Brendan Burford, my editor at King Features Syndicate, asked me to check in here from time to time with the Who, What, Why, When, Where and How of this much-loved universe of characters created by the great Lee Falk. Like so many of you, I started reading the Phantom when I started reading. For me, that was somewhere around 1959. Faraway Bangalla was oxygen to a boy trapped in a city, I can tell you. I spent a lot of time looking out the window in the classroom, daydreaming about a wider world out there somewhere. It was great fun and personal inspiration, really, to read about a fictional character inhabiting a place like that. In a world all about Stand In Line, the droning-on of Listen To Me, the stifling smells of chalk and loose leaf, I was always eager to escape into jungles that smelled of freedom and adventure.
The Philadelphia Bulletin hit our front porch around 4 in the afternoon, and the Phantom was the first thing I’d read when I spread the comics out on the living room floor. I never imagined that, 40 years later, I’d be asked to write the strip. It’s beyond improbable. I’ve never advertised my contact information but I’m not living underground, either; readers can easily get in touch with minimal sleuthing around. I’ve been privileged to correspond with readers from around the world, and many have become friends over time. Some, like Tarquino Felix Flores, of Papantla, Mexico, have even served as advisors on Phantom adventures set in their country.
You already know the astonishing talents that Paul Ryan and Terry Beatty bring to the daily and Sunday strips, respectively. You may be surprised to learn how far ahead we work. The daily strip is already written through May 2, 2015, and the Sunday strip through May 31, 2015. When he brought me on as Lee Falk’s successor, Jay Kennedy, the late King Features editor, asked me to try to bank enough stories to get two years ahead of the curve. I’m not sure I ever did hit the two-year mark, given that I was busy with other things as well: working as a newspaper reporter, raising a family, writing movie scripts, writing Phantom stories for books published in Scandinavia and Australia. And I may disappear on the motorcycle from time to time, to travel alone, sleep on the ground somewhere, in woods, fields and fuel stops, live out of the saddlebags for a while, see new towns, rivers, deserts and mountains, and meet new people and learn about their lives. For a while my record was 78 days on the road. That stood for some years until this past spring and summer when I rode for 83 days, across 41 state and provincial lines in the U.S. and Canada. I stopped to write here and there, mostly in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. I think Oklahoma and Hawaii must be the only states where I haven’t written the Phantom yet, but we’ll get there, too, one of these years.
That’s about it by way of introduction. Ask anything you care to know about the strip, the character or the process.
Cheers from here, and many thanks for your loyalty to Lee Falk’s Phantom!
Tony DePaul, Rhode Island, USA