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Review of The Definitive Prince Valiant Companion

The Definitive Prince Valiant Companion
By Brian Kane
Fantagraphics Books, 2009

The original Prince Valiant Companion
has long been out of print, a stalking-horse for collectors. Fantagraphics Books is engaged in an elaborate job of reprinting all the Prince Valiant comic strips, and they’ve taken the opportunity to reprint and significantly update the Companion for a new audience of readers. Brian Kane, author of the Companion and surely the world’s foremost authority on the strip and its creator, Hal Foster, has once again done a herculean amount of work, and Fantagraphics has once again clothed that work in a sturdy, pretty volume. Prince Valiant hasn’t been treated this well since the ersatz King of England sang his praises.

Those unfamiliar with the character – a young man who finds adventure, fame, and even love at the court of the legendary King Arthur – will find here all the background information they could ever want: there are synopses of every one of the thousands of Prince Valiant strips (compiled by Todd Goldberg and Carl Horak and brought down to the present by Brian Kane), and there are full-color pages showing the strip – including its glorious Sunday extravaganzas – in all the stages of its visual evolution.

But even long-time Prince Valiant fans will find plenty to fascinate them in this volume. There’s an illuminating essay on the fantasy artists who influenced Foster – once-great and now-forgotten names like Malcolm Daniel and Gustave Dore – and there are several in-depth interviews with Foster (Kane somehow manages to be both reverential and warts-and-all about the man). Since I’ve read about Prince Valiant for years (including Kane’s own previous book on Foster), the parts of the book I found most interesting were the chapters devoted to the men who took on the intimidating task of carrying on the strip once Foster retired. There’s a long interview with John Cullen Murphy, Foster’s chosen successor, Frank Bolle, whom Murphy picked to take over from him, and Monstermen creator Gary Gianni, the strip’s current illustrator. The sense of carrying forward a beloved trust for the readers is palpable.

Fantagraphics will continue to bring out deluxe volumes of Prince Valiant reprints. I imagine this new Definitive Companion will be open alongside them for years to come.

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