Sunday, September 6, 2009

Prince Valiant

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 for its entire history. Currently, the strip appears weekly in more than 300 newspapers across the United States, according to its distributor, King Features Syndicate. The full stretch of the story is now over 3700 Sunday strips.

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, often 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 very brief scenes from more modern times commenting on the "manuscript".

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 Hal Foster drew. The strip continues today by other artists in half page format.

The setting is Arthurian. Valiant himself is a Nordic prince (from the faraway Thule—apparently located somewhere near the city Trondheim on the Norwegian west coast). Early in the story, Valiant comes to Camelot, becomes fast friends with Sir Gawain and Sir Tristram, earns the respect of King Arthur and Merlin and becomes a Knight of the Round Table. Later, he meets the love of his life—Aleta—on a Mediterranean island. He fights the Huns with his magic Singing Sword, Flamberge, travels to Africa and to America and helps his father regain his lost throne of Thule, usurped by the tyrant Sligon.

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 Rome 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, are present in the early years but are later downplayed (as are Merlin's and Morgan le Fay's use of magic), so that by 1942 the story is in most aspects a realistic one.

The storyline is far from being historically accurate. While obviously meant to take place in the mid-5th century, Foster continuously 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.

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