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.
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?
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