Prince Valiant by Hal Foster
'Prince Valiant' (19 June 1938).

Hal Foster was one of the major artists of American newspaper comics, and one of the medium's great innovators. He was the first to adapt Edgar Rice Burroughs' 'Tarzan of the Apes' into comic format (1929, 1931-1937), but is best known for his Arthurian saga 'Prince Valiant' (1937-   ), to which he devoted over forty years of his life. Coming from a background in classical illustration, Foster introduced new techniques into the art of newspaper comics, such as chiaroscuro, naturalistic drawing and use of thorough documentation. His hybrid of fine arts and sequential narrative contained no speech balloons, only short captions, allowing the artist to entertain lavishly with highly detailed backgrounds, mass scenes and atmospheric coloring. His magnificent lay-outs and spell-binding narratives have been imitated, even downright plagiarized, by countless comic artists worldwide. Together with his contemporaries Alex Raymond and Milton Caniff, he ranks as one of the most influential comic artists of all time, earning him the nickname the "Father of the Adventure Strip".

Early life and career
Harold Rudolf Foster was born in 1892 in the East Coast harbor city Halifax in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. His early life was characterized by tragedy and adventure. Foster's father died when he was four years old, and his stepfather introduced him to the joys of outdoor life and fishing. As a kid, he was attracted to the sea, playing captain on homemade rafts in the harbor area. By 1906, the family moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba, in the hope to rebuild their fortune in the western land boom. Although the young man's formal education ended at age thirteen, he continued to finetune his drawing techniques in the local library. He meticulously studied the work of the great illustrators, such as E.A. Abbey, Howard Pyle, Arthur Rackham, Maxfield Parrish, J.C. Leyendecker, James Montgomery Flagg and N.C. Wyeth, and sketched for hours on end. While still a teen, Foster got a job as staff artist with the Hudson's Bay Company, drawing women's underwear for shop catalogs. In 1913, he turned to freelancing, but illustration jobs were scarce. With his young wife Helen Wells, whom he married in 1915, he spent the next few years working as hunting guides in Ontario and Manitoba, and as gold prospectors in the Lake Rice region.

Back cover painting for The OilPull Magazine #9-10, 1928.

Feeling pressure to support his young family, Foster decided to do a more serious attempt at a career in illustration. In 1921, he and a friend cycled 1,000 miles from Manitoba to Chicago for further training in the arts.They took evening classes at the Chicago Art Institute, followed by night classes at the National Academy of Design and the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. Additionally, he got a job with the Jahn & Ollier Engraving Company, and later had a stint with the advertising company Palenske-Young Studio. By now already in his thirties, the artist debuted as a cover and ad illustrator for Northwest Paper, Popular Mechanics, Jekle Margarine, the Southern Pacific Railroad and the Illinois Pacific Railroad. The Foster family eventually settled in Topeka, Kansas, and later relocated to Redding Ridge, Connecticut (1944) and finally Spring Hill, Florida (1971).

Tarzan by Hal Foster
'Tarzan' daily strip (1929).

In the late 1920s, Foster got his start in the field of newspaper comics, drawing a famous jungle hero from popular literature. Since 1912, Edgar Rice Burroughs' novel series 'Tarzan of the Apes' enjoyed popularity in the pulp magazine All-Story Magazine. The adventures of a brave, strong man raised by apes and becoming "king of the jungle" thrilled many readers. Burroughs wrote dozens of stories, some of which were adapted into films. In 1927, Joseph Neebe, head of the Campbell-Ewald advertising agency, wanted to adapt 'Tarzan' into a comic strip. At first, he approached J. Allen St. John - who also illustrated the novels - but declined because he disliked the deadlines of a newspaper comic. After St. John's rejection, Neebe asked Hal Foster, whom he knew from his advertising work. Foster accepted the offer, but Neebe's attempt to have a group of advertising salespeople sell the comic feature to newspapers failed. Instead, he engaged the more specialized Metropolitan Newspaper Service to take care of the syndication. Metropolitan Newspaper Service later became part of United Feature Syndicate, the company that continued to distribute the 'Tarzan' comic until the end of its run.

Tarzan by Hal Foster

The first 'Tarzan' comic strip by Neebe and Foster was a direct adaptation of the original 1912 Burroughs 1912 novel, 'Tarzan of the Apes'. Oddly enough, the comic didn't debut in U.S. newspapers, but instead made its first print appearance in the British weekly Tit-Bits, in November 1928. From 7 January 1929 on, Canadian and U.S. newspapers also began running the 'Tarzan' comic. In the early days, there were little differences between Burroughs' and Foster's Tarzan. The only novelty introduced in the comics was Tarzan's nobility. Foster made the character the lost son of a British aristocrat. The 'Tarzan' comics were presented in the text comic format, with descriptive texts underneath or next to the images. Speech balloons were totally absent. When the first storyline ended on 27 May 1929, Foster passed the pencil to Rex Maxon, since at the time, Foster wasn’t enamored of the comic medium. However, Burroughs preferred Foster's rendition over Maxon's. By 1931, Foster agreed to return, but only on the condition that he could focus on the weekly Sunday pages, while Maxon continued the dailies.

Between 27 September 1931 and 2 May 1937, Foster drew all the Sunday episodes of 'Tarzan'. Foster's motives to return to the comic were not artistic, but financial. As the Great Depression had put many advertisers out of a job, he needed a steady payment. At first, Foster didn't care much about, what was generally considered, the "inferior" comic medium. Some of his early pages were executed rather crudely. But once fan mail was coming in, Foster found more joy and fulfillment drawing the 'Tarzan' comic. He turned it into an epic adventure tale, while experimenting with impressionistic techniques and chiaroscuro. His 1932-1934 'Tarzan' adventure set in Egypt ranks as one of the best stories in the feature's history.

As Foster became more enthusiastic about 'Tarzan', he set higher standards in terms of narratives. As the 1930s progressed, he felt less and less satisfied with the quality of the scripts that were supplied by the syndicate. At the time, he didn't even know who wrote them (the writing of the Sundays during Foster's tenure is nowadays credited to George Carlin and Don Garden). Since he had no say in the storylines and had to work with characters he didn't create himself, the ambitious artist felt creatively limited. So, in his spare time, he began developing a comic series of his own, which in 1937 was launched by King Features Syndicate as 'Prince Valiant'. On 2 May 1937, Foster's final 'Tarzan' page ran in the papers.


Tarzan: success
During Foster's run, 'Tarzan' became one of the most popular newspaper comics in the world. The muscular jungle hero was a prototypical superhero comic, given that he used his strength and wit to overcome adversaries. Foster's high quality artwork evoked a romanticized version of Dark Africa, full of large trees, dangerous animals and primitive black tribes. In 1932, Hollywood cashed in on the comic's success and produced a feature-length film, 'Tarzan of the Apes' (1932), starring Austrian swimming champion Johnny Weissmuller. During the 1930s and 1940s, twelve additional 'Tarzan' pictures featuring Weissmuller came out, followed by countless other movie adaptations since. The publicity gained by the Hollywood adaptations also increased the fame and popularity of the comics.

Post-Foster Tarzan in comics
After Foster left the comic, the newspaper series was continued by other artists, all using his rendition of 'Tarzan' as the standard. Among the many artists who have worked on the 'Tarzan' newspaper comic until its end on 2 May 2002 were Rex Maxon (1929-1947), William Juhre (1936-1938), Burne Hogarth (1937-1945, 1947-1950), Rubimor (1945-1947), Dan Barry (1948), John Lehti (1948-1949), Paul Reinman (1949-1950), Nick Cardy (1950), Bob Lubbers (1950-1954), John Celardo (1954-1967), Russ Manning (1967-1972), Gil Kane (1979-1981), Mike Grell (1981-1983), Gray Morrow (1983-2001) and Eric Battle (2001-2002). In 2012, the official Tarzan website launched two serialized webcomic series - written by Roy Thomas and drawn by Tom Grindberg, Pablo Marcos and Benito Gallego - proving that the jungle hero still remained relevant, despite being over 100 years old.

Besides newspapers, 'Tarzan' also enjoyed popularity in comic books. In 1936, United Feature reprinted the 'Tarzan' newspaper stories in their Tip Top Comics title. After a couple of one-shot issues in its Four Color Comics series, Dell Comics and then Gold Key Comics made 'Tarzan' the star of his own, long-running title, published between January 1948 and February 1972. The majority of the stories were written by Gaylord Du Bois, and the main artists for these comic books were Jesse Marsh, Russ Manning and Doug Wildey. Simultaneously, in 1964 and 1965, Charlton Comics illegally released the 'Jungle Tales of Tarzan'. Unaware that 'Tarzan' wasn't in the public domain yet, the publisher had to terminate the title after four issues. Between April 1972 and February 1977, DC Comics picked up the official license, producing new 'Tarzan' comic books drawn by Joe Kubert. Marvel took over production between June 1977 and October 1979, with Roy Thomas on scripts and John Buscema on art duties. In 1992, Malibu Comics issued the mini series 'Tarzan the Warrior' by writer Mark Wheatley and artist Neil Vokes. After a long silence, Tarzan's jungle call erupted again in 1996, when Dark Horse Comics gained publication rights. In 2011, additional titles came out by Dynamite Entertainment and in 2014 by the Idaho Comics Group.

Prince Valiant by Hal Foster
'Prince Valiant', 16 September 1937.

Prince Valiant
Unsatisfied while drawing the 'Tarzan' comic, Hal Foster used his spare time in the mid-1930s to develop a comic strip of his own. Inspired by the legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, the series originally carried the working titles 'Derek, Son of Thane' and 'Prince Arn'. Out of loyalty to his employer, Foster first presented his idea to United Feature Syndicate. However, they turned him down, so Foster took his chances with the competing King Features Syndicate, a part of the Hearst media empire. Eager to have the famous 'Tarzan' artist in his own papers, syndicate owner William Randolph Hearst not only accepted Foster's chivalry comic, but also offered the cartoonist full creative control and ownership, at the time a rare practice. By request of the syndicate, Foster renamed his new project to 'Prince Valiant in the Days of King Arthur', but it is generally referred to as simply 'Prince Valiant'.

On 13 February 1937, 'Prince Valiant' premiered as a color comic in the Saturday tabloid pages. Sixteen weeks later, it became a full-page Sunday feature, until in 1971, it switched to a half-page format. The large publication format allowed Foster to use different page lay-outs, and produce highly detailed and exquisite pieces of art, especially in his epic fighting scenes and depictions of outdoor life. Just like 'Tarzan', 'Prince Valiant' was made as a text comic, with descriptions and dialogues appearing as captions near the panel corners, leaving the rest of the images free from speech balloons. Much of the page's aesthetics and depth came from the interaction between Foster's use of black ink and the nuanced effects of the four-color printing technique, which the artist used cleverly for creating perspective, texture and atmosphere.

Prince Valiant by Hal Foster
'Prince Valiant', 2 June 1940.

Foster's epic saga begins when the deposed king Aguar of Thule, his wife and young son arrive in the wild fens of Britain. The swampy environments quickly cause the queen's death, leaving the young prince Valiant to venture off and become a knight. During his journeys, Valiant acquires the Singing Sword Flamberge from his competitor-turned-ally, Prince Arn of Ord. As it was made out of the same iron as King Arthur's Excalibur, the sword contains magical powers. The young hero eventually ends up in Camelot, where he meets Sir Gawain and Sir Tristram, and where King Arthur knights him in a 1939 storyline. Prince Valiant helps his father regain the throne of Thule by defeating the usurper Sligon, and in 1946, married his love interest Aleta, Queen of the Misty Isles.

Prince Valiant, by Hal Foster, August 1942
'Prince Valiant', 9 August 1942.

The early years of the 'Prince Valiant' comic still featured a lot of fantastic and mythological elements. Swamp monsters, giants, witches, wizards and magic were omnipresent. One spine-chilling sequence from April 1939 shows a rapidly aging Valiant fighting Father Time in a magical cave. Foster however gradually refrained from fantasy elements. According to the author, his characters became more and more real people to him, and it didn't feel right anymore to put them in such surreal situations. In interviews, Foster stated that he based Valiant largely on himself - but with more muscles - while his wife stood model for Aleta. One of the few married comic heroes, Valiant's domestic life gradually became a core element of the narrative. In 1947, Foster was the first to depict a pregnant woman in a US comic strip, and on 31 August of that year, Aleta and Valiant's son, Prince Arn, was born. Their family expanded with the birth of the twins Karen and Valeta in 1951, son Galan in 1962 and Prince Nathan in 1979.

The birth of Prince Arn, on 31 August 1947.

Despite its fantasy-infused beginning and the occasional anachronism, 'Prince Valiant' stands out for its strong sense of realism. Foster tended to present accurate depictions of medieval castles, costumes, weaponry and countries. The artist was a master in depicting subtle emotions and portraying multidimensional characters with clever nuances between good and evil. On several occasions, his King Features editors felt Foster went too far in his graphics. The syndicate often forced the cartoonist to tone down his panels before they saw print. Still, a great many bosoms, decapitations, blood splatters and other acts of violence had to be censored by foreign publishers after their initial U.S. publication. Another unusual aspect of Hal Foster's 'Prince Valiant' comic is the aging of the characters. When the narrative begins, Valiant is five years old, and in subsequent years, the reader follows his coming of age. In the 1980s, Foster's successors even made the prince a grandfather. Only a few comics apply a similar aging device with comic heroes developing family lives. Frank O. King pioneered it in his long-running newspaper strip 'Gasoline Alley' (1918). In 1949, Chester Gould's 'Dick Tracy' followed in Valiant's footsteps when marrying his sweetheart Tess Trueheart, and in 1951 their baby girl was born. In adventure comics, marriage and settling down are generally out of the question, but this unwritten rule seems not applicable for the Valiant genre. Other sword-swinging heroes like Hans G. Kresse's 'Eric de Noorman' and Grzegorz Rosinski and Jean Van Hamme's 'Thorgal' are married and have families as well.

Le Chant de Bernadette, by Hal Foster
'Le Chant de Bernadette' (French-Canadian publication of 'The Song of Bernadette' from Le Petit Journal, 20 June 1943).

Other comic features
Hal Foster went to great lengths to give his artwork the required quality, spending about 53 hours each week to craft one page. He however worked several weeks ahead, allowing him to work on a couple of other projects too. For King Features' 'Book-of-the-Month' feature, he made a 1943 comic strip adaptation of Frank Werfel's novel 'Song of Bernadette'. World War II paper rationing caused a shrinking of Foster's full page space, but Hearst allowed him to add an independent companion strip that the papers could cut out when they didn't have enough space. Appearing as a so-called footer feature, from 23 April 1944 until 18 November 1945, was 'The Mediaeval Castle'. It was set in the 11th century, while Valiant's adventures were situated in the late 5th/early 6th century. The main heroes were two young English squires in the days of the First Crusade, named Arn and Guy. In December 1948, Foster also provided six drawings detailing the birth of Jesus Christ in King Features' seasonal 'The Christmas Story'.

'The Mediaeval Castle' (25 February 1945).

Post-war Prince Valiant
With the war over, 'Prince Valiant' returned to its lavishly designed full-page format. Shortly after William Randolph Hearst's death in 1951, the King Features editors once again restricted Foster in his lay-outs, allowing newspapers to either maintain the three-tier original or reformat the strip into a two-tier horizontal strip. From the 1950s onwards, Foster began working with assistants, including his son Arthur James Foster (1952-1962), Tex Blaisdell (1962-1968), Lee Marrs (1967-1968) and Wayne Boring (1968-1971), with Hugh Donnel doing the coloring. Hal Foster continued to write and draw his trademark comic until the early 1970s, when arthritis began to affect his drawing. Gray Morrow, John Cullen Murphy and Wallace Wood were in the race for replacing him, with each artist providing tryout pages that appeared in 1970 in alternation with Foster pages. On 16 May 1971, the final page drawn by Hal Foster appeared, after which John Cullen Murphy was chosen as the feature's new artist. Foster however continued to write and layout the comic until the 10 February 1980 episode. The artist passed away in Spring Hill, Florida, on 25 July 1982, three weeks short of his 90th birthday. John Cullen Murphy continued 'Prince Valiant' with his son Cullen Murphy as scriptwriter until 2004, when the new author team of Gary Gianni and Mark Schultz assumed control of the strip. In April 2012, Gianni was replaced as the artist by Thomas Yeates.

'Prince Valiant' (7 October 1951).

Reprints and adaptations
From early on, Hal Foster's work has been the subject of a great many reprint editions. Between 1939 and 1948, publisher David McKay ran 'Prince Valiant' in his reprint comic book Ace Comics. The companion comic 'The Mediaeval Castle' was adapted into a moderated prose form with images and released in children's book format as 'The Young Knight: A Tale of Medieval Times' (John Martin's House, 1945) and 'The Medieval Castle' (Hastings House, 1957). Early attempts to release 'Prince Valiant' in book collections were however hampered with commercial and technical limitations, causing a considerable loss in quality of Foster's original pages. Hastings Books 1950s novelized book series featured cut-up and reworked black-and-white panels from the 'Prince Valiant' comic, with new text captions written by Max Trell and James Flowers. The 1960s Nostalgia Press editions by Woody Gelman were more faithful to Foster's stories, but were painfully recolored, with entire panels presented as solid pink or solid purple. Manuscript Press did a better job with its large format 'Prince Valiant: An American Epic' series of the 1980s, but the costly reproduction of Foster's original coloring caused the series to end after only three volumes. Outside of the USA, reprint collections were launched as well. Notable is the 1974 comic book series collecting Foster's entire run by the Danish publisher Interpresse. After their original series ended in 1981, Interpresse embarked upon new 'Prince Valiant' comic books in 1983. The Danish publisher shared the costs and material with the Seattle-based publisher Fantagraphics, which launched an English-language comic book series between 1984 and 2004. The European material was however recolored as well, and it wasn't until 2009 before a new generation could enjoy Hal Foster's 'Prince Valiant' in its full glory. In that year, Fantagraphics launched the first volume of its luxury large format book collection, with faithful reproductions of the original Sunday pages.

Prince Valiant: media adaptations
Two 'Prince Valiant' phonograph records were released, one in 1947 and one in 1968. In 1954, 'Prince Valiant' was adapted into a motion picture by 20th Century Fox, starring Robert Wagner in the titular role. Foster praised the film's scenery, castles and overall beauty, but he deemed the story "a bit childish" and Wagner "a little bit immature". A second 'Prince Valiant' movie was made as a UK/Irish/German co-production in 1997, while an animated TV series called 'The Legend of Prince Valiant' (1991-1993) ran on The Family Channel in the USA. The comic artist Gerald Forton was one of the series' storyboard artists.

Prince Valiant: parodies
Over the years, 'Prince Valiant' also inspired parodies, including Harvey Kurtzman and Wallace Wood's 'Prince Violent' (issue #13, July 1954) in Mad Magazine. Valiant's famous "singing sword" is mocked in Friz Freleng's Bugs Bunny cartoon 'Knighty Knight Bugs' (1957), while a similar knight-themed cartoon, 'Prince Violent' (1961) also spoofed the title. During TV broadcasts, this cartoon had to be renamed 'Prince Varmint', presumably because of copyright issues. For The Buyer's Guide to Comics Fandom, Dave Sim drew 'Silverspoon', another spoof of Foster's famous chivalry comic. In France, Roger Brunel drew a porn parody of 'Prince Valiant' in his 1980s 'Pastiches' comic book series.

'Prince Valiant' (11 June 1939).

The National Cartoonists Society awarded Hal Foster with the Reuben Award (1957), the Story Comic Strip Award (1964), the Special Features Award (1966, 1967) and the Elzie Segar Award (1978). In 1977, the cartoonist won an Inkpot Award. Posthumously, Hal Foster was inducted into the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame (1996), the Joe Shuster Canadian Comic Book Creators Hall of Fame (2005) and the Society of Illustrators' Hall of Fame (2006).

Legacy and influence
Hal Foster is one of the most widely praised comic artists of all time. Edward, the Duke of Windsor, better known as former British king Edward VIII, called 'Prince Valiant' the "greatest contribution to English literature in the past hundred years". Science fiction novelist Ray Bradbury felt Foster was "the greatest illustrator in the Sunday papers that we had, period." The cartoonist's colleagues and successors were also full of praise. New generations of comic artists continue to be influenced by his work. In the United States alone, he inspired Matt Baker, Carl Barks, Tex Blaisdell, Wayne Boring, Jack Davis, Kim DeMulder, Jay Disbrow, Steve Ditko, Mort Drucker, Jerry Dumas, Frank Frazetta, Sam Glanzman, Burne Hogarth, Raye Horne, Al Jaffee, Gil Kane, Jack Kirby, Joe Kubert, Harvey Kurtzman, Bob Lubbers, Rex Maxon, Joe Orlando, Fred Peters, Jim Scancarelli, Mark Schultz, John Severin, Siegel & Shuster, Bill Stout, George Tuska, Bill Ward, Al Williamson, Skip Williamson and Wallace Wood. In Canada Dave Sim admires his work, while in Latin America Foster found admirers in Brazil (Gétulio Delphim, Julio Shimamoto) and Uruguay (Emilio Cortinas).

One of the most popular chivalry comics of all time, 'Prince Valiant' also left a lasting mark on European comics. In the United Kingdom he inspired Oliver Frey. In the Netherlands, Foster influenced Henk Alleman, Bert Bus, Nico Kotten, H.G. Kresse, Pieter Kuhn, Martin Lodewijk, Frans Piët, Jan Steeman, Peter van Straaten, Marten Toonder, Dick Vlottes, Piet Wijn, Dick de Wilde and Menno Wittebrood. In Belgium, his spirit can be felt in the work of Edouard Aidans, Buth, Rik Clément, François Craenhals, Eduard De Rop, Sirius, William Vance, Willy Vandersteen and Karel Verschuere. Among his French followers we find Philippe Adamov, André Chéret, Chott, Paul Gillon, Jean Giraudand Patrice Pellerin, and in Spain Ambros, Jordi Bernet, Jaime Brocal Remohí, Victor Mora, Julio Ribera and Enrique Badia Romero. Foster's work additionally inspired artists in Italy (Gianni De Luca, Gallieno Ferri), Croatia (Bordo, Zdenko Svircic), Russia (Nikola Navojev) and Turkey (Suat Yalaz). Among his Filipino followers were Alfredo P. Alcala and Jess M. Jodloman.

The 'Tarzan' comic has seen a great many international jungle comic heroes appearing in its wake, such as Nikola Navojev's 'Tarcaneta' in the 1930s, Alex Raymond's 'Jungle Jim' (1934-1944), Roberto Renzi and Augusto Pedrazza's 'Akim' (1950-1967), Frank Frazetta's 'Thun'da' (1953), Edouard Aidans' Tunga' (1964), Jack Kirby's 'Ka-Zar' (1965), André Chéret's 'Rahan' (1974), Jaime Brocal Remohi's 'Ta-Ar' (1976), and female jungle heroes like Jerry Iger and Will Eisner's 'Sheena, Queen of the Jungle' (1938), Matt Baker's 'Rulah, Jungle Goddess' (1947) and Carole Seuling and George Tuska's 'Shanna the She-Devil' (1972). When new episodes of the 'Tarzan' strip failed to reach Spain during World War II, Alfonso Figueras drew his own installments for Editorial Bruguera. International chivalry series like 'El Capitán Trueno' by Victor Mora and Ambros, 'Eric de Noorman' by Hans G. Kresse and 'De Rode Ridder' by Willy Vandersteen would not have existed without Hal Foster's groundwork. Some cartoonists took their 'Prince Valiant' inspiration to the limit, as Hal Foster is arguably the most plagiarized artist in the world. Careful frame-to-frame comparisons have proved obvious deeds of copycatting in the works of the Flemish artists Buth ('Gawain de Dappere'), Willy Vandersteen and Karel Verschuere ('Ridder Gloriant', 'Tijl Uilenspiegel', 'De Rode Ridder'). Also known for having copied Foster's panels are the French artist Chott, the Belgian Sirius ('Godfrey de Bouillon) and the Dutchman Anton Heyboer ('Zeerovers zijn Heeren'). Closer to home, American artist Joe Orlando copied Foster panels for the core of his Classics Illustrated title 'Caesar's Conquests' (1956).

In the Netherlands, Hal Foster inspired the Hal Foster Award, a tongue-in-cheek comic prize awarded since 1982 to people "who made themselves useful in the periphery of the comic industry." In the United States, a black-haired "pageboy" haircut is sometimes referred to as a "Prince Valiant haircut".

Series and books by Hal Foster you can order today:


If you want to help us continue and improve our ever- expanding database, we would appreciate your donation through Paypal.