Hey, gang! I have a special treat for you today. And, since I don't really have to write anything, it's a special treat for me as well! Our "Swedish Correspondent", writer Pidde Andersson recently wrote an arts and entertainment piece on The Phantom and he agreed to let me post it on my blog. (Thanks, Pidde!) So, after persuading Pidde to translate his article from Swedish to English (Google Translator's version was vaguely coherent and highly -but unintentionally-humorous) here we go...
The Phantom: A Ghost For All Seasons
A couple of weeks ago, I ended up at a friend's place after some beers in the pub. This guy is a huge fan of The Phantom - the comic strip character. It was in the middle of the night and he took out an album from the 1960s with Swedish artist Robert Broberg. On the LP was a song called "Fantomen" ("The Phantom") and the lyrics were printed on the convolute. My friend had actually asked Broberg about this song when he performed here in Malmö recently, but Broberg had absolutely no memories of writing and recording it. Before I went home, we played the song a second time and sang the lyrics along with Broberg. Robert Broberg's "Fantomen" begins "Fantomen han har en trikå som är blå", which means (my translation and interpretation to fit the melody): "The Phantom, he's wearing tights that are blue".
But it's only in Scandinavia he has blue tights and red pants. Phantom creator, writer Lee Falk himself had never really thought about what colors his hero should wear when he created the character as a black and white daily strip in 1936 with art by Ray Moore. Sometimes I've read that Falk imagined some kind of camouflage suit, sometimes just a gray one. But when it was time for the full color Sunday pages to see the light of day, The Phantom showed up dressed in purple tights and blue pants.
I may be wrong, but after what I've heard, they had problems printing these colors in Sweden - and he ended up blue. In the beginning he was baby blue, but the color has gotten darker by the years.
The Phantom is the most well-known and popular action-adventure character in Scandinavia and especially Sweden. The Swedish comic book; Fantomen, is celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2010. What's interesting with this book is that since the last 40 years, it mainly features Phantom comics produced in Scandinavia.
The very first issue I bought was number 18/1976 - I couldn't resist the extremely cool cover (I'll get back to that one a little later in this article). But I actually had a Fantomen publication before that; the 1972 Christmas special (dated 1973 on its cover). I don't know where I got it from, but it contained two American Sunday adventures with art by Sy Barry. I found one of them - the one about the Goola-Goola witch - very thrilling. Not to mention the cover by Rolf Gohs. As a little kid, I thought it was rather scary. Just look:
Old covers of Fantomen often make me nostalgic. Even the ones for issues I never had and therefore haven't read. Each year, they had - and still have - the Best Cover of the Year contest, and in the issue with the ballot, they reprint all of the covers. I looked at them and my imagination went wild, some of those adventures must be extremely cool. Take this issue, for example - take a wild guess if I wanted to get hold of this one:
I liked The Phantom, I liked Westerns. What could be better than the Phantom as a gunslinger? But I don't think I ever got hold of this issue.
The cover that was voted Best Cover of 1976 was reprinted as a poster that came with an issue during 1977. Even though I hadn't read that adventure, I had the poster on my wall. It's a beautiful piece of art and I still wonder what Mr. Walker was up to in that story. Who's that hot chick he's picked up in the desert?
During 1977 I bought Fantomen regularly while saving money for a subscription. I remember one cover from this year very well. it was extremely suggestive and a bit creepy. However, back in 1977 I didn't get the title of the episode; "Kalisekten" - The Kali Sect. I didn't know who Kali was and what a sect was. And I didn't know how to pronounce it.
The cover for the adventure that tells the story of how The Phantom got his skull ring is a classic that has been reused several times. This cover was voted best of 1977 and ended up on my wall next to the Son of the Desert. I got this issue one day when I was going to sleep over at my grandparents. I remember lying in their twin bed in their rather dark home. It smelled of tobacco and I read this dark, atmospheric episode.
I was always looking forward to the next issue of my favorite comics when I was a kid. I found the ads for the next issue very tempting. Sometimes I could hardly wait. I remember the little ad for an adventure called "Skelettkusten" ("The Skeleton Coast"). A picture of The Phantom tied up on a beach while giant crabs crawled towards him. Whoah! That's the coolest thing I've ever seen! I remember actually telling other people how incredibly cool the next issue of Fantomen should be. Nobody gave a shit. Here's the über-cool cover:
I've actually no memories of Fantomen 5/1978 and the story "Schakalen" (The Jackal") - apparently, it's about the foreign legion. But the amazing cover was voted Best of the Year and ended up on my wall. By this year, I was subscribing.
Okay, let's have a look at Fantomen 18/1976, the first issue I bought. Now, this is one tough cover painting! And the adventure it's illustrating, "Vråkar över Vacul" ("Vultures over Vacul") by Norman Worker and Jaime Vallvé, was a dark, moody and a little scary story. Here's the Swedish cover:
...And here's the amazingly crappy cover for the Australian edition:
As you maybe know, The Phantom is incredibly popular in Australia. The Australian comic is published by a company called FREW and contains among other things the material produced by Team Fantomen in Sweden. I've never hold an actual copy of FREW's comic in my hand, but everybody says it's a cheaply made product with lousy printing on lousy paper. Most of all, the edition often has really ugly covers - quite often, they've just enlarged or copied (badly) a panel from the issue's episode. Okay, this cover is pretty fun:
As you can see, The Phantom is purple in Australia, just like he is in the U.S.A., but his pants seem to be purple as well.
Even if The Phantom is an American comic, the character is more or less forgotten in his home country. Every now and then throughout the decades, attempts have been made to put out comic books with original material on the American market, but none of them have been very successful. Quite often, the stories have been rather odd; it's like the writers don't know the character, it's obvious they didn't grow up having The Phantom as one of their favorite characters. And the artwork has often been weirdly awkward - unlike the artist hired by Team Fantomen, the ones working for the American books have had problems drawing The Phantom himself and his pretty strange costume. The Phantom often looks extremely funny.
When the good, old publisher Gold Key put out their Phantom comic, they had really nice covers. Painted and attractive. It's just that The Phantom is funny looking on them. Here's one example:
And he looks hilarious on this one:
Note that The Phantom on the cover above wears the skull ring on his ring finger, something he actually did in the very first adventures - back in the 1930s.
Here's a third cover, on which the Ghost who Walks (with strangely visible ears and the stripes on his pants going in the wrong direction) has ended up in the same situation as Conan in the first Conan movie, in other words: he's chained to the Wheel of Pain:
After Gold Key, it was classic publisher Charlton's turn to give The Phantom a try. Well... I really don't know what to say about this:
But this cover is really cool and would've made a great poster for my room when I was a kid:
_ Pidde Andersson
You can also read this and other articles and reviews by Pidde at Xomba.com: