Skip to main content

Harold R. (Hal) Foster Papers

Original Prince Valliant art, Hall Foster Papers
Harold R. (Hal) Foster (1892-1982) was a Canadian-American cartoonist. His most famous creation was the Prince Valiant strip.

Born in Nova Scotia in 1892, Foster studied at the Chicago Art Institute, supplemented with night classes at the National Academy of Design and the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. His artistic influences included E.A. Abbey, Howard Pyle, Arthur Rackham, Maxfield Parrish, J.C. Leyendecker, James Montgomery Flagg, and N.C. Wyeth. Foster worked as a staff artist for the Hudson Bay Company and then as an illustrator before getting involved with graphic adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan novels. Foster's sense of realism, composition, draftsmanship, and his fluid anatomy brought a new "fine art" feel to adventure comics. Another Foster trademark that appeared for the first time in comics was the use of captions instead of word balloons.

Eventually, wishing to do something original, Foster began working on a character of his own: Derek, Son of Thane. Hal later changed the strip's title to Prince Arn and King Features Syndicate's general manager, Joseph Connelly, finally re-christened it Prince Valiant. Hal decided early on that his hero would be a Knight of the Round Table and made tens of thousands of notes and sketches covering the main character's life from childhood to old age. Hal never included a locale that he had not personally visited for thematic accuracy.

In 1936, Foster pitched Prince Valiant to William Randolph Hearst, who had long wanted Foster to do a comic for his papers. Hearst was so impressed that he promised Foster the ownership of the strip if he would start the series, a very rare offer in those days. The first episode of Prince Valiant in the Days of King Arthur (the full title) appeared on February 13, 1937. The tales were so epic that Edward, The Duke of Windsor called Prince Valiant the "greatest contribution to English literature in the past hundred years."

Prince Valiant became one of the most successful comic strips of all time, winning the prestigious Banshees' "Silver Lady" award (1952) and both the National Cartoonists Society's coveted "Reuben" award (1957) and "Gold Key" award (1977). When he was 73, Foster was elected to membership in Great Britain's Royal Society of Arts - an honor very few Americans have received.

The collection includes correspondence, original artwork and color proofs for Prince Valiant; artwork for Medieval Castle, scrapbooks and photographs, printed material as well as material related to Foster's appearance on the television show, "This is Your Life".

Learn more about the Hal Foster Papers here.
Explore SCRC’s collections of Cartoons and Cartoonists here.