Home / General / Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 952

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 952

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This is the grave of Hal Foster.

Born in 1892 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Foster became an artist as a child. His family had moved to Winnipeg in 1906. He soon found employment, working as the staff artist for the Hudson’s Bay Company based out of Winnipeg. Seeking a better life than whatever Winnipeg is like, in the summer of 1919, he got on his bicycle and rode to Chicago. He started taking classes at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts while supporting himself through freelance work, doing a lot of magazine covers and things like that.

Foster started getting jobs working on the ever popular comics in newspapers. He was hired to develop Tarzan into a comic in 1929. He left pretty quickly, but came back in 1931 and drew it for 6 years. But in 1937, he wanted to develop his own work. He had ideas for comics. His skill also attracted the attention of William Randolph Hearst. Hearst’s papers were in rapid decline at this time after his response to the New Deal was to become a quasi-fascist, but he made Foster a big offer. If he drew an original comic for the Hearst papers, he would get 50 percent of the money it generated. Foster couldn’t refuse this. And thus, Prince Valiant was born.

I never really got the point of the comics such as Prince Valiant. Granted, by the time I was reading the comics in the 1980s, Foster was long gone. It’s been drawn by other people since the 1970s. But it always just seemed like a bunch of tremendously boring stories that never went anywhere interesting. But one can’t question the popularity of it. In fact, it was adapted into a movie in 1954 starring Robert Wagner, though I don’t think Foster had anything to do with it other than cash the checks. He was based out of Topeka, Kansas, of all damn places, during these years, though he eventually moved to Florida to retire. By 1970, he started to suffer from arthritis, which is really not a condition a comic artist can work through. So he retired in 1975, after having very carefully chosen his replacement and mentored him for five years.

What Prince Valiant did do, at least according to experts in the field, was significantly improve the visual presentation of the comics. Foster simply was a more talented artist than a lot of the comics designers. Unquestionably, some of the visuals are quite impressive, even today. He had a great use of color. Regardless of the stories, which some people did and I guess still do (??) enjoy, Foster set a new standard for the graphic art. Many of the artists who followed him openly admitted to stealing his style including Jack Kirby, who remains tremendously influential today because of his superhero comics for Marvel.

It turns out there were lots of awards a comic strip artist could win in those days. Foster pretty much won them all. Less common was for an American of any kind to be inducted into the Royal Society of Arts in London, but Foster got that too, in 1973.

Foster died in 1982, at the age of 89.

Hal Foster is buried in Topeka Cemetery, Topeka, Kansas.

If you would like this series to visit other comic artists, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Bil Keane is in Phoenix and given my hatred of The Family Circus, this is a grave visit that needs to happen. Also, Jack Kirby is in Los Angeles. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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