The glare of the coals makes him dreamy, but — faintly at first — he sees a warrior in full armor. Then castles and glittering armies, battles, and much fine fighting. A king and queen. "You will have high adventure, but nowhere do I see happiness and contentment." Horrit the Witch foretold a dismal end for Prince Valiant. Happily, for more than 44 million readers around the world, the prophecy never came true. Today, Hal Foster's epic creation celebrates more than 60 years of high adventure and literary and artistic excellence on the comics pages of the world's newspapers.
It all began when Hal Foster, who had spent several years drawing the popular "Tarzan" feature, was asked by William Randolph Hearst to create a strip for Hearst's chain of newspapers. Thrilled by tales of chivalry, Foster returned to the rich literary tradition of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and created "Derek, Son of Thane." Hearst was enchanted by everything about the strip except the hero's name, rechristening him Prince Valiant. A Sunday-only feature, Prince Valiant first appeared Feb. 13, 1937. It remains unique in the world of contemporary comic features, with its combination of narrative adventure and sometimes humorous family drama, its bold artistic realism combined with hints of fantasy, and its historical accuracy in the portrayal of life "in the days of King Arthur." It is a historical novel in serialized form, one in which characters have more than two dimensions — the virtuous have flaws, and the villainous are frequently not without some small virtue. The characters have known defeat as well as triumph. And they have aged over the years.
Though centered on the fabled city of Camelot in Britain, and to a lesser extent on the Misty Isles in the Eastern Mediterranean, the action of the strip in fact ranges all over the world: Prince Valiant and members of his family have visited four continents in the course of their adventures, which have brought them to the marbled courts of kings and emperors, to the domains of Sahara nomads, the whaling tribes of Greenland, and to the exotic worlds of ancient India and China.
The roster of foes Prince Valiant has faced is a distinguished one, the most implacable of whom is the evil Mordred, half-brother of King Arthur, who has proved relentless in his quest to usurp Arthur's throne.
Prince Valiant has inspired a number of artistic adaptations since its first appearance. A film version was released by 20th Century Fox in 1954, starring Robert Wagner, James Mason and Janet Leigh. Full-sized color compilations of the strips have been published. Hearst Entertainment's 1991 animated production, "The Legend of Prince Valiant," which earned top ratings and critical acclaim, was sold in more than 100 countries around the world. A limited-edition comic-book series was published by Marvel Comics. And in 1998 a new $20 million medieval epic Prince Valiant, co-produced by Constantin Film and Lakeshore Entertainment, was released.
Prince Valiant represents America's lasting contribution to Arthurian legend, one of the most persistent folk and literary traditions of Western civilization.