8 Things You Might Not Know About Prince Valiant

King Features Syndicate
King Features Syndicate

While you may think some daytime soaps are the longest-running, continuous stories in media, nothing holds a candle to Prince Valiant. The Sunday-only action-adventure comic strip about a 5th century Scandinavian prince who finds refuge in King Arthur’s England was created by Hal Foster and has been published without interruption since 1937. If you’ve only glanced at the comic, prepare thyself for some facts about its origins, its anachronisms, and why it isn’t exactly a comic strip.

1. WILLIAM RANDOLPH HEARST PERSONALLY REQUESTED IT.

Newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst—the inspiration for Orson Welles’s myopic character in Citizen Kane—isn’t usually thought of as a comics fan, but he was the one who insisted that cartoonist Hal Foster move away from his comic adaptation of Tarzan to mount a new strip exclusively for Hearst’s newspapers. When Foster delivered a Medieval epic titled Derek, Son of Thane, Hearst was overjoyed—except he hated the name. Retitled Prince Valiant, it debuted in newspapers on February 13, 1937 and has been running ever since.

2. THE PRINCE WAS JUST A KID.

The early weeks of Foster’s strip were lacking in the muscular, galloping prince with the pageboy haircut that readers typically associate with the strip. The artist decided to begin with “Val” at age five, with the boy and his parents in exile after their land had been ravaged by enemies. Val’s mother dies shortly thereafter, and the prince joins the court of King Arthur in his late teens, battling oppressors like the Huns, Goths, and Saxons.

3. IT WAS ORIGINALLY SUPPOSED TO BE A FANTASY EPIC.

Prince Valiant is far from a historical account of Medieval times, but Foster’s original intention was to inject more fantastical elements into the series. “I wanted to show magicians, ogres, dragons, and knights,” he once said. “However, after Prince Valiant began, the characters in the strip became too real to do much fantasy.”

4. THE STRIP WAS SURPRISINGLY CONTEMPORARY.

Though Prince Valiant never adopted a more current hairstyle, his creator did factor in the state of the world. In the 1940s, Val fought off the “Huns,” a warlike race that threatened the Roman Empire that was also used as a derogatory term for Germans in both world wars. (Val’s activity got him canned in German newspapers.) When soldiers were returning home, preceding the coming baby boom of the 1950s, Val and his wife, Aleta, had a son. 

5. HAL FOSTER WAS A STICKLER FOR DETAIL.

When he wasn’t drawing, Foster was touring armories and soliciting information about early-century weaponry to make sure Prince Valiant was as period-accurate as it could be. Valiant’s heavy sword, for example, was used for cutting motions, rarely dueling, since Foster learned such a sword was impractical to wield with any agility. Foster would also dismiss armor that his characters might not have been able to afford.

6. IT ISN’T EXACTLY A COMIC STRIP.

Whether they’re single-panel gag strips or four-panel serial stories, comic strips typically offer insight into their characters' behavior by inserting speech and thought balloons into the art. Foster’s approach—and one continued by his successors after he stepped away from the strip in 1971—was to blend captions with his illustrations, leading one Valiant historian, author Brian Kane, to declare it a “massive illustrated novel presented in a comic art-like style.”

7. IT HAS SPAWNED SEVERAL MOVIES.

Comic strips-turned-films like Dick Tracy were hits, but none of the attempts to port Prince Valiant into live-action received a lot of attention. A feature starring 24-year-old Robert Wagner playing the title character was released by 20th Century Fox in 1954. In recalling the film, Wagner wrote in his 2008 autobiography that the hair gave him pause. "If I'd been paying a little more attention," he wrote, "I would have known something was wrong. Mainly it was the wig. One day Dean Martin visited the set and spent 10 minutes talking to me before he realized I wasn't [actress] Jane Wyman.”

A 1997 version with Katherine Heigl and Stephen Moyer as Valiant was no more successful, disappearing to video shelves without much fanfare.

8. SOME CHARACTERS WERE MODELED AFTER REAL PEOPLE.

After Foster passed art duties on to cartoonist John “Jack” Cullen in 1971, Cullen used a succession of people from his own life as the basis for various characters in the strip. Most notably, his future wife Joan was the model for Valiant’s wife, Aleta. Cullen’s gas utility employee also made it into the pages, as well as a banker and the local butcher. Cullen would snap Polaroids of them and call upon their features when sketching the strip. Following tradition in the comic strip industry, Cullen drew under Foster’s name for five years until Foster told him to begin using his own.

'The Far Side' May Be Making a Comeback Online

tilo/iStock, Getty Images Plus
tilo/iStock, Getty Images Plus

For the first time ever, it’s looking increasingly likely that cartoonist Gary Larson’s "The Far Side" will be available in a medium other than book collections or page-a-day calendars. A (slightly ambiguous) announcement on the official "Far Side" website promises that “a new online era” for the strip is coming soon.

From 1980 to 1995, "The Far Side" presented a wonderfully irreverent universe in which hunters had much to fear from armed and verbose deer, cows possessed a rich internal life, scientific experiments often went awry, and irony became a central conceit. In one of the more famous strips frequently pasted to refrigerator doors, a small child could be seen pushing on a door marked “pull.” Above him was a sign marking the building as a school for the gifted. In another strip, a woman is depicted looking nervously around a forest while cradling a vacuum cleaner. The caption: “The woods were dark and foreboding, and Alice sensed that sinister eyes were watching her every step. Worst of all, she knew that Nature abhorred a vacuum.”

Unlike most of his contemporaries, like Berkeley Breathed ("Bloom County") and Bill Watterson ("Calvin and Hobbes"), Larson has resisted reproduction of his work online. He famously circulated a letter to "Far Side" fan sites asking them to stop posting the single-panel strips, writing that the idea of his work being found on random websites was bothersome. “These cartoons are my ‘children,’ of sorts, and like a parent, I’m concerned about where they go at night without telling me,” he wrote.

Many obliged Larson, though the strip could still be found here and there. That he’s seemingly embracing a new method of distribution is good news for fans, but there’s no concrete evidence the now-retired cartoonist will be following in Breathed’s footsteps and producing new strips. ("Bloom County" returned as a Facebook comic in 2015.) The only indication of Larson’s active involvement is a new piece of art on the site’s landing page depicting some familiar "Far Side" characters being unthawed in a block of ice.

Larson’s comments on a return are few and far between. In 1998, he told The New York Times that going back to a strip was unlikely. “I don’t think so,” he said. “Never say never, but there’s a sense of ‘been there, done that.’” In that same profile, it was noted that 33 million "Far Side" books had been sold.

[h/t A.V. Club]

Eddie Redmayne Reveals the DC Villain He Wants to Play

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

While Eddie Redmayne is hardly a Hollywood newcomer, but there's one area of cinema he hasn't tapped into yet—and is apparently interested in exploring.

The Academy Award winner recently spoke with IMDb at the Toronto International Film Festival, where he and other stars were asked which supervillain they'd love to play if they could choose. Redmayne has previously played bad guys in films such as Jupiter Ascending (2015) and Hick (2011), however he hasn't taken a stab at any comic book adaptations. As reported by ComicBook.com, the actor chose DC's Riddler.

"I’d love to play The Riddler," Redmayne declared. "Just putting that out there."

His The Aeronauts co-star Felicity Jones said she'd play a character from Roald Dahl's 1983 book The Witches, to which Redmayne pointed out that it was too late. The classic story, which got its first big-screen adaptation (starring Anjelica Huston) in 1990, is being adapted again with Anne Hathaway and Stanley Tucci; the film is due out in 2020.

Though the question posed to Redmayne was purely hypothetical, it could happen. Matt Reeves's The Batman is set for a 2021 release, and so far only star Robert Pattinson has been cast, leaving plenty of villain roles up for grabs.

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