John Cullen Murphy, who draws the classic comic strip "Prince Valiant," is the undisputed heir to the mantle of Hal Foster, who created the strip in 1937.
Murphy began collaborating with Foster in 1970 and took over the strip when Foster retired the following year.
"Valiant" traces the epic adventures of the brave and noble prince, a knight of King Arthur's Round Table.
Prince Valiant embodies the heroic quest, setting off for foreign lands at the request of his king, or in response to the designs of evil men.
In the course of the strip, Valiant has married and had five children and now one grandchild. Stories have ranged from epic adventures to events around the Valiant home.
Eschewing word balloons, the strip is composed of illustrative cartoons with narrative and dialogue at the bottom.
King Features Syndicate distributes "Prince Valiant" to more than 350 newspapers worldwide.
Murphy had known Foster for years, and when Foster decided that he needed more leisure time, he invited Murphy to work on "Valiant." Foster had long admired the work on Murphy's strip, "Big Ben Bolt," a boxing story strip syndicated by King Features from 1950 to 1974.
Murphy was born May 3, 1919, in New York City. His father became western manager for Doubleday and an advertising salesman, and moved the family to Chicago. He moved the family back East when John was 11, and the Murphys settled in New Rochelle, N.Y.
Murphy became interested in art early, and started attending Saturday art classes when he was 9. When the family moved back to New York, John continued to study art. He drew sports cartoons in high school and, at 13, tried to sell some of his illustrations -- with little success.
It was fortuitous that one summer in 1934, while playing baseball, he was approached by Norman Rockwell and asked to be the model for a Saturday Evening Post cover. He was so fascinated by working with Rockwell, he decided that he, too, would one day be an illustrator.
Rockwell helped Murphy map out his art education, and was instrumental in getting him a scholarship to the Phoenix Art Institute in New York City. He also insisted that Murphy study under his old teacher, the anatomist George Bridgman, at the Arts Student League in New York City.
When he was 17 years old and still in high school, Murphy sold his first illustration to a major fight promoter for Madison Square Garden. He received $15 each for his boxing illustrations, which were used to publicize matches.
In the late 1930s, before he was 20, Murphy sold his first cover illustration, to Columbia, the Knights of Columbus magazine, and was paid $75 for it. In 1940 he sold his first cover to the popular magazine Liberty.
Murphy entered the Army in 1941. He joined the 7th Infantry Regiment and was sent to Camp Stewart, Ga., where the unit was switched from infantry to anti-aircraft. Murphy went from private to major in two and a half years.
In addition to his Army duties, Murphy would draw pencil portraits of the guys for $1, and he painted portraits of the brass. He was painting a portrait of Douglas MacArthur's wife the day the general left to invade the Philippines.
His sketches of Japanese life were published in the Chicago Tribune. Upon his discharge, Murphy became a successful illustrator and cover artist for such magazines as Collier's, Sport, Reader's Digest, Holiday, Look and Esquire.
In 1949, comic strip writer Elliott Caplin of King Features approached Murphy with the idea for "Big Ben Bolt." The strip would last nearly 25 years.
Foster numbered the "Prince Valiant" pages from the very beginning, and Murphy took over in 1970 with No. 1760.
The strip is now a family affair. Murphy's son, Cullen, managing editor of The Atlantic Monthly, has written the strip since 1979. Cullen's sister, Meg Nash, does the coloring and lettering.
"We stand out because of meticulous drawing, artful lettering and interesting stories," Murphy says. "Hal Foster used to say that drawing can sell a strip right off the bat, but to keep it going you have to have good writing."
Murphy has been president of the National Cartoonists Society and has won its Best Story Strip Award a record six times. The society also awarded him the prestigious Elzie Segar trophy for his contributions to the art of cartooning, as well as the Silver T-Square for his outstanding service to the society.
Murphy lives with his wife, Joan, in Connecticut. The couple have eight children and 15 grandchildren.
Murphy continues to paint portraits. On his many travels, he has sketched and painted locales in France, Spain, England, Scotland, Ireland, Portugal and Italy. The landscapes and scenery are used as references in "Prince Valiant."
"Prince Valiant," distributed to 350 newspapers by King Features Syndicate, made its debut in 1937, and was an instant success. An epic tale of the days of King Arthur, Camelot and the Knights of the Round Table, "Prince Valiant" remains one of the classic strips to emerge from the Golden Age.
As the strip progressed, Val went from hot-blooded adventurer to crusader and family man as well. Married to Aleta, Queen of the Misty Isles, Val has fathered five children, and the strip has become as much a family saga as an adventure strip.
In 1974, after graduation with honors in medieval history from Amherst College, in Massachusetts, Cullen Murphy started contributing stories to the "Prince Valiant" strip at Hal Foster's invitation. With Foster's full retirement in 1979, Cullen began creating the weekly "Valiant" adventures in earnest.
Cullen Murphy was born Sept. 1, 1952, in New Rochelle, N.Y., the eldest of eight Murphy children. He is the managing editor of The Atlantic Monthly, a post he has held since 1985. Prior to that he was senior editor of the Wilson Quarterly and a contributor to such magazines as Harper's.
He lives in Massachusetts with his wife, Anna-Marie, and their three children, Jack, Anna and Tim. His interests include reading medieval history and writing about issues concerning the English language.
He is the author, with William Rathje, of "Rubbish! The Archaeology of Garbage," and the author of a collection of essays, "Just Curious," published by Houghton Mifflin.