Oct 8, 2012

Phantom at the Window: Phantom and Colour.

It's been a while since we've properly visited the world of the Phantom. So how about we do it in style this time? Fairly recently I picked up this incredible volume of Phantom reprints from Hermes Press -- a break from my usual loyalty to Frew comics.

This never actually happens in this volume, sadly.

This volume reprints Phantom Sundays from the very first one in full glorious colour. It's gorgeous and something I'm not used to since the Phantom is printed nearly exclusively in black and white by Frew (nearly exclusively -- they do have colour covers.)

I won't be going into terribly much detail on the stories here, but let's talk a little bit about the Phantom's relationship with colour, and about the Sunday stories in general, shall we?

There's actually quite a satisfying amount of stories in this volume. And fortunately for me they're mostly stories I don't have already in a black and white form. Even the stories I do already have look freaking great in full colour so I'm glad to have gotten them.

The Phantom's first major artist, Ray Moore, is not my favourite -- so I look forwards to seeing Wilson McCoy or Sy Barry in full colour in later volumes. For now, though, Ray Moore's art will do. So, having talked about it for a bit, why don't I show you one of the full colour strips?

Look closely at the first panel.
Aho! I bet you spotted it! Yup, Phantom's in the window again. In fact there's so many Phantom-in-the-window moments in this volume I was tempted to break it up into multiple articles. But I'm not going to do that to you guys, so you'll get all of the Phantom peeping glory all in one go. Try not to get too overwhelmed.

So anyway, we were talking about the Phantom's excursions into colour. See back when the Phantom had his debut in 1936 he appeared exclusively in black and white stories in newspapers. Lee Falk would refer to him sometimes as "grey", and that was the colour he clearly intended the Phantom to be. It works well, right? It's a fairly believable colour for a terror of criminals who stalks the jungle nights.

So in 1939 when the Phantom finally appeared in his first Sunday stories (for those who aren't up on their math, that's three years later), and thus finally appeared in full colour, he was made to be... purple. Why purple? I honestly can't answer that, since basically nobody knows. It just seems to have been the colour that was chosen and it's the colour the Phantom's been stuck with ever since.

It's so subtle no one will notice him!

In a way it's unfortunate. This is the iconic image of the Phantom throughout the world -- and yet for many people the purple makes him lack credibility. Yet the purple wasn't even what his creator wanted for him! Because of some random colourist or editor's whims an iconic character is stuck with being... purple.

Except that's the fascinating thing about the Phantom. He's not stuck with being purple. He's actually appeared in a tonne of different colour schemes over the years depending on where he was published. This was especially true when he was collected in the 1930s and 1940s, when his colours weren't nearly as established as they are now. He's appeared in olive green, bright red, blue, purple, green, yellow even his originally intended yellow. (If you want to investigate this further try searching the Deep Woods http://www.deepwoods.org/site_index.html.)

The two main colour schemes the Phantom has nowadays are his American purple outfit and a blue-and-red outfit that he wears in his Scandanavian appearances. Here's what the Fantomen outfit looks like:

What do you mean, "Stolen from the
Phantom wiki", what are you talking about?

Obviously the purple is the most well known colour scheme now, though. Especially since he appeared that way in a damned movie. Ahhh the movie. methinks we'll get to that one eventually. Especially if there's any scenes of him peering through a window in it (I'm not familiar enough with it to know for sure).

The Phantom has continued to adventure in colour in the Sundays since 1939 and nowadays even his dailies are printed in colour in newspapers around the world. I read them in Frew's black-and-white reprints, though. So for me the Phantom is always black-and-white. But I tell you reading these adventures in colour in this huge hardcover volume was a pleasure.

I bet that roughneck literally shit himself.

There's seven stories in this volume -- and that's partly because the Sunday stories tended to be much shorter than the ones in the dailies. They often covered similar territory, though. Plotlines used in the Sunday stories were recycled from (or into) stories used in the dailies on a regular basis. After all, some people might only be reading the dailies, or might only be reading the Sunday stories.

My favourite story in this volume actually has no Phantom-at-the-window moments. It's a story about the Phantom going for a swim only to have someone steal his clothes. What always happens when someone dresses as the Phantom is the same thing -- they realise the jungle folk are treating them as a king and they abuse their power. Then the real Phantom kicks their arse. It's that ending that I find so enjoyable. It's just so satisfying watching the Phantom kick the shit out of someone because they stole his purple derps.

I suppose at this point it's time to stop rambling and get on with the main event. We need to see how many appearances we have of the Phantom stalking at someone's window in this enormous tome. There's a few iffy ones in here -- ones of the Phantom climbing in and out of people's windows, rather than peering through them. If I'd included some of the more questionable ones like this train one, I'd probably have gotten up to ten panels!
Hey! Where are you guys going?

Actually you know what? Bugger it, I love this train panel. Okay, the Phantom's not peering into a window in it, but he's peering at someone and a window is involved! We're including it. That means we've got six  panels to add to the collage. So let's take a look at it now!

It's getting so damn big... remember to
click to see the full size version.

I suppose the question now is do we really want our collage to look like this? Should we keep the full-colour panels as full colour, or should we do them in greyscale like this?


Maybe we need to break it up into a full colour and a black-and-white version? Maybe I just need to dig up the Frew reprints of these stories so we can have proper black-and-white versions of the panels? Oh well, whatever the case I think we can all agree, the Phantom sure does love looking through windows at people!

--Andrew S.

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