Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Prince Valiant Page

As a fan of classic comics, I’m very familiar with Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant and Foster’s enormous talent as an illustrator and his attention to detail. However, I never read the strip much—it wasn’t carried by any newspapers I read and I’ve never made an effort to pick up any of the reprints because of my focus on other strips.

A book I was interested in seeking out at the San Diego Comic-Con was Alex Raymond: His Life And Art, about the Flash Gordon and Rip Kirby artist. While seeking it out at the Bud Plant booth at San Diego, however, I came across the Prince Valiant Page by Gary Gianni, the current artist on the strip. (Gianni is only the third artist to work on the series: Foster created the strip in 1937, passed it on to his personally-chosen successor, John Cullen Murphy, in 1971, who then passed it on to Gianni in 2004. Xenozoic Tales creator Mark Schultz currently writes the script.)

While I was completely unaware that another artist had succeeded Murphy (himself a well respected comic strip artist), the samples of Gianni’s work in the book impressed me enough that I ended up picking it up instead of the Raymond book.

The Prince Valiant Page is a wonderful book. In a very simple and straightforward matter, the modest Gianni talks about the challenges and process involved in working on a syndicated strip, particularly one that requires as much work as Valiant. It’s clear he honored and appreciated the work that came before him, but he also has tried to make the strip his own. I was especially impressed by how candidly Gianni speaks candidly about his use of models, as well as reference material and “swipes.”

Perhaps because I found the book so compelling I was surprised how quickly I read it—but there are plenty of wonderful examples of Gianni’s work (roughs, original art, printed pieces, etc.) to pore over. This is a great book for any fan of Valiant or illustration in general, and certainly for aspiring artists.

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