Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Comic Strip Camelot

A tip of the Happy Birthday hat goes out to Hal Foster. Born in 1892, Hal would have been 117 today.

Hal was born in Canada and moved to Chicago where he studied at the Chicago Art Institute and later the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts where he honed his skills at anatomy and composition.

He had a predisposition for adventure stories though, and was an adventurous young man himself. At the age of 12 he had piloted a raft (a 12 foot plank actually) across the Hudson Bay Harbor. Never becoming seasick in his water adventures, he explained that the sea actually became "Foster-sick". Working as a successful illustrator, he was contacted by the Edgar Rice Burroughs company in 1929 to adapt "Tarzan" into a newspaper strip.

You can see that Hal had a slightly different take on a comic strip than most. Forgoing word balloons, the narrative is told in text alone under the drawings...and WHAT drawings. This is the beauty of comic art, that such diverse styles can all tell a story.

Foster hated the character of Tarzan though, and wanted very much to move on. Mainly because it wasn't "his" character. He wanted to create something all his own. William Randolph Hearst had long wanted Foster to do a strip for his papers, and hearing of Fosters discontent asked for a meeting. He finally persuaded Foster with the added caveat that Hal be able to retain full ownership of the strip himself. A deal still almost unheard of now, let alone in the early 1930's.

In 1936, "Prince Valiant" was born.

I wish I could do justice to the beautiful page layouts Foster did for Valiant. Unfortunately, my scanner is only 8.5 x 11. Yes PAGE. Back then a Sunday Comic Strip took up the entire page of the paper, not just 1/3 or 1/5 or 1/7 like today.

A perfect place for an adventuresome boy to play out the story he was creating.

The strip began with "Val" when he was a boy, striving to become a knights squire, playing out through his maturing, becoming a Knight of the Round Table in King Arthur's Court, meeting of Aleta and marriage to same, birth of his son Arn who also eventually strove to become a knight's squire.

Hal Foster retired in 1980, after over 2,000 Sunday pages. He died in 1982, his life's adventures finally told.

What a great way to live your life...telling one big adventure story. And beautifully telling it so well.

Thanks Hal!

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