Aug 13, 2023

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.


  1. Speaking of beefcake in medieval fantasy, I'm convinced that's why D&D offers a barbarian class, so you can bring in some Frazetta beefcake for gay men of the Icosahedral Brotherhood. Of course, no one will ever admit they liked watching men in fur underwear. But it found its way into American PC RPGs (more specifically a time roughly corresponding to Gen 2 consoles), and from there to JRPGs, since most of them are heavily influenced by Ultima via Dragon Quest.

  2. Hal Foster created beautiful art work for Prince Valiant

  3. I wonder if Foster was gay-yes he was married but never had any children

    1. In the 1930s, being single your whole life still wasn't seen as particularly odd, resulting in a bachelor subculture...which yeah, attracted a lot of men interested in other men sexually. But a LOT of what makes one "gay" or "straight" post-Stonewall would be seen as "odd" but not some types of sex between men. (An example of hetero behavior that would be seen as "funny" back then would be the phobia of changing in the locker room. Basically in the pre-Stonewall days, there was no real reason to be modest around other guys.)

      That said, in general, the loincloth aesthetic in a medieval setting, while fine in North America, where nearly every culture where the weather allows it, the men wear a loincloth, in Scandinavia it feels, as one YouTuber put it, "I don't watch He-Man because I hate women. I watch He-Man because I love men."

    2. It does seem like a main draw of the strip was the opportunity to see Val shirtless. He usually wore a suit of armor, but Foster found lots of reasons to strip him down. Hal Foster was also the first artist to draw a Tarzan comic.

    3. Look at Flash Gordon another comic strip from the same era- he spends a lot time shirtless

  4. "...fur underwear..." Amazon here I come.

    1. "And Flash Gordon was there in silver underwear. Claude Raines was the Invisible Man."


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