Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Man Who Cannot Die

Today I sought out the offices of Frew Publications, the Sydney-based firm that has been publishing the Phantom comic book (which I read when I was young and still buy the occasional issue of) since 1948.

For those who came in late, a brief summary of the Phantom: The character began in 1936 as a newspaper strip created by Lee Falk, portraying the adventures of a costumed hero (no super-powers) based in the jungle of a fictional country. He battles pirates, robbers, and various other villains, as the 'keeper of the peace' in the jungle. The newspaper strips were collected into comic books by the Frew company in Australia, are still published every week, and there have now been over 1500 issues. So popular was the Phantom that when newspaper strips ran out, other stories had to be found. The Phantom is also very popular in Scandinavia and writers and artists there create original stories, which Frew then translates and publishes in the Australian comic book.

Tentatively, I knocked at the doors of Frew's offices, not knowing how they'd react to a member of the public dropping by. They were very welcoming, letting me look at the framed prints and other Phantom memorabilia there. Then the editor Jim Shepherd invited me into his office and we chatted for over half an hour on all things Phantom-related. I now have lots of inside info about things such as Lee Falk's sometimes frosty relationships with Phantom artists, the difficulties of tracking down the original strips, and the possibility of a new film version. And to top it all off, Mr Shepherd gave me a replica Phantom ring as a parting gift! So, a great experience, the memory of which I will cherish for a long time.

The Frew front office

Postscript added on 18 March: I've just been to the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne and found this Phantom-inspired piece of artwork. It's a shield of the Wahgi people of the village Korkor in Papua New Guinea, where Phantom comic books are also popular.


  1. hey simon - I LOVE that you actually knocked on the door and went in. what a great story

  2. I have a friend who deals in tribal masks and shields and other antiquities, and recently bought at auction a Phantom war-shield, and asked me to deliver it to him as he lives in another city in Canada. Logistics aside, when I went to pick it up from the auction house, it was a particularly fine piece in amazing condition and the subject matter fascinated me, so I went online to see if there was a backstory to this piece, and was surprised to find there are several Wahgi Shields with the Phantom as subject matter. The shield I am delivering has very vivid purples and also has the slogan painted in yellow "The man who cannot die" around the central Phantom figure. Even if this weren't a Papua, New Guinea tribal shield, it would be a collectable graphic-arts painting. Totally fascinating how a comic book can become a significant ethnological phenomenon...