A Year: Day to Day Men: 16th of August, Solar Year 2018

Builder of Dams

August 16, 1892, was the birthdate of Canadian-American cartoonist, Harold Foster.

Harold Foster, as a youth, captained a sloop through the Atlantic, and learned to hunt and fish in the wilds surrounding Halifax from his stepfather, cultivating a love for nature that is readily apparent in his art. He left school at an early age. Foster’s career as a professional artist began when he was about eighteen, producing catalog art for the Hudson Bay Company, but before and after that he made his living in the Canadian wilderness as a fur trapper, hunting guide, and gold prospector.

Foster studied at the Chicago Art Institute and other schools and eventually landed a job at an advertising firm that allowed him to move his wife and two sons to the city. But when the Great Depression hit, work slowed to a crawl. Despite his reservations about entering the field of comic strips, when Foster  was given the chance to adapt Edgar Rice Burroughs’s “Tarzan of the Apes”, he took it.

Debuting in 1929, the “Tarzan of the Apes” daily heralded a new age for comic strips. A fine artist to his bones, Foster introduced dynamic action, perfect anatomy and fluid body movement to the comics page. Through his hands, the titular character was imbued with a balance of nobility and visceral barbarity, and Hal Foster’s dramatically-lit chiaroscuro panels, accurate nature drawing, and raucous action ensured that “Tarzan of the Apes” was a hit.

Hal Foster produced hundreds of pages, and continuing to adapt his illustrative approach to cartooning, but he grew tired of the material. If he was going to continue working in a medium he didn’t care for, at minimum he wanted creative control over his output. So Foster began working on a story set in Arthurian England that he intended to span decades. After months of research and planning, he pitched his new story to United Features Syndicate, distributor of “Tarzan”, and they turned him down. He made the same pitch to William Randolph Hearst and was offered an unprecedented portion of ownership.

“Prince Valiant”, debuted in 1937 and quickly became the gold standard of the Sunday cartoons. The story begins with Val as the five-year-old son of a deposed king and follows him to manhood, through battles with ancient monsters and beasts, knighthood with King Arthur in Camelot, fatherhood, and adventures all across myth, history, and the globe. It is epic, swashbuckling, painterly, ornate, endlessly clever, and brilliantly plotted story, and without the intrusion of word balloons to muck up the panels. Every frame of Prince Valiant is like a story unto itself: beautifully designed, and rendered with a precision. In the golden age of the newspaper strip it was considered by many to be the pinnacle of achievement in the medium.

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