Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Prince Valiant Vol. 1: 1937 - 1938

The library I frequent has a pretty decent collection of comics, manga, graphic novels, and comics related books. It never exactly seems like it when I visit, but I am pretty sure there is a huge collection that is always circulating. It is also not uncommon to go in and find something surprising that seems to be brand new and just added to the collection.

In my last visit I borrowed the 2009 release Fantagraphics collection Prince Valiant Vol. 1: 1937-1938 . I am just not someone with a lot of nostalgia for the very old comics. I don't dislike everything I read from the era these were originally made, but nothing gets a free pass either. I never read Prince Valiant, but it ran in the paper when I was little and I looked at it, but never had any interest in reading it. When I was growing up, someone in my household must have read it, as we had 2 dogs, one named Valiant, and the other named Aleta. I knew that the names came from the comic strip but beyond that they didn't mean anything to me.
One thing that impressed me about this collection was it's dimensions. The book is 120 pages at 10.5" wide by 14.25" tall. The collection is made up of color remastered copies of full page 'Sunday Comics'. When you open this book it really feels like you are starting something big. I have to admit that I had a good bit of disdain for the large format Kramer's Ergot 7 when it was being hyped, but after DC's Wednesday Comics and this volume, I have a much better appreciation of large format comics.
I am probably not surprising anyone by saying that Hal Foster's work is some of the most beautiful you will probably ever see in the medium of comics. In the interview with Foster late in his career that is included in this collection, he states his work week to produce one Sunday page at 55 hours. Looking at the pages it seems completely reasonable that such things would require that sort of investment of time. Nearly every panel could be a fine illustration in a high quality story book. The comic itself seems very much like a heavily illustrated adventure story than it does a 'proper' comic. I assume I get that due to the heavy, but never oppressive narrative. The stories move quickly, and have a great deal of action and plot and movement to them. Each page starts with a small synopsis, but doesn't seem to lose momentum for it. The colors have been reworked for this edition to better reflect the original intent of the artist, and are bright and beautiful. The people are stunning and could be movie stars of their time, and the backgrounds and settings, including fens and castles, are just stunning.
I didn't expect to read more than a few pages of this, and almost didn't pick it up due to my sort of disconnect from early works. I honestly had trouble setting it down the few times I needed to set it down while I was reading it. Things move fast, but there is still a lot going on, and all of it focuses on Prince Val. When the comic starts, Val is on the run with his family. His father is a king from the North who has been overthrown and run out of his country. They relocate to a nearly savage Britain, and after showing themselves to be fierce in battle, they are given an island in a fen to settle and live in isolation. It doesn't take long for the restless young prince to start seeing the world and having adventures on his quest to become a knight in King Arthur's court.
The stories mix fantastic and realistic elements. Magic exists but is not predominate. Giant Lizards, Turtles and 'Dragons' are around as well, and eventually Valiant becomes the owner of an enchanted sword, but mostly the stories are about Valiant and his bravery, honesty,cunning and determination, and how he uses them to get along and better himself, while making a name in the world. It is really great stuff for anyone who likes Robin Hood or King Arthur stories, or tales of Vikings and the like.
The book itself is very pretty and nicely bound. It's 30 dollars, but really stands out in my opinion. I am happily surprised by how much I enjoyed this, and hope to read volume 2 as soon as I can find it. I would eventually like this to be in my personal library, but I try to resist big purchases like this as long as I can. There is some decent value-added in the collection, with a Bio of Foster, an interview, and a page on this edition specifically. It's not a lot, but it did enhance the experience for me.

No comments: