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).

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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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