Nov 2, 2012

Prince Valiant

During the 1960s, the Rock Island Argus printed mostly depressing 50-year old comic strips with jokes about husbands hating their wives or friends betraying each other, with little bonding (Out Our Way was an exception) and very little beefcake. Alley Oop and Prince Valiant were exceptions -- 50 years old, but muscle-heavy.

Prince Valiant was a color strip that appeared only on weekends.  Like Gasoline Alley, it featured characters aging in real life, but it was unique in having no speech balloons; text appeared at the bottom of each panel, making the strip seem more like an illustrated novel than a comic.

When it first appeared in 1938, Val was a young prince from Thule (modern day Norway) who traveled to Britain to become one of King Arthur's knights. Later he returned to Thule to help his father regain his throne, then traveled across Europe and Asia, fighting Goths and Huns, visiting the Holy Land (long before the Crusades).  By the 1960s, the middle-aged Val had settled in North America.

Generally Medieval fantasies (and real epics like The Song of Roland) offer little beefcake; knights wear shining armor, and their northern climate doesn't permit much skinny-dipping.

Sigfried in The Nibelungenlied gets naked, and Sir George in The Magic Sword (1962),  and Lancelot (Nicholas Clay) in Excalibur (1981) take their shirts off, and that's about it.  But in Prince Valiant,  Val was shirtless more often than not.  His muscular physique was drawn in full color and in loving detail.

Unfortunately, through the 1960s, Val retained a 1930s page boy haircut, red lips, rosy cheeks, and long lashes, giving him a rather feminine appearance that didn't lend itself to romantic fantasies.  The name "Val" didn't help much.

And there was little buddy-bonding.  During the 1930s, Val sparred with rival prince Arn of Ord, but they became little more than grudging friends.  In fact, the main plotlines involved the fade out kiss.  First Val and Arn competed for the hand of the fair maid Ilene.  Then she died in a shipwreck, Arn was dropped from the strip, and Val turned his attentions to the fair maid Aleta.

They married, and in 1947 their son Arn was born (the first European baby born in North America).   Eventually they had three more children. When I started reading the strip in the 1960s, Arn was a mischievous teenager, but soon he, too, married.

 Hal Foster, the original cartoonist, also drew Tarzan for many years.   He died in 1982, but the strip is still going strong.