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Harold R. (Hal) Foster Papers

An inventory of his papers at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: -
Date: unknown

Biographical History

Harold R. (Hal) Foster (1892-1982) was a Canadian-American cartoonist. His most famous creation was the Prince Valiant strip.

Born in Nova Scotia in 1892, Foster studied at the Chicago Art Institute, supplemented with night classes at the National Academy of Design and the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. His artistic influences included E.A. Abbey, Howard Pyle, Arthur Rackham, Maxfield Parrish, J.C. Leyendecker, James Montgomery Flagg, and N.C. Wyeth. Foster worked as a staff artist for the Hudson Bay Company and then as an illustrator before getting involved with graphic adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan novels. Foster's sense of realism, composition, draftsmanship, and his fluid anatomy brought a new "fine art" feel to adventure comics. Another Foster trademark that appeared for the first time in comics was the use of captions instead of word balloons.

Eventually, wishing to do something original, Foster began working on a character of his own: Derek, Son of Thane. Hal later changed the strip's title to Prince Arn and King Features Syndicate's general manager, Joseph Connelly, finally re-christened it Prince Valiant. Hal decided early on that his hero would be a Knight of the Round Table and made tens of thousands of notes and sketches covering the main character's life from childhood to old age. Hal never included a locale that he had not personally visited for thematic accuracy.

In 1936, Foster pitched Prince Valiant to William Randolph Hearst, who had long wanted Foster to do a comic for his papers. Hearst was so impressed that he promised Foster the ownership of the strip if he would start the series, a very rare offer in those days. The first episode of Prince Valiant in the Days of King Arthur (the full title) appeared on February 13, 1937. The tales were so epic that Edward, The Duke of Windsor called Prince Valiant the "greatest contribution to English literature in the past hundred years."

Prince Valiant became one of the most successful comic strips of all time, winning the prestigious Banshees' "Silver Lady" award (1952) and both the National Cartoonists Society's coveted "Reuben" award (1957) and "Gold Key" award (1977). When he was 73, Foster was elected to membership in Great Britain's Royal Society of Arts - an honor very few Americans have received.

In addition to the Reuben and Gold Key awards, Foster received a number of other recognitions from the National Cartoonists Society, including the Story Comic Strip Award in 1964, the Special Features Award in 1966 and 1967, and the Elzie Segar Award in 1978. He was inducted into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame in 1996, and in 2005 he was inducted into the Joe Shuster Canadian Comic Book Creators Hall of Fame for his contributions to comic books.

Hal Foster died in 1982. As of 2010, Prince Valiant, was still appearing in newspapers as a Sunday only feature, drawn by Mark Schultz and Gary Gianni.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Harold R. (Hal) Foster Papers include material related to Foster's Prince Valiant comic strip and are arranged into five series.

The Cartoons series (1937-1973) comprises the bulk of this collection. The series contains primarily original artwork for the Prince Valiant comic strip (409 original pieces), including the first episode of the strip from February 13, 1957. The majority of the artwork was produced between 1948 and 1959 although there are a few earlier pieces and one piece from 1973. Original artwork for the Medieval Castle is also included.

Each Prince Valiant strip is numbered and dated. Dimensions of original art varies; however early pieces measure approximately 22 ½" x 29" and later items are 19" x 27". Works were often completed in two or more different sections and hinged together with tape. Foster worked in pen and ink on illustration board. Notations appear on the original pieces in pencil. Each work contains a copyright notice sticker.

Correspondence (1952-1969) contains primarily incoming correspondence (although some replies from Foster appear in the folders for 1969), mostly favorable comment on Foster's skill and requests for original drawings. These letters arrived from fans from around the world including those in Germany, Greece, the Philippines, Tahiti and Sweden. At least one letter is in Greek and several are in German. Worth noting is material sent by a student at the Rochester Institute of Technology who staged the exhibition, "The Comics: An American Tradition" with cartoons from his personal collection.

Within Printed material (1949-1966) there are published articles about Foster, Prince Valiant books (many of which are foreign language editions), features Prince Valiant appearances in book form in foreign translations for Argentina, Brazil, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Norway, and Sweden. United States editions are included as is one copy of the Medieval Castle and promotional material.

In the Scrapbooks and photographs series (1936-1967), there are two scrapbooks that were formally presented to Foster, one for his Banshee Award and the other from King Feature Syndicate. The other items were compiled by Foster and contain newspaper clippings, memorabilia and photographs. Foster's personal scrapbooks contain photos of a Prince Valiant themed Mardi Gras float and images of other cartoonists including Otto Soglow, artist for The Little King Rube Goldberg and Jimmy Hatlo.

Miscellaneous contains a script and videotape from Foster's appearance on "This Is Your Life", a tableaux script fro the Ball of Krewe of Hermes and a small scroll.

Other Related Finding Aids

A partial set of worksheets containing titles, dates, captions, condition and remarks about cartoons from 1949-1952 is located in the finding aids folder.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Some material is restricted for fragility.

Related Material

The published books of Prince Valiant as well as the engraver's color proofs (formerly in Oversize 8-26) have been removed for separate cataloging. These items are noted in the inventory as "Transferred to Rare Books" and can be located via the Classic Catalog.

Many of the color proofs have been digitized and are available online. To view these document, please visit SCRC Online, our digital portal.

Special Collections Research Center has collections of more than 150 cartoonists. Please refer to the SCRC Subject Index for a complete listing.

Subject Headings


Foster, Harold R. (Harold Rudolf), 1892-1982.

Corporate Bodies

King Features Syndicate.

Associated Titles

Medieval castle.
Prince Valiant.


American wit and humor, Pictorial.
Caricatures and cartoons -- United States.
Cartoonists -- United States.
Comic books, strips, etc. -- United States.
Knights and knighthood -- Comic books, strips, etc.
Middle Ages -- Comic books, strips, etc.

Genres and Forms

Cartoons (humorous images)
Clippings (information artifacts)
Comic strips.
Engraver's proofs.
Photograph albums.
Promotional materials.
Video recordings.



Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Harold R. (Hal) Foster Papers,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Gift of Hal Foster, 1966-1970, 1972.

Original artwork #1915 (October 21, 1973), gift of Lou Cannon, 2009.

Material transferred from the C.D. Russell Cartoons, 1967, 2011.

Table of Contents



Printed material

Scrapbooks and photographs



Note on alternate formats:

Many of the color proofs have been digitized and are available online. To view these document, please visit SCRC Online, our digital portal.