Harold Rudolph "Hal" Foster created the adventure comic strip "Prince Valiant" 41 years ago, and today at 85 years of age he is still at the drawing board.
For all these years Foster made Sunday mornings come alive with colorful illustrations of his hero fighting pirates, evil knights, avenging wrongs with his swift singing sword.
He fought Huns, Vikings, monstrous elephants and huge gorillas.
But is was not all violence as he moved readers through the splendors of King Arthur's Court, the parties and jousting tournaments at Camelot, later marrying the 19-year-old prince to the beautiful Aleta. Today, because a single strip could span two or three months, Foster figures Val to be about 36 years old and the father of four.
Foster has received many awards for his work, including election to Great Britain's Royal Society of Arts.
One of "Prince Valiant's" fans, the Duke of Windsor, called the strip the "greatest contribution to English literature in the past 100 years."
The idea for an adventure strip was not the kind that came overnight to the writer-illustrator; it had been in his mind for a long time, and at the age of 44 he created "Prince Valiant."
"I used the medieval period because it gave me scope, he says. "At first I thought of the Crusades, but the theme was too limited. With Val I have a leeway of almost three centuries - thanks to lack of written records. With the decline of Roman civilization in the fifth century written records ceased being kept.
"I also wanted a strip that would permit me to do fantasy. I wanted to show magicians, ogres and dragons besides knights. However, after the strip begun, the characters became too real to do much fantasy."
Foster was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Aug. 16, 1892. His father died when he was 4. His mother remarried and in 1906 his stepfather moved the family to Winnipeg.
Foster took to the outdoor life and when he was 14 he spent a winter fur trapping.
He learned to box at 14 and fought several professional fights as a welter-weight before deciding that maybe the drawing board was a little easier.
His last formal grade was the ninth, from there he went into self-education by wearing out a path to the Carnegie Library in Winnipeg.
His chief inspiration for his will to learn was a nasty remark made about him to his mother from an aunt he thoroughly disliked.
"'Isn't it too bad Harold won't get an education,'" is what she said. We were really poor at the time. I looked at the old biddy and said, "The hell I won't'"
Foster began drawing when he was about 16, "I would stand in front of a mirror and sketch myself.
"I had a drawing board and a mirror on the wall in our unheated attic and would stand there sketching until I turned blue from cold.
"It was a good way to draw quickly before I froze to death."
At 18 Foster took a menial job with a business firm to help support his parents. He discovered the long work week interferred with his hunting. One day after he stretched the weekend out longer than his employers allowed he was asked upon his return. "You seem to think hunting is more important than business."
"Isn't it?" he answered and was suddenly among the unemployed.
He first art job came the same year when he went to work for the Hudson Bay Co. in Winnipeg illustrating their catalog. His specialty was men's fashion.
The job bored him and he realized he needed more formal education.
At the age of 23 he met and married Helen Wells from Topeka, Kan., and they had two sons.
His search for work took the family to Toronto, where the couple became hunting guides.
Gold prospecting became a new interest for them and they staked out a claim in the Lake Rice region. They worked the mine for three years before their claim was jumped, forcing Foster back to the drawing board.
Realizing that he reached his peak as an artist in Winnipeg, he talked another artist into bicycling the 1,000 miles to Chicago. The worst thing about the 14-day trip, he said, was the vicious dogs they ahd to kick away.
"We had the old one-speed bicycles, the roads were unpaved and we had to sleep in hay stacks and barns. "Around Grand Forks, N.D., a big storm hit and we saved a couple of days by hitching a ride on a milk train."
The journey over, the pair put up in the YMCA, and were robbed the first night.
"Luckily I left emergency fund in Winnipeg with Helen," Foster remembered, "so I telegraphed her, and she was pleased to get the telegram because it was our anniversary. When she opened it, it read, 'Help - send emergency fund.'"
Helen and the two boys moved in with grandparents in Topeka, while Foster hit the Chicago agencies for work.
He landed a job with Jahn & Oliver Engraving Co. and began to take partime courses at the Art Institute and Chicago Academy of Fine Arts.
When the Depression hit in 1929 all advertising art stopped for awhile.
"I witnessed three suicides in downtown Chicago. In one case, the man fell nine floors and landed outside the window in the restaurant where I was having lunch."
He picked up a few illustrating jobs with Popular Mechanics.
His first break came when he was hired to illustrate "Tarzan of the Apes," by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
"I began to get fan mail for the first time in my life.
"I had been exhibiting in galleries and museums in Chicago before the Depression, so when the mail came in it built up my conceit.
"I suddenly realized that comic pages gave pleasure to millions and changed my attitude about just scratching out art work."
Foster worked on the "Tarzan" strip from 1931 until 1936 when the officials at King Features approached him about doing an original strip because William Randolph Hearst admired his work on "Tarzan."
They offered to create a story for him but he refused, wanting to come up with his own idea.
The name "Val" was not Foster's idea, it was the idea of Joe Connolly, an executive at King Features.
"At first my wife and I thought it was too blatant. "We thought Arn sounded good. It was a good Saxon Norman name, but the syndicate rejected it."
Foster used himself as the model for Prince Valiant and says, "I deleted what I disliked, and he's sort of my body with muscles. He's all the things I would have loved to have seen. The haircut was simply designed in a traditional cut. It was padding for the helmet.
"I gave him black hair because it would show up more prominently when reproduced.
"After all his mother was a Roman woman who had married King Aguar. Prince Valiant has sort of a Roman nose."
At one time he had the whole life of Prince Valiant planned from cradle to grave and he laughs when he says, "I didn't know I was going to live this long."
He still writes the strip and says, "I have a problem in writing the text, I can't steal from myself. When you get to be 85, you realize you're no longer young. Ideas are harder to come by and your memory gets a little foggy."
Until he was 78 he worked a 58-hour week. Realizing that he couldn't handle a strip by himself he tried out two illustrators before deciding on John Cullen Murphy as an assistant.
For a year, Murphy, who lives in Connecticut, did the backgrounds and then he began to sketch in the main characters.
Foster liked Murphy's sports illustrations and art work when Murphy worked on "Big Ben Bolt."
Foster writes the script in longhand and his wife types it out. He sends rough page layouts to Murphy who finishes the art and sends it back to Foster for coloring.
He talks about violence today saying, "Violence is a trend, a phase we go through.
"What annoys me the most is the destruction and vandalism, young people destroying things for the fun of it. It will hurt the future."
The letters for the most part were people wanting me to put a religious theme into the strip. Or people with a pet project. Others would want to institute a political situation, all of which I ignored."
He always tried to give a mixture to keep the readers entertained.
"I would try some action scenes, a little bloodshed then switch to a domestic affair.
"It's like a salad, a little bit of salt, pepper - a good mixture."
In the past the original art work belonged to Foster, but now Mruphy owns it.
He spends his days dreaming up story ideas, writing and answering fan mail.
The Fosters' travels have taken them over the many lands that Prince Valiant has journeyed through, studying the costumes, kitchen utensils and weapons that give the strip the authenticity for which it has been widely recognized.
Foster will continue to work as long as he can and says "I still get satisfaction from working on it and it keep me out of mischief."
Today the strip appears in about 300 papers, goes to 14 different countries and is translated into 10 differentlanguages.