Prince Valiant in the Days of King Arthur, or simply Prince Valiant, is a long-running American 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 4000 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.
The setting is Arthurian. Valiant (Val) is a Nordic prince from faraway Thule, located near Trondheim on the Norwegian 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. On a Mediterranean island, he met the love of his life, Aleta, Queen of the Misty Isles, whom he later married. He fought the Huns with his powerful Singing Sword, Flamberge, a magical blade created by the same enchanter who forged Arthur's Excalibur. Val traveled to Africa and to America and helped his father regain his lost throne of Thule, usurped by the tyrant Sligon.
When the strip started in 1937, Val was five years old. The first episodes followed the youth through the wild Fens district of Britain with his father, the deposed King Aguar of Thule. When Val encountered the witch Horrit, she predicted he would have a life of adventure, noting that he would soon experience grief. Arriving home, Val discovered that his mother had died. Not long after that came his encounters with Gawain, gigantic creatures and the glory of Camelot, as detailed by Steve Donoghue:
At first, in the earliest months of Prince Valiant, Foster’s Arthurian England might easily be confused with the Cimmeria of Conan the Barbarian: monsters abound. As a boy, Val fights a ‘dragon’ that looks a lot like a plesiosaur, and he fires his arrows at a rampaging swamp-turtle the size of a Zamboni. But only a few installments later, this has sublimated somewhat into history: when Val saves his new friend Sir Gawain from a robber knight and Gawain decides to take the villain to Camelot for summary judgement from King Arthur, the whole party is at one point attacked by another enormous beast—only this time it’s a salt water crocodile!... When they all at length succeed in killing the beast, Val is outraged that Gawain would still seek to have the man tried before King Arthur. The young prince naturally speaks up in his outrage before the great king, his queen Guinevere and his feared wizard Merlin—and so a career at Camelot is born. Val becomes Gawain’s squire and almost immediately accompanies him on a quest, during which Gawain is captured and Val must use his wits—smiling and laughing the whole time—to free his mentor. On the trip, Gawain is seriously wounded, and the large panel where Val finally gets him back to Camelot is Foster’s first genuine visual show-stopper in the strip.
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 the following year, he aided in restoring his father as King of Thule. Moving across Britain, Europe, and the Holy Land, Val fought invading Goths, Huns and Saxons. In 1946, shortly after Val married Aleta, she was kidnapped by the Viking raider Ulfran. Val's pursuit took him past the Shetland Islands, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland, Newfoundland and the Saint Lawrence River, arriving at Niagara Falls 1,000 years before Columbus. Defeating Ulfran, Val was reunited with Aleta, and the couple spent that winter with friendly Native Americans.
In the strip dated August 31, 1947, Prince Arn, their first son, was born in America, and Val celebrated by getting drunk. The infant Prince Arn was named after the friend of Val’s youth, Prince Arn of Ord. Val and Aleta's other children are the twins, Karen and Valeta (born 1951), Galan (1962) and Prince Nathan (1979). Agents of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian abducted Nathan shortly after his birth, and he was eventually rescued by Arn. Earlier, Arn led an expedition to America in 1964. Val became a grandfather when Arn and his wife, Maeve, daughter of the traitorous Mordred, gave birth to Ingrid in 1987.
The historical and mythological elements of Prince Valiant were initially chaotic, but soon Foster attempted to bring the facts into order. Some elements of the story place it in the fifth century, such as the death of Attila the Hun in 453 and Geiseric's sacking of Rome in 455, which Prince Valiant and Aleta witness. The murder of Aëtius in 454 differs from the historical version; Valiant and Gawain are blamed for the murder and must flee.
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-fifth century, Foster incorporated anachronistic elements: Viking Longships, Muslims, alchemists and technological advances not made before the Renaissance. The fortifications, armor and armament resemble the High Middle Ages.
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
#1762 Wally Wood
#1765 Gray Morrow
#1767 Gray Morrow
#1770 Gray Morrow
#1789 on Murphy
From 1971 on, Murphy drew the strip from Foster scripts and pencil sketches. Foster continued to write the continuity 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 the 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. Scripting duties were passed on to Mark Schultz with Scott Roberts providing the coloring.
Schultz continued as the writer when Thomas Yeates began as the strip's artist on April 1, 2012.
Hal Foster was recognized for his work on the strip with the Banshees' Silver Lady award in 1952, followed by the National Cartoonists Society's 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, 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.
Murphy received the National Cartoonists 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 two 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 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 dustjacket. 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.
Prince Valiant Vol. 1: 1937–1938, Fantagraphics Books (18 August 2009). ISBN 978-1-60699-141-1
Prince Valiant Vol. 2: 1939–1940. Fantagraphics Books (20 July 2010). ISBN 978-1-60699-348-4
Prince Valiant Vol. 3: 1941–1942. Fantagraphics Books (21 March 2011). ISBN 978-1-60699-407-8
Prince Valiant Vol. 4: 1943–1944. Fantagraphics Books (3 October 2011). ISBN 978-1-60699-455-9
Prince Valiant Vol. 5: 1945–1946. Fantagraphics Books (2 July 2012). ISBN 978-1606994849
Prince Valiant Vol. 6: 1947–1948. Fantagraphics Books (16 February 2013). ISBN 978-1-60699-588-4
Prince Valiant Vol. 7: 1949–1950. Fantagraphics Books (7 September 2013). ISBN 978-1-60699-645-4
Prince Valiant Vol. 8: 1951–1952. Fantagraphics Books (15 February 2014). ISBN 978-1-60699-699-7
Prince Valiant Vol. 9: 1953–1954. Fantagraphics Books (19 July 2014). ISBN 978-1-60699-735-2
Prince Valiant Vol. 10: 1955–1956. Fantagraphics Books (9 December 2014). ISBN 978-1-60699-800-7
Prince Valiant Vol. 11: 1957–1958. Fantagraphics Books (4 July 2015). ISBN 978-1-60699-828-1
Prince Valiant Vol. 12: 1959–1960. Fantagraphics Books (23 November 2015). ISBN 978-1606998762
Prince Valiant Vol. 13: 1961–1962. Fantagraphics Books (21 June 2016). ISBN 978-1606999257
Prince Valiant Vol. 14: 1963–1964. Fantagraphics Books (15 November 2016). ISBN 978-1606999707
Prince Valiant is a 1954 US motion picture by 20th Century Fox, filmed in color and Cinemascope. Directed by Henry Hathaway, it starred James Mason, Robert Wagner (in the title role), Janet Leigh and Sterling Hayden. The film was also adapted into a comic book.
Prince Valiant also appeared in the episode "Terror in Time" of Defenders of the Earth.
The Legend of Prince Valiant, a 1991 animated US television series seen on The Family Channel in the US and CBBC in the UK, is available on DVD.
Prince Valiant is a 1997 UK/Ireland/Germany movie starring Stephen Moyer, Katherine Heigl, Thomas Kretschmann, Edward Fox and Ron Perlman. The soundtrack of the film score by David Bergeaud was released February 20, 2003 on Perseverance Records.
In addition to two Prince Valiant phonograph records (released in 1947 and 1968) 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: The Story-Telling Game 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.