My "Phantom" Thoughts
Many people who have read my recent editorial in Oi Oi Oi! #6, may believe that I harbour a deep animosity towards The Phantom comic and all who work within their Sydney office. I thought today I could attempt to dispel those myths and let it publically be known where exactly I stand.
Although the comic is published in Australia, I personally do not consider it an Aussie comic. The character is licenced from an American company. For the main, the comic reprints stories that have been published earlier in its publishing life or from comics first published in Scandinavia or from daily and Sunday newspaper strips collated into comics from its American syndicate. I consider the publication in the same light as I would former Australian reprint companies like Murray Comics or even the present company that endlessly reprint comics based on the television show, The Simpsons. (For those who can remember, Murray was a Sydney company that reprinted mostly large black and white volumes of what we now know as DC Comic characters.) When I, as Comicoz, eventually get around to reprinting and updating John Ryan's Panel by Panel volume, there will be little detailed analysis of The Phantom comic (or of any other organisation that reprints non-Australian material).
I particularly find the present practise of reprinting The Phantom's first 200 issues (from Issue 200 chronologically down to its First Issue) exactly as the comics first appeared, including the advertisements of the day, appalling. Sure, I can understand that the earlier issues are rare and hard to find - and when found, are not cheap to purchase - and that Collectors will appreciate the opportunity to have them in their collection. But the fact that the decision was made to reprint the comics as they first appeared seems somewhat hypocritical, to my thinking, when editorially the more recent editions of the comic boast at how they are now reprinting and correcting older versions of the comic that previously had panels edited out or that were incomplete. What might have been a better approach (in my opinion), might have been the complete and unabridged reprinting of the newspaper strip consecutively from the 1936 beginning. Had these been collated in volumes like the Replica Series, not only would the local Phantom Phans have been satisfied, but I believe there would have been a greater overseas demand for the comic, particularly from US Comic Historians. As it sits, it seems to be an opportunity lost.
Rather than everyone thinking that this writing is pure professional jealousy on my part, however, I thought I should acknowledge aspects about Frew's Phantom run that I admire. Let's face it, you don't get to publish 1,768 issues (and counting) of a magazine -- any magazine, let alone a comic magazine -- in Australia, or even the world, without doing something right! The Phantom's fantastic unbroken run just has to be admired...it is an astonishing achievement. Present Publisher, Dudley Hogarth, in Issue numbered #1740 (44 pages, out on sale now at most newsagents, for $5) acknowledges his predecessor Jim Shepherd in his editorial. "There is never a day in this office that I am not reminded of his legacy either by direct reference ie Jim did it this way, or simply because his cheery smile is beaming at me from a photograph taken many years ago..." (Dudley's italics).
For those that feel I am antagonistic towards the people behind the publishers, let me assure you this is far from the truth! Jim Shepherd was most supportive of my Air Hawk comic book venture in the late 1980s, even allowing me to run an advertisement for Issue #7 (that never saw print). Jim also harboured a desire to write comic stories. He was most enthusiastic about that idea becoming a reality when I once visited his Sydney office. He informed me that King Features (the syndicate behind The Phantom) had agreed to allow him to write a Phantom story based in Australia. The story in the current issue is the fourth story that Jim wrote (reprinted and 'remastered' from its original appearance in #1131 in 1996). The artwork, by Sydney-based Glenn Ford, is full of energy and still shines today. (I particularly like the splash panel on page 6, and the sequence on page 33. The pub scene on pages 10 and 11 is the best example of Jim and Glenn working in sync. It's a good read!)
For all my criticism of The Phantom, personally I do believe Jim continued to change the comic during his tenure, and for the better. Jim allowed a wider variety of Australian artists to illustrate the covers, a practise I am pleased to say that continues to this day. He was keen to expand Frew's boundaries, publishing a short run of Mandrake comics that ultimately proved unsuccessful. For reasons that I can only put down to the fact that it is a good read, The Phantom continues to do well in Australia. I confess, I read it as a child: and enjoyed it! Certainly, most major newspapers around the country carry the daily strip. (I am unsure if that is because of the popularity of the comic, or whether the comic continues its popularity because of the strip. For today's readers, what comes first?)
Long-time readers of this Blog will remember my writing, when I was reporting Jim's sudden passing, wondering how the future would go for the comic. I have yet to communicate with Dudley, although I shall do so after this posting, even if to alert him to these comments of mine. I have been pleased with his editorials to date. (I know how hard they can be to write, and I only have to write quarterly ones in Oi Oi Oi!) His frequent two page letter columns (appearing in most issues) are friendly, and give readers a sense of belonging to a community.
And yet, having acknowledged those positives about The Phantom, I am somehow left expecting more. As Australia's longest published comic, appearing on the newsstands more frequently than any other local comic, I see so much potential that the publication could offer the local scene. There could be a section in The Phantom devoted to some of the comic or zine-related activities happening in Australia, or there could be reviews about (or even links to) some of the locally produced comics. I had planned for OiOiOi! to do just that, and I acknowledge my own hypocrisy in making these suggestions -- I know from my own editorial experience that sometimes there just isn't time. Sometimes there is only time to get the next issue ready...
Another thing that I would like The Phantom editorial team to consider (and if Dudley reads this far, maybe he could give it some thought): allowing back-up comic stories, maybe not related to The Phantom. There are so many Australian artists and cartoonists who are looking to see their tales told. Here, at least, I know I am not being a hypocrite! I know Oi Oi Oi! allows this to happen, but I believe there is more room for more players in the market place to do this. If this latest issue of The Phantom can carry an Australian writer and artist, why not every issue running (say) five to eight pages of original Aussie comic stories?
If you want to support a project getting a locally produced Australian comic featuring Aussie Artists and Cartoonists regularly on the newsstands, please click here for more information:
Comicoz is Nat Karmichael's publishing imprint. Nat is committed to preserving a permanent collection of Australian comic and comic strips. He feels that there is a need to recognise comics' contribution to and depiction of Australian culture.
Since 2011, Nat has self-published over twelve comic-related books and was Publisher-Editor of
Oi Oi Oi! -- the last series of nationally-distributed comic books of original stories to appear on Australian newsstands. He is a member of the Australian Cartoonists Association and edited the Association's journal Inkspot for 14 issues from late 2015. For numerous years he was the Lead Judge in the Ledger of Honour Awards for the Comic Arts Awards of Australia (formerly the Ledgers). These days Nat dreams of retiring from his occupation as a Clinical Nurse in the Psychiatric Emergency Centre in Queensland's largest public hospital, so that he can spend more time with his long-suffering wife and their six children and fourteen grandchildren. And perhaps publish some more comic-related books.
Comicoz acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay respects to elders, past, present, and emerging, and extend that respect to all First Nations peoples.
Australian Publications since 1976:
1 x Poster
19 x comics (one a co-production with Cyclone Comics in 1988/9, one a co-production with Cowtown Comics in 2022)
2 x Paperback books
10 x Hardcover books