This reprinting of the first four years of Prince Valiant under the new helm of Gianni and Schultz is an eye-opening experience. Unlike many of you, I do get the Val Sunday page in my local paper, and I’ve been enjoying Gianni’s art despite the criminally small quarter page presentation. What I failed to recognize reading the strip in weekly installments was the superb craftsmanship of Mark Schultz’s script.
Under the ridiculous strictures of a strip that tries to advance the storyline in a quarter page (even while sacrificing some of that space for a weekly synopsis) one doesn’t expect all that much from a writer, and I confess that on Sunday mornings I failed to recognize the artfulness of the plot that Schultz was weaving. The reprint book gives me the chance to read the entire story at one sitting, though, and under these conditions it’s plain that Schultz is a master at working under these severe restrictions.
The story is a long one, a four year adventure in which Val and son Nathan set out from Camelot to find some respite from the boredom of court life. What starts as a simple desire to slay a dragon (!) turns into an epic adventure that eventually takes the pair as far afield as Africa. Against all odds, Schultz manages to keep this epic under control even when following up to three separate plotlines when the adventurers occasionally become separated.
Schultz not only writes a corking good adventure, a real page turner that begs to be read in one marathon bout, but his work is meticulous. His story is peppered with foreshadowing devices that sometimes don’t play out for months in newspaper time. Adventure comic strips have always worked under the convention that characters are introduced and last only until they’ve fulfilled their role in the plot — plot threads likewise can conveniently disappear without a trace. Schultz, though, surprised me over and over by having long-forgotten characters and hanging plot threads reappear and weave themselves back into the story, a plotting device that we might expect in a novel but is a marvelous and unexpected surprise in a comic strip.
After the sumptuous production of The Prince Valiant Page I was all set to hate this reprinting. The large format reproduction in that book is not used here. But given that Gianni is creating artwork that can withstand tiny reproduction, the mini-tabloid format in this Andrews McMeel production is perfectly suitable to the project. Of course I found myself wishing that Gianni had the elbow-room to produce a more detailed vision of Prince Valiant, but for that we must fault the syndicate and the newspapers that insist on offering the strip in microscopic formats, not the book publisher.