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 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).


Peter Chapman @ Pulp Confidential exhibition website

No_Alibi_PossibleThe State Library of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, recently hosted an exhibition titled Pulp Confidential: Quick & Dirty Publishing from the 40s and 50s. This exhibition, which featured many rare Australian “pulp-fiction” novels, comic books and other periodicals from the 1940s and 50s, was assembled from the archives of the Frank Johnson Publishing Company, which were acquired by the State Library in 1965.

This exhibition will be of particular interest to Phantom “phans”, because it featured many comic books and “pulp-fiction” novels and magazines illustrated by the Australian comic-book artist, Peter Chapman, who later became a staff artist and editor for Frew Publications (Sydney), which has continuously published the Australian edition of The Phantom comic book since 1948.

Interestingly, Peter Chapman was sometimes called upon to redraw sections of The Phantom comic book during the conservative 1950s era, especially if some of the original (American) artwork depicted scenes deemed too violent to safely make it past the gaze of Australian censors. You can see an example of Peter’s “censored” artwork in The Phantom No.1720 (Replica Special No.4), which reproduces Frew’s original edition No.188 (published in 1961), and has a censored sequence from Part Two of “The Seahorse”, redrawn by Peter Chapman (Take a close look at the panels from this story where The Phantom has been lowered underwater by the evil Baron Danton, and you’ll see what I mean – that’s not the work of the original artist, Ray Moore!) For more details about Peter’s life and work in Australian comics and beyond, you can read my 2007 interview with Peter Chapman here.

Although the Pulp Confidential exhibition closed on 10 May 2015, you can still visit the State Library of New South Wales’ exhibition website, which features a video documentary narrated by the exhibition curator, Associate Professor Peter Doyle (Macquarie University, NSW), wherein he interviews Peter Chapman at his home in rural New South Wales (Image courtesy of the State Library of New South Wales).