July 3, 2004 by

John Cullen Murphy


Categories: Artists

John Cullen Murphy, the illustrator who drew the “Prince Valiant” comic strip for more than three decades, died on July 2 of natural causes. He was 85.
Murphy always wanted to be a baseball player, but when his neighbor, illustrator Norman Rockwell, asked him to model for a “Saturday Evening Post” cover, he decided to become an illustrator instead. Under Rockwell’s tutelage, Murphy earned a scholarship to the Phoenix Art Institute in New York. His first professional assignment was drawing sports cartoons that were used to promote boxing matches at Madison Square Garden.
Murphy continued drawing during World War II. While serving with the Army in the South Pacific, he sold some of his illustrations to the Chicago Tribune. After returning to the states, Murphy drew publicity pictures for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and began illustrating articles and stories in magazines such as Look, Collier’s Sport, Reader’s Digest and Esquire. When his magazine prospects started to dry up, Murphy spent 20 years illustrating the boxer comic strip “Big Ben Bolt” for King Features.
In 1970, he joined forces with Hal Foster to illustrate the historical comic strip, “Prince Valiant.” Murphy illustrated the strip for 34 years, and turned the project into a family affair. His son, Cullen Murphy, has written the text of the strip since 1979. Cullen is also the editor of The Atlantic Monthly. His daughter, Mairead “Meg” Nash, provided the strip’s lettering and coloring. Syndicated in more than 300 newspapers nationwide, “Prince Valiant” has spawned three feature films and numerous book collections. Murphy retired from the strip’s daily duties in March; “Prince Valiant” is currently illustrated by Gary Gianni.
The former president of the National Cartoonists Society, Murphy won the organization’s “Best Story Strip” award six times.

10 Responses to John Cullen Murphy

  1. Robert Wood

    John Was/Is, my hero. I did a wood carving of his letter head that was of the Monkey used on his letter head and contained his address number “14” which he put on his house. I hope his family saves the carving to remember him.
    Good by dear fellow,
    I will miss you.
    Love ya’
    Robert Dean Wood

  2. Jack Helvey

    I sure miss John and the Prince Valiant comics.
    John sent me Prince Valiant years ago (it still hangs in my Den) through my daughter Jackie Helvey which she knew Finn (I think)which was one of Johns sons. Miss you so John!
    Jack Helvey
    4274 E 1000 N
    Logansport,In 46947

  3. Henrik of Havn

    I first saw the film “Prince Valiant” in the mid 1950’s. I insisted my mother have the local lumberyard make me a shield. I made a wooden sword and “beat up” my playmates with it. I started reading the sunday Prince Valiant after that and have ever since. In 1966 I went to the first gathering of what has become a nationwide organization dedicated recreating medieval culture, including the time of Prince Valiant. In March , 1967 I rode a horse fully armored like Prince Valiant , with round shield, mail hauberk and conical iron helm with copper banded rim, while wearing a sword and couching a steel pointed lance, for the first time. Most recently I rode in the same type of armor while reenacting the Battle of Hastings along with 3500 other reenactors at the original battle site at Battle Abbey , Sussex, England, on October 14,2006 – commemorating the 940th anniversary of the victory of Duke William of Normandy over the defeated and dead Harold Godwinson, the King of England.
    Hal Foster and subsequently John Cullen Murphy gave me a continuing and lifelong inspiration to investigate and research the life and times of medieval people, especially the European warrior class known as Knights and men at arms. I styled my first attempts to recreate this culture on the armor weaponry and clothing depicted in the Prince Valiant comic strip. Later through subsequent historical research I found that a lot of the details in Prince Valiant, although sometimes not of the same historical time periods, were generally more accurate than most other contemporary media depictions such as Hollywood medieval films. With care the strip can be a useful resource for details of the historical time and events depicted.
    I have always been a fan of John Cullen Murphy’s continuation of the Prince Valiant strip and will miss his great artistic talent.
    Henrik of Havn (my actual birthplace, now known as Kopen-havn ( Copenhagen).

  4. Sven H G Lagerstrom

    When I first met Jack and Joan in their home in 1980, Jack was working on Prince Valiant page No 2289 with one of those big pictures covering two thirds of the page. On my next visit, two years later, he gave this original to me. I have enjoyed it for 25 years now in my working room. We met a couple of times later when I visited the USA. The last time I spoke to Jack over the phone was in April of 2004. He told me that he had retired and added “after all I will be 85 next week”. Shortly after I got the bad news. I am glad and honored to have met him, his wife, and four of his children, Cullen, Meg, Brendan and Finn.
    Sven H G Lagerström, Boras, Sweden, PV fan for more than sixty years

  5. Freddy Ryan

    I run the Grand Ave. Boxing Club which is home to 12 professional boxers and 2 teams of amateurs..I also collect boxing memorabilia,I seek any momentos of the Renowned Ringsmen of Yesteryear..Today I stopped at a garage sale near my home here in Portland and a print in bad shape was offered. It was a well done drawing of Joe Louis standing over an opponent..Its actually quite dramatic..I bought it and brought it home and ran my little search on the Artist who seemed to have a bit of name familiarity and had signed this; John Cullen Murphy..Oh Gracious, I have been adventuring with Prince Valiant for 50 years..Of a Sunday, its my first endeavor, to see what prince Valiant is up to…But now, could you please-please give me any reference on boxing art that Mr. Murphy has done and any info on this particular print..Was he a Boxing Aficianado ?…I hope to hear…Freddy Ryan, Portland

  6. Julie Koshlap

    Today I read that this is the 3,700th Sunday for Prince Valiant. I am 81 years old and have been reading Prince Valiant ever since I can remember. I presume that it is 71 years that I have done so. I enjoy the strip as much today as when I was a child. Thank you all who are involved in this beautiful comic strip.

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