned at the bottom or sides of panels. Events depicted are taken from various time periods, from the late Roman Empire to the High Middle Ages, with a few brief scenes from modern times (commenting on the "manuscript").

While drawing the Tarzan comic strip, Foster wanted to do his own original newspaper feature, and he began work on a strip he called Derek, Son of Thane, later changing the title to Prince Arn. King Features manager Joseph Connelly eventually renamed it Prince Valiant. In 1936, after extensive research, Foster pitched his concept to William Randolph Hearst, who had long wanted to distribute a strip by Foster. Hearst was so impressed that he gave Foster ownership of the strip.

Prince Valiant began in full-color tabloid sections on Saturday February 13, 1937. The first full page was strip #16, which appeared in the Sunday New Orleans Times Picayune. The internal dating changed from Saturday to Sunday with strip #66 (May 15, 1938). The full-page strip continued until 1971 when strip #1788 was not offered in full-page format—it was the last strip Foster drew. The strip continues today by other artists in a half page format.

Characters and story

The setting is Arthurian. Valiant himself is a Nordic prince from faraway Thule, located near Trondheimmarker on the Norwegianmarker west coast. Early in the story, Valiant arrived at Camelot, where he became friends with Sir Gawain and Sir Tristram. Earning the respect of King Arthur and Merlin, he became a Knight of the Round Table. Later, he met the love of his life—Aleta—on a Mediterranean island. He fought the Huns with his magic Singing Sword, Flamberge, traveled to Africa and to America and helped his father regain his lost throne of Thule, usurped by the tyrant Sligon.

When the strip began in 1937, Val was a child. The first episodes followed his boyhood in the British fens where his father, the deposed king of Thule, had a home in exile. When Val encountered the hag Horrit, she predicted he would have a life of adventure but not contentment, adding that he would soon experience much sorrow. Arriving home, Val discovered that his mother had died.

Val acquired the Singing Sword in 1938. The original owner of the Singing Sword was Prince Arn of Ord, Valiant's rival for the maid Ilene. The two men put aside their differences when Ilene was kidnapped by Viking raiders on her way to Ord. Arn handed Valiant the charmed sword so he could hold back their pursuers while Arn rode ahead to free Ilene. The pair continued in their efforts to rescue Ilene, eventually discovering that she was killed in a shipwreck. Arn gave the Singing Sword to Valiant after that adventure, and the two parted as friends. Later in the series it was mentioned that the Singing Sword is a sister to King Arthur's Excalibur.

In 1939, he was knighted by King Arthur, and in 1940, he aided in restoring his father as King of Thule. In 1946, shortly after Val married Aleta, Queen of the Misty Isles, she was kidnapped and taken to sea. Val's pursuit took him past the Shetland Islands, the Faroes, Iceland, Greenland, Newfoundland and the St. Lawrence River, arriving at Niagara Falls 1,000 years before Columbus. In 1947, Arn, their first son, was born in America. Val and Aleta's other children are the twins, Karen and Valeta (born 1951), Galan (1962) and Nathan (1979). In 1964, Arn led an expedition to America. Val became a grandfather when Arn and his wife, Maeve, daughter of Sir Mordred, had their first child in 1987.

History and myth

The historical and mythological elements of Prince Valiant were initially chaotic, but soon Foster attempted to bring the facts into order. Some of the elements of the story (for instance, the death of Attila the Hun in 453, the murder of Aëtius in 454, though different from the historical version (Valiant and Gawain are blamed for the murder and must flee), and Geiseric's sacking of Romemarker in 455 (which Prince Valiant and Aleta witness) place the story in the 5th century. Some slightly fantastic elements, like "marsh monsters" (a dinosaur-like creature) and witches, were present in the early years but were later downplayed (as was Merlin's and Morgan le Fay's use of magic), so that by 1942, the story became more realistic.

The storyline is not historically accurate. While obviously meant to take place in the mid-5th century, Foster incorporated anachronistic elements: Viking Longships, Muslims, alchemist and technological advances not made before the Renaissance. The fortifications, armor and armament resemble the High Middle Ages.

Other artists arrive

In 1970, after tryout strips by several artists, Foster invited John Cullen Murphy to collaborate on the strip. Here is a list of the transition artists:
  • #1756 Foster
  • #1757 Gray Morrow
  • #1758 Foster
  • #1759 Foster
  • #1760 Murphy
  • #1761 Foster
  • #1762 Wally Wood
  • #1763 Foster
  • #1764 Murphy
  • #1765 unknown
  • #1766 Murphy
  • #1767 same as #1765
  • #1768 Foster
  • #1769 Murphy
  • #1770 same as #1765
  • #1771-2 Murphy
  • #1773 Foster
  • #1774-5 Murphy
  • #1776 Foster
  • #1777-87 Murphy
  • #1788 Foster
  • #1789 on Murphy

From 1971 on, Murphy drew the strip from Foster scripts and pencil sketches. Foster continued to script until strip #2241 in 1980. Murphy then drew it solo with scripts by his son Cullen Murphy, an editor of The Atlantic. Stories by Cullen Murphy included many adventures in which Val is opposed by Byzantine Emperor Justinian. John Cullen Murphy's daughter, Mairead, did the lettering and coloring. In March 2004, Murphy retired and turned the strip over to his chosen successor, illustrator Gary Gianni, and writing duties were passed on to Mark Schultz. Coloring is by Scott Roberts.


Hal Foster's Prince Valiant (February 26, 1950)
Hal Foster was recognized for his work on the strip with the Banshees' Silver Lady award in 1952, followed by the National Cartoonists Society Reuben Award in 1957, their Story Comic Strip Award in 1964, their Special Features Award in 1966 and 1967, the Gold Key award in 1977 and the Elzie Segar Award in 1978. He was inducted into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame in 1996, and in 2005 he was inducted into the Joe Shuster Canadian Comic Book Creators Hall of Fame for his contributions to comic books. In 2006, Hal Foster was inducted into the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame. At age 73, Foster was elected to membership in Great Britain's Royal Society of Arts, an honor given to very few Americans.

John Cullen Murphy received the National Cartoonist Society Story Comic Strip Award for his work on the strip in 1971, 1974, 1976, 1978, 1984 and 1987. In 1995, the strip was one of 20 included in the Comic Strip Classics series of commemorative postage stamps.


  • Hastings House produced seven hardback Prince Valiant books in the 1950s, using the illustrations by Foster but with the text simplified by Max Trell and for the last three books by James Flowers. This series was reprinted in Germany as Prinz Eisenherz (Prince Ironheart), and continued there for an additional five volumes.
  • Nostalgia Press published four hardback reprints in conjunction with King Features. Some entire panels were colored solid pink or solid purple.
  • Prince Valiant—an American Epic, from Manuscript Press, reprinted the first three years in three volumes, in the full original color and full page size. They also published a hardback omnibus of the three years, in a limited edition of 26 copies, ISBN #0-936414-09-X.
  • Fantagraphics published a set of 50 trade paperbacks reprinting all of the strips written by Hal Foster, including those drawn by John Cullen Murphy.
  • Andrews McMeel published Prince Valiant - Far from Camelot, the only collection of award-winning creators Gary Gianni and Mark Schultz's current strips dating from November 21, 2004, to May 11, 2008.
  • A French reprinting of all the Foster-drawn strips was published by Editions Zenda in a green cloth, embossed hardcover series with duskjacket. Featuring two years' worth of strips per volume, it was printed from the original color pages with typeset lettering.

Prince Valiant has often been reprinted in comic books. Feature Book #26 reprints most of the first year of the strip, and is the only comic book to have an original cover by Hal Foster. Many Foster strips were reprinted in the pages of Ace Comics and King Comics. Not reprints are seven Dell four-color Prince Valiant comic books — #567, 650, 699, 719, 788, 848, 900 — drawn by Bob Fuji, writer unknown. A 1973 Prince Valiant comic book reprinted Foster art with a simplified text intended to teach reading to children.

Film and TV adaptations

Other media

The Medieval Castle (1957) collected the comic strip which ran beneath Prince Valiant in 1944-45 as a result of the government's WWII request that syndicates reduce strip size to save paper for the war effort.
The three-panel strip followed the adventures of two young English squires, Arn and Guy, during the First Crusade.
  • In addition to two Prince Valiant phonograph records and three coloring books, Treasure Books published a small 1954 children's book with Foster art in color.
  • Marvel Comics published a four-part miniseries titled Prince Valiant in the 1990s.
  • Chaosium produced a Prince Valiant role-playing game. In 1999 Pyramid magazine named the Prince Valiant Role-playing Game as one of "The Millennium's Most Underrated Games". Editor Scott Haring commented, "Prince Valiant was designed as a beginner's introduction to roleplaying... Perhaps the subject matter's perceived lack of 'cool' killed this game, but it deserved better."
  • In the Arthurian TV show Merlin, Will Mellor plays a knight named Valiant.

Cultural references

See also



  • Hal Foster: Prince of Illustrators by Brian M. Kane, Vanguard Productions, 2001. IPPY Award-winning biography of Hal Foster. ISBN 1-887591-25-7
  • A Prince Valiant Companion by Todd Goldberg and Carl Horak, edited by Don Markstein and Rick Norwood, Manuscript Press. ISBN 0-936414-07-3

External links

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