3286 Fri. 4/13 11:30 AM – 1:00 PM
The Comics Get Medieval 2012: A Celebration of Medieval-Themed Comics in Commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of Prince Valiant
Chair: Michael A. Torregrossa, The Virtual Society for the Study of Popular Culture and the Middle Ages
“Integrating Ideologies: Monarchy and Democracy in Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant”
Nathan A. Breen, College of Lake County
As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant, we cannot help but marvel at the consistent beauty of the illustrations, the brilliance of its creators, and the complexity of its storylines. In this paper, I argue that one of the key elements in the success of Prince Valiant is the way that Foster nearly seamlessly integrated the vastly disparate political ideologies of monarchy and democracy. On one hand, readers are enticed with the aristocratic hierarchy of Arthur’s court; on the other, they are intrigued by the democratic meritocracy among Arthur’s knights. As an analysis of some of the strips that were published in the first year (1937-38) shows, Hal Foster incorporated this blend of monarchy and democracy from the very beginning, juxtaposing Valiant’s rise in stature within Arthur’s court – based on his inherent nobility and his early acts of valor –with the rigid structure of obeisance to the authority of the king.
The complexity of the storylines allowed Foster to interpret the Arthur legend in a manner that simultaneously satisfies a desire for the otherness and awe inspired by Camelot and the competing, yet conflicting, desire for familiarity manifest in witnessing characters who seem contemporary in the way that they succeed and rise in stature according to their heroic deeds. While Foster researched his topic extensively and made sustained and serious attempts to adhere to his perception of the of early medieval Britain (which gives Valiant a sense of historical and monarchical grandeur), he simultaneously conceded, at times, to his audience’s preconceptions and to the legend of Arthur (including their desire to see the character of Val as someone identifiable – a husband, a father, a knight – who is valued and promoted because of his work ethic). This is not to say that Foster compromised his material; to the contrary, his ability to merge these divergent approaches to history is what made Prince Valiant so popular with audiences.
In short, Foster satisfies the dual urges toward antiquity and modernity in the complex reaction that 20th and 21st century audience have toward medieval topics. From the very first strip published, Foster develops Arthur’s knights (and especially Val) as the stuff of legends, but also as very identifiable and believable characters. In the strips published between 1937-38, we see this most notably in the way young Valiant himself, the descendent of beleaguered royalty, initially struggles to conform to the social structure of Camelot (in fact, he is nearly exiled for fighting with other page boys while drunk), yet eventually rises to become one of Arthur’s most trusted knights. It is Val’s royal lineage that distinguishes him from the modern audience and makes him seem medieval, yet it is his quest for recognition according to his merit and service that makes him seem modern and identifiable, and endears him to audiences. By appealing to these divergent expectations in his audience, Foster ensured the enduring success of Prince Valiant.
Michele Braun teaches in the English and General Education departments at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Canada. She is also the Vice-President of the Popular Culture Association of Canada, which will be holding its second conference in Niagara Falls, Ontario, this May. Her paper demonstrates Michelle’s ongoing consideration of the representation of technology in contemporary literature as well as her interest in Arthuriana.
Magical objects frequently appear in Arthurian narratives and the object that appears most frequently in stories about King Arthur is his sword, Excalibur. In medieval and other Arthurian texts, Excalibur is a magical object, but in some contemporary iterations of the legend, Excalibur becomes a technological object, whose function can be explained by scientific principles. This paper will describe the use of science and technology as a means for explaining the king-making events involving Excalibur in Camelot 3000. It will draw upon observations about the relationship between magical and scientific explanations of phenomena, including the relationship between the practitioners of science and magic: Merlin and Morgan and the magical and scientific sources of their power. The personal relationship to power that Merlin and Morgan possess in their manipulation of magic and science is countered by the power that Arthur and Mordred wield, which is located in the artefacts they possess, namely the sword Excalibur and the Holy Grail. Thus power in some instances is understood to be diffuse and complex in the novel, but in others, it inheres in particular artefacts, including Arthur’s sword.
The graphic novel, Camelot 3000 (1988), follows the traditional presentation of Excalibur as symbol of Arthur’s right to rule, but it also reimagines Excalibur as a nuclear powered weapon. Introducing a potential scientific or technical component to the power of the sword introduces complexity into the relationship between Excalibur and power. In translating Excalibur as a technical object, the reader is invited to share in the understanding of its power and democratize the process of king-making by revealing it to potentially be facilitated by science. By re-imagining Excalibur as a technological, rather than a magical or symbolic object, the graphic novel reflects the tastes and interests of its twentieth century readers.
“The Myth of the Death of the Hero: Eternal Return in Arthurian Literature and Neil Gaiman’s Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?”
Hannah Means-Shannon, Georgian Court University
This study will investigate the ways in which the poetry of Wace, Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regnum Brittaniae, and Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur present the concept of the hero’s miraculous return from death in comparison to Neil Gaiman’s recent Batman story arc Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? (2009). Rebirth itself will be examined in terms of Carl Jung’s consideration of the “child-hero” archetype, both a “beginning and an end” to the heroic process, and in terms of Jung’s archetype of “rebirth” following specific psychologically significant patterns in the elucidation of developing “immortal” selfhood in the heroic role. Jung’s interpretation of Buddhist reincarnation present in Psychology and the East (2008) will also be considered in terms of its psychological impact on modern heroic mythology.
Major factors concerning the death of the hero in Arthurian texts and Gaiman’s narrative will be explored, including the role of betrayal, and fundamental flaws in characterization that make a “cyclical” pattern necessary. Celtic mythological motifs that may inform the “eternal return” concept in Arthurian Literature will be examined, including the mythology of Taliesin and Merlin, as well as varying Buddhist-inspired concepts of reincarnation present in Gaiman’s text. Rebirth itself will be considered in terms of a concern for multiple versions of the death/resurrection motif, and degree of uncertainty concerning the exact process whereby a hero will be reborn to “return”. Within this ambiguous narrative, accompanying, guiding figures play a significant role in suggesting the positive nature of the “rebirth” outcome, including Merlin, the “queens” of Avalon, Alfred and Bruce Wayne’s parents. Application of key Jungian concepts of the “child-hero” archetype and “rebirth” will highlight the manner in which both Arthurian texts and Neil Gaiman’s Batman narrative represent a concern for the development of the heroic role in psychological terms, culminating in an affirmation of the “return” motif as an expression of the development of empowered unified selfhood in the central hero.
Nicole is the current chair of the Comic Art & Comics Area, a position she has now held for nine years. She is also on the editorial board of the International Journal of Comic Art and is currently in the process of finishing her dissertation.
Michael A. Torregrossa is a graduate of the Medieval Studies program at the University of Connecticut (Storrs). His research interests include adaptation, Arthuriana, comics and comic art, medievalism, vampires, and wizards. Michael is currently Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Legend Area Chair for the Northeast Popular Culture/American Culture Association. He is also founder of The Alliance for the Promotion of Research on the Villains of the Matter of Britain, founder of The Institute for the Advancement of Scholarship on the Magic-Wielding Figures of Visual Electronic Multimedia, and co-founder, with Carl James Grindley, of The Virtual Society for the Study of Popular Culture and the Middle Ages; he also serves as editor for these organizations various blogs. Michael has presented his research at regional, national, and international conferences and has been published in Adapting the Arthurian Legends for Children: Essays on Arthurian Juvenilia, Arthuriana, The Arthuriana / Camelot Project Bibliographies, Cinema Arthuriana: Twenty Essays, Film & History, The 1999 Film & History CD-Rom Annual, The Medieval Hero on Screen: Representations from Beowulf to Buffy, and the three most recent supplements to The Arthurian Encyclopedia.