Re/Read: Prince Valiant Volume 8

Re/Read is a regular feature by Fantagraphics Bookstore curator Larry Reid drawing attention to backlist books you may have missed or are worthy of another read. This time we’ll visit a classic by Hal Foster, Prince Valiant Volume 8, 1951 – 1952.

I have long maintained that midcentury America’s fascination with medieval folklore owed more to Hal Foster than Chaucer. Foster’s colorful Sunday comic strip, “Prince Valiant in the Days of King Arthur,” captured the country’s imagination as it was delivered directly into millions of American homes. A Prince Valiant feature film was produced in 1954, starring Robert Wagner, Janet Leigh, and Sterling Hayden, followed by the wildly popular Broadway musical Camelot in 1960, later adapted to a memorable movie. The elegant mystique of John F. Kennedy’s administration was posthumously defined as “Camelot.”

Volume 8 of this series displays Foster at the peak of his prowess. His meticulous attention to detail remains astonishing. Foster took poetic license with history, but his drawings were informed by visits to Europe to document the landscapes rendered in the strip. This volume finds Valiant on an adventurous mission to Rome, followed by a brief layover in Camelot, before returning to Thule.

This book is distinguished by Foster’s paintings and illustrations of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, another preoccupation of midcentury America. In a scholarly foreword, Brain M. Kane documents this all but forgotten work by Canadian native Foster, created for Weyerhaeuser Forest Products, Northwest Papers, and others.

The exquisitely designed Prince Valiant series, (currently in its 14th volume), and other classic comic strips can be found along with contemporary comix at Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery, located at 1201 S. Vale Street in the heart of Seattle’s historic Georgetown arts community. Open daily 11:30 to 8:00 PM, Sundays until 5:00 PM. Please note new phone number: 206-557-4910.