I’m old enough to remember the last decade or so of Prince Valiant comics by Foster. Each Sunday I’d pour over the color comics section and stare at the intricacies of Foster’s work, so very alien next to the minimalist art of Charles Schulz. Anyone who could draw a circle could draw Charlie Brown, but it took knowledge of anatomy, perspective, and how to render drapery to come even close to Foster’s Prince. I’d try to imitate scenes such as Prince Valiant on a ship (above, from 1942) in vain, hoping to run before I could even crawl as a draftsman. I also remember that the continued hold of Prince Valiant on popular culture allowed people to compare baseball player Pete Rose’s haircut, circa 1979, when he joined my beloved Philadelphia Phillies, to that worn by Prince Valiant. I doubt Rose had Foster’s character in mind when making his tonsorial choice, but for a young boy looking for real-life analogues to Foster’s chivalric code, Rose’s hustling style of play seemed the closest thing available at the time. Of course, Rose failed to live up to that code of honor in later years.
Foster’s link to Prince Valiant is so strong that many forget his earlier work on Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan (an example appears above). William Randolph Hearst actually allowed Foster to begin Prince Valiant and own the strip itself (a rare concession back then) based on the popularity of his Tarzan work, which set the standard for all the Tarzan movies and books to follow. From the jungle to the castle battlements, Foster mastered them all. Later comics artists such as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko almost universally cite Hal Foster as a seminal influence on their career, making Foster a godfather of sorts to superheroes ranging from Captain America to Spider-Man. The common bond of all these heroes is the code of chivalry, updated, of course, to suit changing times, but not that much different than the days of Arthur as told by the pen of Foster.