by Gary Gianni
Flesk Publications, 2008
Hardcover, 12.5″ x 9.25″, 112 pages, $29.95
I order most of my books online. When I saw a Gary Gianni Prince Valiant book pop up in a search I confess I didn’t even bother to read the description, I made a beeline straight for the Order Now button.
My quick trigger finger on the book ordering button often makes books show up in my mailbox that don’t live up to expectations. Especially when doing research I tend to just order everything that could conceivably be of interest and sort the wheat from the chaff as it arrives. It can be a rather expensive indulgence, but on the other hand occasionally I end up with some really great books that vastly exceed expectations.
So it is with The Prince Valiant Page. I ordered it assuming that I was going to get a reprint volume of Gianni’s work on the Sunday strip. Though that’s not what I received, and that’s a book I still would be delighted to have, The Prince Valiant Page is one of those unexpected delights that will keep me hitting those Buy Now buttons.
What we actually have here is a combination art book, instructional book and history of Gianni’s involvement with the strip. The book is full of reproductions of Gianni’s pencil sketches, working drawings and finished pages (in glorious black and white), all of which are lovely to behold — far more beautiful than the postage stamp size color versions I see in my local Sunday paper.
Gianni does a great job of explaining his working methods and those of his predecessor on the strip, John Cullen Murphy. Many model photos are reproduced along with the drawings that were produced based on them, an invaluable peek at methodology for aspiring artists and fascinating too for those of us with no such ambitions.
There are a few color Prince Valiant pages reproduced, mostly on foldout pages so we can see them in glorious full tabloid format, a size that isn’t used by one newspaper out of a thousand. These are just glorious, and confirm for me the reason that while I really love Gianni’s version of Prince Valiant I just can’t bring myself to read it in my local paper reproduced in that abominable quarter-page format.
The history of the strip, which focuses mostly on Gianni and the elder and younger Murphys, reveals a lot I didn’t know about the working relationships. For instance, I had no idea that Gianni was ghosting selected pages before he began taking credit, or that John Cullen Murphy finally handed the strip over to him in such an abrupt fashion, very much unlike Murphy’s extended tutelage under Foster.
Gianni shows several of his early PV pages along with Murphy’s comments and corrections. Murphy’s corrections are heart-rending in their constant admonitions to Gianni to drop details and shading that would turn to mud in the printed form. If only these damn newspapers would give strips like Prince Valiant some space! What a glorious page Gianni could produce for us if only they’d give him some elbow room. As it is Gianni’s work on Prince Valiant is terrific, but oh, what it could be!
While we continue to ponder newspapers’ wanton disregard of producing a Sunday comics section that could actually sell papers I suppose we’ll have to get our fix of great art from books such as these. So thanks Gary Gianni for this wonderful peek into what is and what could be. Now get busy and find a publisher to produce reprint volumes of those superb tabloid Prince Valiant pages of yours. We can’t get them in the newspaper so we’re all chomping at the bit to read your Prince Valiant any way we can.