Prince Valiant – “A History of Valiants” by Kim Thompson

{product_snapshot:id=1581,true,false,false,left}This Afterword is excerpted in its entirety from Prince Valiant Vol. 1: 1937-1938 from Fantagraphics Books.

Terrifically popular from its inception, Prince Valiant is one of the most frequently reprinted comic strips of all time. Like many other classics, it was extensively collected in comic book form early on, but starting in the 1950s, it was also one of the first to graduate to bona fide book editions. Sadly, commercial and technical limitations conspired to undercut the true glory of Foster’s work, as the strips were recolored (inevitably to their detriment, as in the otherwise impressive 1960s Nostalgia Press editions) and sometimes even rewritten (as in the simplified 1950s Hasting House editions which, adding insult to injury, presented the work in black-and-white). And when a publisher decided to do it entirely right, as Rick Norwood of Manuscript Press did in the 1980s with his magnificent Prince Valiant — An American Epic project, the cost of recreating new color separations to exactly match the original series and printing them in a giant newspaper size caused the series to peter out after only three volumes.

Since our hero is of Scandinavian blood and as a result has always been popular in Northern Europe, it is fitting that the most ambitious Valiant reprint job to date was engineered by Danes. Beginning in the 1970s, the Danish publisher Interpresse produced a series of comics albums reprinting the entire Foster Valiant canon; partway through, they invited publishers from other countries to join them in order to share the burden of production and printing costs—a call to which Fantagraphics responded enthusiastically. Thus, between 1984 and 2004 Fantagraphics collected not only the entire run of Foster-drawn Valiants (as was the original plan) but continued beyond that, ultimately committing to print the following decade’s worth of strips that, while drawn by Foster’s successor John Cullen Murphy, were still being written and laid out by Foster. While the Danes had access to decent black-and-white proof sheets, resulting in nice, crisp reproduction, they did re-color most of the strips “European style,” with results that, while quite good on their own merits, left many Foster fans hoping someday to see an edition more faithful to Foster’s original.


Well, that day is upon us! Here in the 21st century color digital reproduction technology has advanced to the point where it is possible to scan classic Valiant color pages and then color-correct and restore them to the point where they regain 99% of the crispness and glory of their original appearance. While this technique has been used on countless other recent comic strip reprints, including Fantagraphics’ own Krazy Kat and Popeye, IDW’s Dick Tracy, Terry and the Pirates, and Little Orphan Annie, Sunday Press’s Little Nemo and Gasoline Alley, and many others — did we mention this is the golden age of classic comic strip reprints? — Prince Valiant benefits from an extra stroke of good luck: The availability of a nearly full set of pristine color engraver’s proof sheets of almost the entire Prince Valiant run, carefully preserved by Foster and donated to Syracuse University, who has generously provided scans of these pages for our use. So special thanks are in order to Syracuse U.’s Sean M. Quimby and Nicolette Dobrowolski for their help in securing these.

Additional thanks to Brian M. Kane (who was also the one told us about the existence and availability of the Syracuse proofs so crucial to this project) for supplying us with a spate of fascinating Foster art and photos to accompany his introduction and Fred Schreiber’s interview. And when it turned out that Syracuse’s files did not include 17 pages from these two years, Achim Dressler, whose Bocola Verlag has been releasing a (German-language) complete Valiant series based on scrupulously restored scans of original printed newspaper pages, was able to jump into the breach and provide us with seven of them — pages 15, 16, 17, 24, 37, 72, and 89. That, as a bonus, gave us the uncensored seen-only-in-Europe gruesome second panel of page 37 (the American release was minus that jutting sword); so to him we extend our cosmopolitan dankeschöns as well. Meanwhile, when it turned out nobody had particularly good color tearsheets or proofs from the ultra-rare first 10 pages (Bocola’s scans were pretty ragged for these), the aforementioned Rick Norwood generously allowed us to shoot from his American Epic book with its re-created color separations (and even in that version readers will notice some smudgy linework on several of the pages). Also thanks are in order to Glenn Mott of King Features Syndicate, and within our own four walls, a special tip of the sword to color-corrector/retoucher extraordinaire Paul Baresh and to designer supreme Adam Grano. All deserving of prime seating at the Round Table.

More Prince Valiant books (click covers for complete product details and ordering information):

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All available Prince Valiant books