guttergeek the discontinuous review of graphic narrative

July 2009

Hal Foster,
Prince Valiant, Vol. 1: 1937-1938 (Fantagraphics, 2009). $29.99, hardcover

For the lover of classic comics, this is indeed a golden age, as I’ve said in these virtual pages many times. Fantagraphics has of course been leading the way for many years in bringing long-lost comics art back to print. One of their earliest ventures in this area was the Prince Valiant series they began reprinting in the 1980s in partnership with a Danish publisher, at a time when few if any publishers were risking such material following the demise of several important ventures in the previous decade. At the time, these were tremendous accomplishments, putting on display the remarkable storytelling and even more spectacular art of Hal Foster. But there were limitations, technical and economic, to what such a reprint could accomplish at the time in bringing Prince Valiant back to life in all its technicolor glory. This summer, however, Fantagraphics is starting over with Prince Valiant, beginning with the Sunday pages from 1937-38. This is a truly remarkable achievement, as close as we are going to come to experiencing the original vibrancy of the comic. They have returned to the original proofs wherever possible, and as someone who has spent time reading the original Sunday pages in the Cartoon Museum and Library I was amazed at how well they captured the color. We also get some of the original scale, as Fantagraphics uses the same oversized format they have used to very different effect in their remarkable Popeye reprints. I know many comics fans have remained skeptical of Prince Valiant, in part for its refusal of the dominant conventions of the form, often disparaging the strip as “illustrated story” as opposed to comic. No doubt such detractors have felt justified by the labored experience of reading previous reprints, but their days are numbered now. The new Prince Valiant crackles from the page with an energy and enthusiasm that positively dares anyone to deny this strip’s rightful place in the history of the form. Yes, this is another great day for comics history and most definitely a venture worth supporting into the future.