Friday, April 9, 2010

The Phantom: A Ghost For All Seasons- Special Guest Post!

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:

It almost reminds me of Tarzan - but I was never a huge Tarzan fan. The Phantom was much, much tougher. Hmm. Come to think of it, this could also be the cover of an issue of The Savage Sword of Conan.
In the late 1980s, DC Comics got the idea of putting out their own version of The Phantom. They tried the title out by publishing a four issue mini-series. The artist of choice was Joe Orlando. Orlando was a classic comics artist who in the 1950s worked for legendary EC Comics and their line of horror comics. But when it came to The Phantom, well ... Orlando just couldn't handle the mission.
This mini-series was rather crappy, but it sold well enough to generate an ongoing, monthly Phantom comic. Here's the first issue:
Maybe it's just me, but doesn't this look kind of like, well ... "The Ghost Who Takes a Dump"?
The DC book was short lived, but after a few years, comics giant Marvel Comics stepped in. They had earlier in the 80s published the silly comic Defenders of the Universe, based on a Saturday morning cartoon. I remember that I 25 years ago or so asked the comic book store Metropolis in Stockholm to send me the worst comic they had. I received an issue of Defenders of the Universe. In this comic, The Phantom, Mandrake, Lothar, Flash Gordon and their children (!) fight Flash's arch enemy Ming of Mongo.
In the 1990s, another Phantom cartoon appeared on TV, one that also took place in the future: Phantom 2040. I used to catch it and it was decent, but it sure wasn't "my" Phantom, the real one. Marvel put out a comic book based on the show - and The Phantom looks like he's escaped from a freak show!
Later on, Marvel started an ongoing comic starring "our" Phantom, the "real" one. But this was of course Marvel's very own interpretation of The Phantom. Within short, the title went belly up and this cover says it all:
The publisher putting out The Phantom in the States right now is Moonstone, but they'll soon lose the rights to Dynamite, who threatens to alter the character dramatically. But the stuff Moonstone has put out is nothing to write home about. The comics are often curiously amateurish; they've tried to make a modern action comic and the results don't feel at all like The Phantom. And as usual, the artists have had problems drawing our hero. I don't know what the hell to say about this version (check out his Dumbo ears!):
...Or this Frazetta inspired piece of art:
It's not exactly ugly, but it isn't The Phantom, so to speak...
Okay: in Scandinavia, The Phantom is blue with red pants. In the U.S.A. and Australia, he's purple. What does he look like in the rest of the world? Like this, for example:
Yup, in Italy - where he's called L'Uomo Mascherato (The Masked Man) - he's red with light blue pants. He's looking like a damn traffic light running around in the jungle! Apparently he's red in England as well. Here's another Italian example.
The sadistic killer The Crimson Executioner (Mickey Hargitay) in the Italian B-movie classic BLOODY PIT OF HORROR seems to be heavily inspired by the Italian Phantom.
Rather surprising, The Phantom is extremely popular in India, of all countries. It seems like his Indian comic is published both in Hindi (or whatever it is):

...and in English (and talk about "bad"):
But seriously, what kind of strange cover is this? "The Playmate"? It sure sounds kinky... What the hell are they up to over there in India?

_ Pidde Andersson

You can also read this and other articles and reviews by Pidde at


  1. Very cool post!
    Looks like The Ghost Who Blogs now has a Ghost-Writer Who Blogs!!
    Heh heh...
    Seriously, great job by Mr. Andersson sharing his Phantom experiences, and taking a look at Phantoms around the globe.

    Aaron (and Pidde), having myself grown up in the USA, part of your post would explain why I have not until very recently come to appreciate the Phantom. The reason? I only saw the Phantom in an occasional Sunday newspaper funnies section, and those times were few and far between. I rarely if ever saw a Phantom comic book, and judging from the examples shared here, I may not have wanted to. Perhaps if here in the USA the Phantom was presented better, there would be an even larger following.

    Thanks for exposing me to the magical awesomeness that is The Phantom!

  2. The pleasure is all mine! Glad you enjoyed my article.

  3. I come from Australia and often read the phantom, and I think that they are published quite well for what you pay for. (They're only $2.50.)

  4. jack56473o: The opinions expressed by Mr. Andersson do not necessarily reflect those of The Ghost Who Blogs. I, personally, am aware that FREW long ago switched to a more durable, glossy cover stock and a nicer interior paper. While color would be nice, I found the quality acceptable.

  5. I think in terms of Moonstone work, they were certainly off in the beginning, but the later years picked it up and gave us a worthy addition to the Phantom mythos. I personally love "Legacy" apart from some points.

    The DC run and the Marvel 3 issue mini were great. What Marvel did is in a way how you can update the costume and yet make it looks like the same as always. Have no idea if the artist (who had a strong Brian Bolland vibe) was the one who designed it, but it looked great.

    Charlton as well, had great stuff. Mainly the awesome Aparo and Newton runs, short as they may have been, were the stuff classics are made of.

  6. The 1-3 issue Marvel storyline wasn't the best, but it introduce some interesting ideas for a Phantom living in modern times like
    A darker purple costume
    Body armor
    Inferred sights in his mask
    Computer wrist bands
    Scopes and laser sights on his handguns

    I'll take that 22nd Phantom over Dynamite's version any day.