I’m back from another fun convention, this time down in Friendly Fresno. More about that later. But for now, time to pay homage to another of the many sources that have fueled my passion for comics, for storytelling, and for creating Mercy St. Clair.
I might well have entitled this installment “The Top Of The Mountain”, because in many ways, that’s the position Hal Foster and Prince Valiant hold for me. There’s a good reason I chose one of the great collections of his work to poise alone atop my comics bookshelves.
There are so many aspects of Valiant that inspire and impress me that it’s hard to know where to begin. There’s Foster’s remarkable draftsmanship, his mastery of the human figure, his impeccable rendering, the exhaustive research into the era of Valiant which shines through in the depiction of the clothing, the architecture, the weapons (as Joe Kubert once told me, you could tell the thickness of the leather on a horse’s saddle in one of Foster’s immaculately detailed and accurate drawings) and every other aspect of the series. All of which Foster puts unfailingly in the service of telling his story. And I’m just getting started….
Foster imbued Valiant with a sense of high adventure and Romanticism in every panel he drew. His people and the situations they found themselves in were always both recognizable and yet clearly larger that ordinary life. We were always transported to a world of endless, breathtaking possibilities.
At the heart of this sprawling series, of course, was Valiant himself. We get to know him as a brash, reckless fighter, at home on foot, on horseback, at sea… anywhere he has his “Singing Sword” close to hand. But again, that’s just the tip of the iceberg… Val is infinitely more than simply a fighter. Otherwise, the series would have become thin, repetitive reading long before now. (And it’s worth pointing out that it has run and continues to run weekly in newspapers ever since it began well over seventy years ago.) Along his adventurous way, Val has encountered witches, despots, thieves, brigands, wenches, rascals, misfits, monsters, buffoons, lovers, murderers and much much more. And each of these characters is sharply portrayed with a compelling story of their own.
Val himself is a fully realized character. He is charismatic, loyal, fearless, clever, passionate, reckless, headstrong, arrogant, temperamental, mischievous, subtle, playful, immature, noble… always fascinating, always larger than life and yet profoundly human.
Any story this huge, this epic, will lose focus and fall apart without such a central pillar to anchor it. Val’s adventures continue to intrigue us– from his first encounter with the mysterious young vision of mercy whom eventually becomes his wife and guiding light through a life filled with breathtaking escapes, heroic last stands, journeys to breath-taking realms, tests of nerve and cunning, and the mysterious journey into one’s own heart. Val has walked all these roads and taken us with him.I’ve collected Val’s adventures in many reprint and collection versions over the years (Black and white, shot from original colored Sunday pages, toned, re-colored, in English, French, Dutch, German and more….), and will no doubt keep doing so as each new formatting does its best to capture the scale, power and nuance of Foster’s vivid writing and art.
I could ask for little more that to achieve some degree of the spirit of Foster’s masterwork in my telling of Mercy’s story. With each page of Trekker, I’m working on getting a little further up that mountain.