Vale – Lindsay Walker, Phantom cover artist

b871ed_594903f4a6324e8789769408225e9505-mv2Lindsay C. Walker, an Australian artist who, in recent years worked on several Phantom comic-book projects, took her own life on 27 September, 2016. This sad news came just as her first-ever cover for the Australian edition of The Phantom comic book went on sale last month.

Walker, a transgender woman, first came to the attention of Phantom “phans” when she produced two covers for Moonstone Graphics‘ relaunched version of The Phantom: Ghost Who Walks comic book in 2009-2010. These early works are attributed to the name Mick Collins. She was subsequently commissioned by online retailer The Phantom’s Vault to illustrate the Australian variant cover for Hermes Press’ newest edition of The Phantom (Issue #3B).

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Walker, who named herself after The Phantom’s alter ego, “Kit Walker”, was a popular artist among Australian “phans”, and produced several private and commissioned pieces depicting The Phantom.

Lindsay spoke frequently about her work, and her experience transitioning. You can download her interview with Joe Douglas from the first-ever ChroncicleChamber/X-Band podcast in 2013, along with her appearance on the Geek Girl podcast from 2014.You can also read a transcript of her interview for Monica Kowalska’s Heroines of My Life blog.

Fans of The Phantom who wish to make donations to Lindsay’s partner, Kim, and their three children, Ariel, Eloise and Evelyn, may do so here.

(This blog post draws on material previously published at ChronicleChamber.com)

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Vale – Peter Chapman, Australian Comic-Book Artist (1925-2016)

chapman_fotoPeter Chapman, a veteran Australian comic-book artist, died on June 22, 2016, in his  hometown of Narrabri, New South Wales, where he had lived and taught art since 1971. He was 91 years old.

Chapman’s career spanned the “golden age” of Australian comics, first working as a comic-book writer and artist for Frank Johnson Publications (Sydney) in the mid-1940s. In time, he became one of the most prolific comic-book artists of the post-war era, but he is best known for his enduring association with Frew Publications, which has published the Australian edition of The Phantom since 1948, making it the oldest, longest-running Phantom comic magazine in the world.

In the early 1950s, Chapman took over as writer and illustrator of The Phantom Ranger and The Shadow, both of which were originally created for Frew Publications by expatriate British artist, Jeff Wilkinson, in 1949-1950. Chapman’s work on The Phantom Ranger was reprinted under license in the United Kingdom in the 1950s, while his version of The Shadow – no relation to the famous American pulp-magazine hero of the same name – was translated into Portuguese for the Brazilian market during this period as well.

sir-falcon-9-frewChapman also created, wrote and illustrated Sir Falcon, another popular superhero title for Frew Publications, which was heavily modelled on The Phantom, which still remained the company’s best-selling title. Chapman also drew occasional covers for the regular series of The Phantom comic magazine, along with cover illustrations for Giant Size Phantom Comic in the late 1950s.

Chapman remained as writer-artist on Sir Falcon, The Phantom Ranger, and The Shadow, until the early 1960s, when Frew Publications began scaling back its range of Australian-drawn comics to focus on their best-selling title, The Phantom, and other licensed reprints of American comics. The Phantom Ranger and The Shadow remained in publication until the early 1970s, albeit comprised of reprints of earlier editions, many of which were originally drawn by Chapman.

Following the collapse of Australia’s comic-book industry in the early 1960s, Chapman turned to commercial illustration, initially working as  greeting card illustrator for John Sands, and producing book illustrations for selected Australian publishers. After relocating to Narrabri, New South Wales, in 1971, Chapman took up art instruction at regional TAFE (Technical and Further Education) colleges, and toured regional New South Wales as a self-employed art teacher.

Peter Chapman received a Ledger of Honour, in recognition of his lifetime contribution to Australian comics, at the Ledger Awards held in Melbourne, Australia, on April 15, 2016. You can read my 2007 interview with Peter Chapman at ChronicleChamber.com. Chapman was interviewed on film by curator Dr Peter Doyle (Macquarie University) for the Pulp Confidential exhibition held at the State Library of New South Wales in 2015 (Peter Chapman photo courtesy of Lambiek. Sir Falcon cover image courtesy of AusReprints).

Changing of the Guard at Frew Publications

Article%20Lead%20-%20narrow1005217542gmqde6image_related_articleLeadNarrow_353x0_gmhati_png1455374121725_jpg-300x0The last few months of 2015 proved to be tumultuous for Frew Publications, the Australian publisher of The Phantom comic magazine. Dudley Hogarth had only recently taken over the reigns as editor from Steve Shepherd (son of the late Jim Shepherd), when Judith Shepherd announced she would standing down as Managing Director of Frew Publications in December 2015. This announcement was published in The Phantom, #1744 – the 2015 Christmas Special, which went on sale in Australia and New Zealand on 17 December, 2015.

And then…nothing. Weeks passed, and no further issues of The Phantom were to be seen in newsagents or comic-book stores anywhere. Frew Publications posted an announcement on their website, indicating that publication had been temporarily delayed, but assured readers that production would resume in the very near future. With no further details forthcoming, the rumour mill went into overdrive. Had Frew Publications gone out of business? Was this the end of The Phantom comic book in Australia? What would happen to readers’ outstanding subscriptions?

ChronicleChamber.com released an episode of its X-Band podcast on 22 January, 2016, where the announcers disclosed that changes were underway at Frew Publications, and assured listeners that Frew Publications had not closed its doors. But still rumours about the company’s – and The Phantom’s – future continued to circulate on Facebook pages dedicated to The Phantom.

Readers’ concerns appeared to be laid to rest yesterday (Tuesday, 16 February 2016), when Glenn Ford – a frequent cover artist on The Phantom comic book – posted an announcement on Frew Publications’ Facebook page. The full text is reproduced here:

I can FINALLY announce that Rene White and I are the new owners of Frew.

Our apologies to everyone who has been ‘curious’ about the state of the company and thank you all for your patience. The last month has been quite a ‘journey’.

By way of a quick explanation, I can say the following: As I’m sure most of you are aware, the business of printing the Frew Phantom comic involves two things, there’s the business owned by Frew, the company, and there is the Phantom licence, granted by King Features Syndicate. One is not much good without the other.

We were approached last year, by Frew’s proprietor and asked if we were interested in buying the business and taking over the licence. There were other interested parties, but we threw our collective hat into the ring, as well. Unfortunately for us, early last December, we were told that one of the other interested parties had been granted the licence. We were disappointed, of course, but went on with our lives.

We were then contacted by KFS in mid-January and asked if we were still interested as the other party had changed his mind and had backed out. We then went into negotiations with KFS, who wanted the contract revised. This took a month of to-ing and fro-ing, but we have all reached an agreement. We are all happy and the licence is now signed.

We were not able to make an announcement of any sort, until after we had successfully completed negotiations with KFS, as well as the proprietor of Frew.

Dudley’s original message still applies: Issue #1745 will be available on February 25. We have just pushed the GO button at the printer’s. The printing will be finished this Wednesday. The pick-up and delivery by Gordon and Gotch, however, takes a week. It is taken to a central warehouse and then distributed, from there, throughout Australia and New Zealand.

The 2016 Annual (issue #1746) will follow pretty quickly – and yes, there will be an 80th Anniversary Special. We are working on this now and we are hoping to knock your socks off with it! Other announcements and publishing schedule information will be made available as soon as it’s confirmed.

Now to the ‘punch line’: We are delighted that Dudley is staying. Between the three of us, we are confident that we can not only maintain the quality that Jim and Judith Shepherd established, many years ago, but also continue the legacy for many, many years to come. We have a lot of ideas, some of which, we hope, will surprise you and some we feel are expected and perhaps long overdue.

The most important aspect of all of this, though, is that YOU now have an opportunity to get your voice heard. If we are to grow this business, we need to hear from you. To this end, we intend to make our website and Facebook page a bit more reactive and responsive. Letters, emails, faxes, smoke signals, etc, are not only welcome but encouraged – we need the feedback. Do we need a forum – and if so, in what form? This may even lead to polls, surveys, competitions – anything which will give us an idea of what you want – and constructive contributions will be rewarded with prizes. We are still formulating a lot of this – it’s early days – but we are excited.

It’s going to be a good year for the Phantom!!!

The announcement coincided with the 80th anniversary of The Phantom comic strip, which was widely covered by Australian newspapers, including The Sydney Morning Herald, and The Advertiser (South Australia). Frew Publications will resume production of The Phantom later this month (commencing with issue #1745), and will release a special 80th anniversary edition of The Phantom (see accompanying image) shortly thereafter.

While Australian “phans” are no doubt relieved by this news, this announcement points to intriguing new creative possibilities for The Phantom and Frew Publications – not least because we now have a former Australian artist on The Phantom comic book appointed a co-owner of the company which has produced this magazine since 1948. Glenn Ford has been an active figure in Australian comics fandom since the mid-to-late 1970s, and launched The Phantom Zone chain of comic book/pop culture retail stores in 1989. It will be interesting to see whether Glenn Ford and his team (Dudley Hogarth has been retained as editor) can successfully chart new directions for Frew Publications and The Phantom comic magazine in a challenging (digital) media environment.

Phantom Logic @ Hopscotch Friday

adventures_3Following Nat Karmichael’s recent comments about Frew Publications and The Phantom, and their place in Australian comics culture, comic-book writer and pop culture observer Emmet O’Cuana has posted a timely rebuttal on the Hopscotch Friday website/blog (You can read this piece, titled “Phantom Logic”, here). While this debate will most likely be of greatest interest to Australian comic books, I think it’s also a good example of how The Phantom – who is, after all, an American-created hero – has come to assume far greater cultural significance beyond the United States. There have been very few countries in Europe, Latin America and Asia which have not, at various times, published localised editions of The Phantom since the end of World War Two. However, it could be argued that The Phantom has enjoyed greater popularity, and wielded far greater commercial& cultural influence, in Australia, Sweden and (to a lesser extent) India, than any other country (or group of countries). Read, learn, and enjoy, Phantom “phans”! (Image courtesy of The Deep Woods website).

Frew’s Phantom Cover Makeovers

The Phantom comic book, like all forms of genre-bound entertainment, adheres to a formula which blends novelty and familiarity in near-equal measure. We know that, in most instances, when we open an issue of The Phantom, there is a good chance the story will be set in the jungles of Bangalla; that “The Ghost Who Walks” will be confronted by a new threat to himself, his family, or to the jungle domain he is duty-bound to protect; and that, after surmounting overwhelming odds or dangerous obstacles, The Phantom will use his quick wits, finely-honed instincts and sheer physical strength to overcome evildoers (whose jaws will, at some point, come into contact with the Skull Ring worn on his right fist).

In the Australian context, part of the enduring appeal of The Phantom comic  magazine (produced continually by Frew Publications since September 1948) must be attributed to its regularity (each new issue goes on sale every fortnight with clockwork regularity), its ubiquity (there would be very few newsagents or newsstands in Australia which didn’t stock this comic), and – at least until the mid-1980s – its visual familiarity. Since the early 1950s, Frew Publications seldom departed from its tried & tested cover design formula, wherein the reddish-orange “Phantom” logo would be plastered across the uniform blue backdrop, punctuated by the barest hint of background detail – the hint of jungle foliage, the deck of a boat, or a glimpse of a brick wall. The purple-costumed Phantom stood out in stark relief against this purposefully bland background, which was no doubt a useful sales technique which ensured that The Phantom got noticed amidst the once-crowded comic book sections of retail newsagency outlets and on newsstand racks.

Yet even within this limited visual palette, Frew Publications began updating the visual appearance of The Phantom throughout the 1960s, arguably in response to increased competition from full-colour, imported American comic books, which had been readmitted to Australian shores in 1960, after a wartime ban on their importation(imposed in 1939-1940) had been lifted after two decades. While Frew Publications freely adapted cover designs used on contemporaneous American editions of The Phantom, only rarely did the company reprint any actual stories from these 1960s-era American editions (It is most likely that Frew Publications would have used its exclusive rights to publish The Phantom comic book in Australia – secured from King Feature Syndicate’s Australian representatives, the Yaffa Syndicate – to ensure that these American versions of The Phantom were not resold in Australia). Consider the following comparison between (left) The Phantom, No.11 (Gold Key/Western Publishing, 1965), and (right) The Phantom, No.349 (Frew Publications, 1967):

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The cover on the left, rendered in vibrant colour, was painted by acclaimed American illustrator, George Wilson. The cover on the right clearly borrowed the foreground figures from the Gold Key edition, but Frew’s (anonymous) cover artist dispensed with the dramatic background created by Wilson, in favour of the featureless blue backdrop. Frew Publications was still using paper covers on The Phantom, which could not adequately reproduce the rich, four-colour artwork seen on the glossy-covered Gold Key comic. This was entirely in keeping with Frew’s frugal production values, which relied on a limited palette of bold, flat covers – such as purple, green and orange – which could be printed on flimsy paper covers.

Frew Publications would, on occasion, attempt to reproduce the full-colour American cover designs more faithfully, while omitting some visual elements which bore no relation to the contents of a specific issue of The Phantom, as seen in these two covers. Once again, the cover on the left (The Phantom, No 7, Gold Key/Western Publishing, 1964) is painted by George Wilson. Frew Publications’ (again, uncredited) cover artist has redrawn Wilson’s design as a black-line illustration, but has removed the background figures of the “super apes” appearing in the American story. The issue shown here (No.350, 1967) actually contained two entirely different Phantom stories: “The Marshall Sisters” (Part 1) and “Adventure in Algiers” (Part 1).

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Why did Frew Publications freely adapt elements of these Gold Key cover designs, without reproducing any of the interior stories for their Australian readers? Oddly enough, Frew Publications did reprint two Gold Key stories – “The Rattle” and “The Test” (originally published in The Phantom, No.2 [1963], and each drawn by Bill Lignante) – in The Phantom (No.236), back in 1963. I suspect it was because the Gold Key stories – which typically ran between 12-15 pages each – were not sufficiently long enough to flesh out Frew’s 32-page editions (which carried little or no advertising), and thus required more pages of artwork per issue. Cost may have also been a factor – did the licensing fees for using these newer American stories, prepared specifically for comic magazines, greatly exceed the licensing fees incurred to reproduce older newspaper strip episodes of The Phantom?

Whatever the reason, these austere adaptations of American cover designs did, in their own way, reflect Frew Publications’ modest efforts to update and modernise the outward appearance of The Phantom comic book. It could be argued that this process began when Frew first published the work of American artist, Sy Barry, who bought a more dramatic and realistic style to The Phantom newspaper comic strip in 1961 (Barry’s first daily newspaper Phantom story, “The Slave Market of Mucar”, was reprinted by Frew Publications in The Phantom, Nos.212-213 [1962]). This continued to be the case throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, as Frew Publications took greater efforts to produce more “modern” cover designs that mirrored Barry’s dynamic, muscular interpretation of The Phantom (Frew would often use Barry’s artwork as the basis for their cover designs). The way it did so was a reflection of the enforced economies of Australia’s comic-book publishing industry, which by this time was struggling to compete with television, radio and popular music for the attention of the youth audience that increasingly spurned comics in favour of more exciting forms of electronic entertainment (mages courtesy of Comic Vine, the Grand Comics Database and MyComicShop.com).

Tribute to John Dixon (1929-2015) – Frew Publications comic artist

5454592_origI have belatedly learned of the recent death of John Dangar Dixon (pictured left, early 1970s), one of Australia’s leading comic artists, who died in Bonsall, California, on 7 May 2015. His name may not be widely known amongst Australian “phans” of The Phantom, but during his long career, John Dixon made a memorable, although brief, contribution to Frew Publications, the Australian company responsible for producing the world’s longest-running edition of The Phantom comic book.

Although he was arguably best known for the internationally syndicated newspaper comic strip, Air Hawk & the Flying Doctor (1959-1986), Dixon enjoyed his earliest success as a comic-book author and illustrator, creating the aviator-adventure series, Tim Valour Comic (pictured below), for publisher H.J. Edwards (Sydney, Australia) in 1948. This was soon followed by a costumed superhero series, The Crimson Comet, created for the same publisher in 1949. Both titles would go on to become two of Australia’s longest-running, and best-selling comic book series, and each were exported to Great Britain during the 1950s – a remarkable achievement for any Australian comic book, then and now.

7272707_origRon Forsyth, one of the co-founders of Frew Publications – which has published the Australian edition of The Phantom since 1948 – was impressed by Dixon’s work and hired him to redesign and relaunch one the company’s earlier superhero titles, Catman, in 1958. Dixon also drew several issues of Sir Falcon, a modern-day knight created by Peter Chapman (which was heavily modelled on The Phantom) during the late 1950s. Dixon also illustrated several covers for Frew’s Giant Size Phantom Comic during this period, but sadly, never had the opportunity to draw his own version of The Phantom. Yet as these cover illustrations show, Dixon’s interpretation of “The Ghost Who Walks” would have been nothing less than terrific and, in my opinion, easily matched the early work of American comics artist Sy Barry, who would take over drawing The Phantom newspaper comic strip in the early 1960s (see below). I have written a brief tribute to John Dixon on my companion blog, Comics Down Under, but I would also refer readers to Queensland publisher Nat Karmichael’s tribute to John Dixon, who will be remembered as one of the finest comic-book illustrators of his generation (Images courtesy of Comicoz and The Deep Woods websites).

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A Tribute to Jim Shepherd (1933-2013) – Publisher of The Phantom

jim_shepherdRichard Fry, convenor of the Lee Falk Memorial Bengali Explorer’s Club (Australia), recently announced that Jim Shepherd, the Australian publisher of The Phantom comic magazine, died shortly after collapsing at his Sydney home during the evening of Monday 15 April 2013. This is without doubt a very sad day indeed for “phans” of The Phantom, in Australia and around the world.

Jim Shepherd was best known to thousands of Australian readers as the publisher and managing director of Frew Publications (Sydney, Australia), which has published The Phantom comic magazine since September 1948 – making it the world’s longest-running series of Phantom comics, and one of the world’s oldest, continually published comic magazines.

But Jim had enjoyed a diverse and exciting career as a journalist, broadcaster and author, long before he met “The Ghost Who Walks”. Born 21 August 1933, Jim became a well-known and respected sports commentator, firstly in Sydney’s newspaper circles, before branching out into radio, and later became the Sporting Director for Sydney’s Channel 0 (later Channel 10) television station during 1964-1970.

b44001b_big_rev_kev__74465.1339460443.1280.1280As a journalist, Jim covered a wide variety of sports, including rugby league, boxing, soccer, athletics, golf, tennis and cycling. His encyclopaedic knowledge of sports and sporting stars would serve him well for his next career. In 1974, he compiled and wrote The Australian Sporting Almanac (Hamlyn, 1974), the first of many successful sporting reference titles he would produce on behalf of other publishers, as well as for his own book imprint, Sportsbook Publishing Co. These included The Encyclopedia of Australian Sport (Rigby, 1979), Rothman’s Australian Rugby Yearbook (Sportsbook, 1983) Great Moments in Australian Sport (Angus & Robertson, 1987) and Big Rev Kev (Lansdowne, 1983), the autobiography of Australian racing driver Kevin Bartlett, co-authored with Jim.   Motor racing remained a lifelong passion for Jim, who began racing stock cars on the local speedway dirt track circuit, before progressing to Formula Two (2000cc) road racing events. Such was Jim’s enthusiasm for the sport that he wrote two books on the subject, A History of Australian Motor Sport (1980, Sportsbook) and A History of Australian Speedway (Frew Publications, 2003) – indeed, Jim later delightedly told me that his Speedway book was a near-total sell out!

56_144803_0_ThePhantomFrewPublications910AJim’s involvement with The Phantom dates back to 1987, when Frew Publications’ surviving founders, Ron Forsyth and Lawford “Jim” Richardson, approached him for advice on how they could rejuvenate their company’s sole remaining comic-book title. Jim came on board with The Phantom No.876 (“Old Baldy”, 1987) and steadily undertook incremental changes designed to improve the magazine, such as reintroducing the old “Frew” logo on the front cover of the comic, along with the inclusion of the “Phantom Forum” letters page (No.917, 1988). But arguably his greatest achievement was to commence reprinting unedited and uncensored versions of classic Lee Falk Phantom stories from the 1930s and 1940s – many of which had been ruthlessly edited by Frew Publications in the past – commencing with the landmark publication of “The Phantom Goes to War” (No.910A, 1988). This was, according to Bryan Shedden (creator of The Deep Woods fan website), the beginning of the “Frew Renaissance”.

Jim’s accomplishments at Frew Publications are well known to many “phans”, so I won’t reiterate them here. (However, for further details about Jim’s life and career, you may wish to read Steffen Hoppe’s interview with Jim on Fantomet.org; Joe Douglas’s interview with Jim at ChronicleChamber.comand my own interview with Jim, also published on ChronicleChamber.com).

That Jim was so willing to give up his time to speak with “phans” about The Phantom says much about the man’s generosity and enthusiasm for his work. I first interviewed Jim about Frew Publications and The Phantom back in 2001 for a piece originally intended for the Australian comics fanzine, Read Me!, but was later published online at OzComics (The interview didn’t survive the site’s revamp as a Facebook-based forum, and was eventually republished in 2007 at ChronicleChamber.com). Over the years, we remained in contact, particularly when I had occasion to write about Frew Publications’ earlier comic-book series (such as The Phantom Ranger) for my ‘Comics Down Under’ column, then appearing in Collectormania magazine (Some of these columns have since been reprinted online at my other blog, Comics Down Under).

Jim always took the time to answer my (no doubt tiresome!) requests for information as best he could, based on whatever surviving information was available in Frew’s publishing archives, or from recalling his own conversations with the late Ron Forsyth. Jim even took the trouble to reprint one of my letters, concerning the origins of The Phantom comic strip, as a mini-article in The Phantom (“Historical Look at Lee Falk and The Phantom” – The Phantom, No.1445, 2006). We also shared an interest in Australian aviation history, which we discussed on several occasions.

Little did he or I know at the time that my own interest in The Phantom would eventually lead me to write my PhD thesis about The Phantom comic book in Australia, India and Sweden. And it was for this research project that I last met Jim at Frew’s Sydney office on Tuesday, 10 July, 2012. He was, as always, sitting behind his cluttered desk – the true sign of a productive person, I’ve always said! – in his dark-panelled office, adorned with framed Phantom film posters and original artwork, and facing a display case packed with fascinating Phantom merchandise. Once again, over the course of a 2-hour interview, Jim shared with me his insights and opinions about The Phantom, and why this character continues to fascinate Australian and Swedish audiences to this day.  It is my hope that I’ll be able to distill and share some of Jim’s insights when I submit my PhD thesis for examination later this year, and in any scholarly publications arising from my research. I hope it will be a fitting enough tribute to Jim’s dedication to publishing The Phantom for over a quarter of a century.

I’ll try and post further news about Jim’s passing as further details become available. Nonetheless, I’m sure that Phantom “phans” throughout Australia, and around the world, would like to join me now in extending my sincere condolences to Jim’s wife, Judith Shepherd (Senior Editor, Frew Publications), and their extended family at this no doubt difficult time.

Update: The funeral service for Jim Shepherd will be held at the Northern Suburbs Memorial Garden and Crematorium, at 2:15pm, Tuesday 23 April, 2013. The family has requested that, in lieu of sending flowers, well-wishers can make a donation to the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute instead (Thanks to Richard Fry for circulating this information)

(Photo of Jim Shepherd courtesy of The Deep Woods; image of Big Rev Kev book cover courtesy of Automoto Bookshop; image of The Phantom No.910A cover courtesy of Collectoroz.com Connect).