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Volume 6220

Canadian Hall Of Fame ~ Shuster Award
Hal Foster Acceptance Speech
Photo Scrapbook

Hal Foster (1892-1982)
Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005
Biography compiled by Phil Latter

Hal Foster, born Harold Rudolf Foster, was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada on August 16, 1892. By the age of 8, he already had the sea in his blood, and he rowed a twelve foot plank (more often, misquote d as a raft) across Halifax harbour. This is folklore often quoted in local Halifax comics circles. Two years later, Foster was at the helm of a 30 foot schooner on the Atlantic Ocean. He was but 4 years old when his father passed on; his mother married once again eight years later. His stepfather shared his joy of the outdoors in the forests that surrounded Halifax in those days, and they often fished together. By 1906, the family business went under and the family moved to Winnipeg. Hal Foster’s last completed year of grade school was grade 9 (age 13).

At the Winnipeg Carnegie Library, Hal studied anatomy, later becoming a staff artist at The Hudson’s Bay Company. His role there was illustrating women’s lingerie, back then, the type plumed with lots of buttons, lace and fasteners, for their catalogue. Prior to World War Two, an economic depression set in, and Foster was forced to freelance out his artistic skills. He married Helen Wells in 1915 who he met that same year. They worked as hunting guides in Ontario and Manitoba. In 1917, they founded a claim in the Lake Rice area and commenced prospecting for gold. This they did for three years until such time as claim jumpers stole it out from under them, forcing them off the land. Hal Foster made a firm decision at this time to embark full-time upon a career as an artist. Talking a friend into a bold plan, they jointly set out together on bicycles on a 1,000 mile pilgrimage from Winnipeg to Chicago! They arrived in a record 14 days in 1919.

Foster became employed with the Jaln & Ollier Engraving Company, and he attended evening classes at the Chicago Art Institute. Later, he attended both the National Academy of Design and the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. Following this, he worked for the Palenske-Young Studio doing ads in addition to covers of magazines. These included the Northwest Paper, Southern Pacific Railroad, and the Illinois Pacific Railroad, to name just a few.

Hal Foster was the very first artist to illustrate the Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan newspaper strip, which commenced on Jan.7, 1929. He did approximately 300 of these before his return to advertising. This is where Foster’s well-known nom-de-plume of “The Father of The Adventure Strip” originated. Hal Foster is credited as being the originator of text accompanying comic strip illustrations, in place of word balloons, leaving his well-delineated illustrations uncluttered by captions and text. This became Foster’s hallmark. 

During the Depression of the 1930’s, Hal Foster found it increasingly difficult to make a living in advertising; work was drying up in this field as a result. He was therefore persuaded by an agent of Edgar Rice Burroughs, to return to Tarzan, this time to the weekly Sunday page. In 1937, Foster went to The United Features Syndicate, with his well-structured Derek, Son of Thane newspaper strip concept, with hundreds of conceptual drawings and notes. The title was later changed to Prince Arn, and then, later, to Prince Valiant. United Features Syndicate, however, turned the feature down! Foster then took it directly to the world-renowned tycoon newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. “Prince Valiant in The Days of King Arthur” first saw print on Feb.13, 1937. Additionally, Hal Foster illustrated the book The Young Knight (1945), and earlier, in 1943, had adapted the book The Song of Bernadette, in illustrated form.

Awards won by Foster: the Banshees’ “Silver Lady” award, in 1952; both the National Cartoonist Society’s “Reuben” in 1957, and later the “Gold Key” award in 1977. At the age of 73, Foster was inducted into membership in England’s Society of Arts. In total, Hal Foster produced 1,764 Prince Valiant pages over his career! The last page created solely by Foster appeared on May 16 of 1971. Thereafter, he chose John Cullen Murphy from a group of other highly-qualified, well known professionals, to carry on the strip. However, Foster continued to do layouts, write and colour the strip for an additional nine years, until Feb 10 of 1980. Hal Foster passed away on Jul.25, 1982, just three weeks before his 90th birthday.

Shuster Hall Of Fame
Hal Foster Acceptance Speech
Delivered posthumously 
by Dave Sim
(April 2005)

I can safely say that I have never felt so gratified, so humbled, and so intimidated -- simultaneously -- as when author of Hal Foster: Prince Of Illustrators, Father Of The Adventure Strip, Mr. Brian M. Kane of Columbus, Ohio left me a phone message saying that the Foster family had asked that I accept this posthumously awarded Shuster Hall Of Fame plaque on their behalf.

From the time he bagan work on the Tarzan newspaper strip in 1929 to when he retrired from his beloved Sunday page landmark, Prince Valiant in 1971, Hal Foster has been universally hailed in our field as one of the tripartite deans of cartoon realism alongside Alex Raymond of Flash Gordon and Rip Kirby and Milt Caniff of Terry & The Pirates and Steve Canyon. Each generation of comic strip -- and later comic book -- artists have credited Hal Foster with being a primary influence on their own works.

In the comic book field, among the first generation of illustrators, such diverse talents as Joe Shuster, the late Will Eisner, Lou Fine, Sheldon Moldoff, and Jack Kirby; among the second generation, Frank Frazetta -- who even adapted elements of Foster's signature calligraphy as his own -- Wallace Wood, Al Williamson, Angelo Torres, and Murphy Anderson; among the third generation, Bernie Wrightson, Barry Windsor-Smith, Michael Kaluta and Jeff Jones all owed a large -- and wholly credited -- debt to the works of Hal Foster. As a member  of the fourth generation to be influenced by him -- standing here before you today -- I feel like a Shapespearean actor imexplicably promoted -- however temporarily -- from metaphorical spear-carrier to metaphysical knighthood.

I'm tempted to just read aloud the full text of Mr Kane's definitive biography published by Vanguard Press of Lebanon, New Jersey in 2001, and see how long it would take before someone cuts me off -- to read to you of Hal Foster's birth in Halifax on August 16, 1892, of how the family relocated to Winnipeg in 1905, of Foster's many adventures in the Canadian wilderness and along the Red River as a lifelong enthusiast of canoeing and hunting, of his abbreviated boxing career, of his self-education at Winnipeg's Carnegie Library and of how, in 1920, Foster secured a job with the Hudson Bay Company as a staff clerk earning $17.50 a week and where he was later hired to draw sketches of women's intimate apparel. "I put my whole soul into the work," he said later, more than slightly tongue-in-cheek. "I don't know when I'd been more interested." He worked variously in Winnipeg at commercial art studios like Beigden's Limited, the Commercial Art Company, and the Buckley Studio.

It was the threat of Depression-era starvation more than anything else that brought Hal Foster to the newspaper strip. Originally he hadn't been interested in illustrating Tarzan past the 10-week adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs' first novel, feeling that he would be prostituting his talent in doing so. He would later say, "I was a bit offended to be asked to sell my birthright for the mess of pottage. But I thought, 'wouldn't it be nice if I had a little bit of pottage right now?'" Initially, Foster had been content just to churn out the pages, but then letters started coming in. "I suddenly realised the comics page gave pleasure to millions," he said, "and changed my attitude about just scratching out the artwork." He noted that his wife, Helen, helped him control his inflated ego. So did the miserly page rates, which caused him to choose to create his own feature in 1937, a feature he would continue for thirty-four years and nearly two thousand pages, the legendary (in every sense of the term) Prince Valiant In The Days Of King Arthur.

As I wrote in my own tribute which was edited out of the manuscript of Mr Kane's book -- there were just too many high-powered names with greater-seniority -- in parodying a number of comic strip and comic book artist styles in the pages of Cerebus, I always found it easy enough to decipher and exaggerate their little drawing tricks and inking idiosyncrasies. That worked fine until I introduced a Prince Valiant parody, Lord Sliverspoon, into the storyline. I soon discovered -- as so many before me had discovered -- that there were no tricks or obscurant idiosyncrasies to the work of Hal Foster. It was all pure drawing knowledge, an encyclopedic knowledge of anatomy, dapery, light, shadow, composition line weight and texture, and the precise interaction of all those elements on the finished page. As his long-time letterer, Charles F. Armstrong wrote of Foster's determination to enter into a formal program of study when he was already a successful commercial illustrator: "It meant his giving up vacations, nights, Saturdays, and holidays to the drawing and observation of bones, muscles, and nerves. And believe me, this is work that is tedious, boring, and time-sonsuming. I know -- having studied under the same anatomy fanatic, Charles Schroeder."

Having already exceeded the universally agreed-upon limits of the duration of an acceptance speech -- an exceptional circumstance which I hope you will forgive in light of the accomplishments and wide-ranging influence of the award recipient -- I'll conclude now by reiterating how pleased and delighted, humbled, and intimidated I am to accept this award on behalf of the Prince of Illustrators, the Father of the Adventure Strip, and the greatest native-born Canadian ever to devote his life to bringing the highest and most exacting standards of illustrative realism to the comics page, Harold Rudolf Foster.

Thank you.
~ Dave Sim


At work with ship model in foreground.
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