May 29, 2012

The Phantom and Australia.

The Phantom is Australia's longest running comic book. It started being published in 1948 and continues to be published today. In fact the issue count for the Phantom puts American books like Uncanny X-Men or even Action Comics to shame, with the current issue of the series being #1633.

(Admittedly comics like Action Comics have stupidly low issue counts at the moment because of the reboots...)

So what has made the Phantom such an enduring character, so popular in Australia? I'm not really sure. Part of it is that it's actually a really damned good comic, but I think there's more to it than that. There's a feeling of familiarity in the Phantom. He's such a... colonial character, that he just suits Australians down to a tee.

Part of why Phantom is such an enduring character in Australia is down to Frew's efforts. They put out a new comic every couple of weeks, and make sure to pepper each issue with information and editorials which make the Phantom a really approachable character for new readers. But I don't really want to talk about the Phantom as he is now, I wanna talk about the past.

The Phantom was biggest in Australia, I think, not for my generation (I'm in my 30s, just for reference) but for the generations just before mine. For those generations the Phantom was synonymous with 'comic'.  For my father's generation the Phantom was as big a cultural phenomenon as Superman, or Batman or Star Wars is for the current generation.

It wasn't just a niche concept for nerds, the Phantom permeated the public consciousness to the degree that everyone knew the basic mythology. You can talk to people in their 40s, 50s and 60s in Australia about the Phantom and they can name for you his wolf (Devil) his horse (Hero), his wife (Diana) and sometimes even his children (Kit and Heloise) and other specific parts of the mythology like the Bandar Pygmies, and other such oddities.

In the same way that you could make a Superman joke and expect your audience to just KNOW who Clark Kent is, who Lois Lane is, and maybe even who Jimmy Olsen is, people could be expected to know the basic mythology of the Phantom. Don't believe me? Well take a look at this little gem I found from the 1970s, a comedy sketch by Paul Hogan -- aimed therefore at the lowest common denomenator -- which references incredibly specific stuff from the Phantom comics, including how to read them (!) and accurately portraying his throne, and some other specific parts of mythology.

Notice how at the end of the clip there's a small Star Trek gag -- yes the Phantom was that well known in Australia at the time.

Anyway, thats' about it! Next time I talk about the Phantom I'm sure I'll have a picture of him staring through someone's window for you instead.

--Andrew S.

No comments:

Post a Comment