Prince Valiant Vol. 18: 1971-1972

Writer / Artist
Prince Valiant Vol. 18: 1971-1972
Prince Valiant Vol. 18 1971-1972 review
  • North American Publisher / ISBN: Fantagraphics Books - 978-1-68396-144-4
  • Volume No.: 18
  • Release date: 2018
  • UPC: 9781683961444
  • Contains adult content?: no
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: no
  • Positive minority portrayal?: no

The end of Vol. 17 began the process of Hal Foster in 1970 looking for an artistic successor to the weekly full colour newspaper strip he’d begun in 1937 and would continue to write for another ten years. Arthritis, though, limited his capabilities and he didn’t want the art quality to deteriorate. The choice became Gray Morrow or John Cullen Murphy, and individual strips by Morrow increasingly separated by runs of Murphy strips indicate Foster’s preference. He’s quoted in Brian M. Kane’s Hal Foster: Prince of Illustrators as saying “Murphy knows the period, the background and can execute what I want better”, and notes being especially impressed with the way Murphy drew hands.

It’s perhaps a little harsh on Morrow’s contributions (strips 1770, 1777 and 1780), but there’s no doubting the peerless draughtsmanship of a man tutored at art school tutor by Norman Rockwell. Murphy’s style would always remain close to what Foster originated, but he later introduced the occasional individual touch. In 1971 and 1972, though, he took Foster’s layouts and delivered a passable imitation of the master himself. Without knowing the impeccable detail of the sample art’s crowded battle page was Murphy’s work, you’d be hard pressed to guess. However, that’s partly because Foster may not have produced the finished art, but the layouts passed to Murphy were incredibly detailed, not mere sketches. See Vol. 22 for examples.

The cover to this volume is designed around the final Prince Valiant page Foster drew, providing his own valedictory statement by having Val, Arn and their escort Ben Zirara gazing off into the distance of an exquisitely drawn landscape. The other sample art is his penultimate page, relatively ordinary by his standards, yet astonishingly well drawn when compared to most other naturalistic comic artists.

Sir Astaric, whose treatment of people falls short of the Knight’s code, is dealt with over the opening few pages, after which the strip moves into an unusually reflective sequence with Val wandering almost aimlessly musing on his troubles with Aleta. He’s still puzzled as to what’s happened (see previous volume), but his spirits are eventually raised by seeing off some outlaws. It’s a situation cleverly exploited by Foster, but also not prolonged too long. It’s easy to forget when reading page after page that Foster originally plotted for readers waiting a week for the following episode. That feeds into the slight quibble of Foster occasionally now throwing in cameo appearances, such as that of Viking pirate Boltar without their presence having any great impact on the plot.

In practical terms Murphy’s art makes no difference whatsoever to the magnificent adventure and compelling drama. The narrative thrust at first is Val and Arn’s journey to reunite with Aleta, but with plenty of interludes in exotic locations along the way. Once that’s completed Arn accompanies the new King Gian to his homeland and a rebellion, Val’s sword is stolen, and he brings some thrill back to the life of a weary king who learns how his subjects view him. A tale of a troubadour unable to leave women alone is the final sequence before the ending of Arn wanting to visit his grandfather’s kingdom of Thule leads in to Vol. 19.

The hardcover presentation is eminently reasonably priced, but should you for some reason want these pages in paperback, they’re available in the earlier Fantagraphics editions Vol 39: Knight’s Blood, Vol 40: Forever Valiant, Vol 41: King of Athelday and finishing a third of the way through Vol. 42: Arn’s Trip to Thule. Those, though, don’t have Brian Walker’s introduction, nor the dozen pages of bonus material, and the colouring’s not as refined.