Jul 25, 2011

There's a Phantom at Your Window.

From "Little Toma", by Lee Falk and
Wilson McCoy. Reprinted in Frew #931A

Have you ever noticed that somtimes comics have themselves little visual motifs. Especially ongoing long-running series. They have these little visual queues or concepts that pop up again and again. I've noticed that.

I've especially noticed it with The Phantom. Sy Barry's punch panels are so iconic that they've been parodied about a million times.

But sometimes there's a less commonly recurring visual motif. Something that comes up every now and then... just often enough for you to notice it as a pattern. For example... the Phantom sure as hell likes peeping in people's windows!

From "The Return of General Babadu" by Lee Falk
and Sy Barry, reprinted in Frew #880A
 I've read a lot of Phantom comics over the years, a LOT of them. You see here in Australia the Phantom is an important cultural icon. He's considered a COMIC character in a way that he's not in other countries where he's just seen as that character in those newspaper strips. That's entirely down to Frew publications.

Frew has been publishing the Phantom since the late 1940s, in a continuous run that's been going for over 1600 issues, now. Almost all the comics are either reprints of newspaper stories (reconfigured for comic pages) or reprints of Scandanavian Phantom stories. I don't really care much about the Team Fantomen stories, it's the newspaper strips I love. That's where the Phantom is at his best.

From "Danglor", by Lee Falk and
Wilson McCoy, reprinted in Frew #880A

My relationship with the Phantom started when my dad was given a collection of around 500 issues of the Phantom. Why? They'd been water damaged. Dad, being the guy he is, thought maybe if we dried them out they might be worth some money. This meant that I was  tasked with drying out all the issues.

When it became obvious that these horribly water-damaged comics were never going to be worth shit, the plan changed to giving them to my cousin -- because she was a Phantom fan. So, while I was drying them, and before they were given to my cousin, I tried to read every single issue. All in one hit.

You should never do that. Trust me, you should never do that. It's insane.

From "Little Toma", by Lee Falk and
Wilson McCoy. Reprinted in Frew #931A

After that I pretty much decided that I'd never want to read the Phantom again.

15 years later (or so) I called up my cousin and asked her if she still had some of those issues, and if she'd be willing to give some of them back to me. So she sent me about 30 issues of the Phantom.

 I read them at a more leisurely pace.

While rereading these stories I noticed something I'd noticed the first time around. The Phantom loves to stare in through people's windows. This little motiff occurs from time to time, over and over, creating the image of the Phantom as... kinda a creepy dude.

From "The Return of General Babadu" by Lee Falk
and Sy Barry, reprinted in Frew #880A

So why is he in the windows so much? Well, actually there's a few good reasons for that. First of all, Phantom is a newspaper strip. Because of that, any visual tools that can create depth in a panel are really important. Having a villain in a foreground and the Phantom in the window uses the depth of the panel really effectively.

You can also change it up and put the peeping Phantom in the foreground, and shove the villain in the middle ground, looking out another window into the background! No, seriously:

It's also to do with another piece of Phantom mythology. See, the Phantom doesn't like to use doors. He regularly comes in and out of buildings through the window. This is partly to do with his air of mystery, and partly just to do with the fact that the Phantom is kind of a weird dude.

From "The Goggle-Eye Pirates", by Lee Falk
and Sy Barry, reprinted in Frew #819
The final reason for all the window shots is the boats. The Phantom began in the 1930s, and he began as a hunter of pirates. He took a lot of boat trips in his career. There's about a thousand scenes of him climbing up the sides of boats in countless different Phantom stories. In these scenes often the portholes on the side of the boat would serve as an excellent transition device to get you back in where the action was.

Sometimes, the Phantom would just peek through them and say hello.

From "The Crimewave", by Lee Falk
and Sy Barry, reprinted in Frew #817

So that brings us to the end of this rambling little article and I guess it brings us to the point of it. See, being the resident Phantom expert at 80 Page Giant I have decided that I shall, as my Phantom collection expands, find more and more examples of Phantom peeping at the windows for you. So that will result in the Phantom Peeping Collage!

Every time I -- or one of you readers if you're so kind -- find a new Phantom story with a scene of the Phantom peeping through a window we'll add it to the collage. Let's see how big it gets in years to come!

--Andrew S.

No comments:

Post a Comment