Way back in my freshman year of college, instead of taking a traditional English class, students could select a Freshman Seminar. These courses were full of a lot of reading and writing, just like those traditional English classes, for these Freshman Seminars, you’d choose a topic that really excited you.
One that I chose was Medieval Studies 106 : King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table. I was surprised to find out that one could take classes in Medieval Studies.
It was really something! I had grown up enjoying King Arthur movies and books. In fact, John Boorman’s Excalibur debuted the summer before I went away to college. But the scholarly nature of the class opened my eyes wide to the rich, expansive landscape the Arthurian Legend.
There were quite of few stops along the way before that movie. The musical Camelot was a favorite as were the many King Arthur picture books I’d read as a kid. And so many King Arthur comics inspired me to learn more about the Round Table. There’s an impressive new one that was just published that I’ll write about towards the end of this column.
The Road To Camelot – In Geek Culture
As a kid in the 1960s, for me World’s Finest #162 was an epic comic. In this adventure, those two great pals, Batman and Superman, adventured in medieval times with the Knights of the Round Table, and it turned out that the Arthur’s knights are essentially old timey superheroes. Oooooh! Now I got it. When you put it that way, how could I (a young boy obsessed with superheroes ) not be enthusiastic about King Arthur stories?
One of the Knights of the Round Table, Prince Valiant, seemed to come into our life every week in the Sunday funnies. I’d read his adventures every Sunday, just after The Phantom.
I was exposed to early adventures of the character too. My mom, of all people, bequeathed a Prince Valiant reprint book to me. It was published by Hastings in the 1950s. This publisher had created a series of hardcover prose books, liberally sprinkled with Hal Foster (the strip’s creator) panels from the strips. As a kid, I felt the prose nature that signaled it was a “more serious affair”.
Today, Mark Shultz and Thomas Yeates carry on the adventures of Valiant and his family, and it’s fantastic. I still make a habit of getting the NY Daily News each Sunday just to get the full page version of Prince Valiant.
A Recently Acquired Dell King Arthur Comic
Lancelot and Guinevere is an unwieldy name for a comic, but I suppose it’s better than “The Adulterers”. I recently snagged this old 1963 Dell comic. It’s based on the movie of the same name, which looks like it was a passion project for star Cornel Wilde. He played the lead, directed the movie and is one of the producers. And his wife was Queen Guinevere. Aside from the bright pink cover, I can’t really recommend this comic. The interior artwork looks like the artist was directed to suck the life out of every Arthurian cliché as best he could.
As with so many Dell comics, it does include some movie stills on the inside front cover and back cover. Back in the day before old movies were accessible (if you missed it in the theater you could only hope to catch it on TV again someday) these were an invaluable treat to fans.
Fun Comic Fact : In this movie, King Arthur is played by Bright Aherne who also played King Arthur the in the film adaptation of Prince Valiant from 1954. You might remember that one – the comic character was played by a young Robert Wagner.
<Note: The picture Lancelot and Guinevere is sometimes also called The Sword of Lancelot.>
Once & Future
BOOM! Studios kindly offered copies of their recent hit comic, Once & Future, to my class. It is written by Kieron Gillen, with art by Dan Mora, colors by Tamra Bonvillain, and letters by Ed Dukeshire. I can’t tell you how much fun it is to assign reading & analyzing a comic as homework. This series brings back the gang from Camelot into modern days. By and large, my class really enjoyed it. I did too!
The Latest: Cursed!
And there are about a billion more King Arthur stories, adaptations and reboots. But let’s skip ahead to the latest one. Cursed! is a new YA novel by Tom Wheeler and Frank Miller. I first learned about this one when I saw a floor display of Cursed! books at Corning Comics and Collectibles in Corning, NY. (That’s a great new comic shop.)
And Cursed is also a new Netflix Series. As the story goes, there was an initial buzz around this project before it was even published. So it seems that this new series is magically springing to life just months after the graphic novel debuted last fall.
Cursed! Tells the story of Nimue, who you might know better as the Lady of the Lake. In actuality, The Lady of the Lake has had more reboots than Hawkman, but let’s keep it simple for this column. This is the story of The Lady of the Lake before Arthur and his royal frat boys came onto the scene.
It turns out this is sort of what Smallville is to Superman or Gotham was to Batman. It’s very much a prequel, providing rich backstories to all the characters from the Arthurian mythology that you know and love.
The book looks sharp. Frank Miller has contributed so many illustrations to it. And they are not just the occasional full page illustrations. They are spot illustrations imbedded into the pages in creative ways. Looking at it from the outside, it seems like there was a lot of thought put into designing each chapter. Technically, I’m not sure if it is a graphic novel or an illustrated prose novel. One could make the case that it straddles both definitions.
In some ways, it is evocative of those old Hastings Prince Valiant reprints.
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One last thing. Our San Diego Comic-Con @Home Panels are still getting great buzz and lots of views. Check out Comics on Campus: Fandom in Academia here, Comic Shops In Crisis here and How to Get PR here.