TODAY I LEARNED of another good reason not to go riding across the continent in the dog days. Remember how the iron piggy pulled up lame in the high desert of eastern Washington, 2011? I had toasted the motor jetting across the prairie, then climbing up and over the Rockies, and when we were back on the flats and had nothing but the Cascades ahead, she gave out.
The thing that will help to spare me and the rugged old piggy a repeat of that little misadventure is the word I received today, from New York: that I’m officially back writing the syndicated daily and Sunday stories for Lee Falk’s Phantom.
For how long? Dunno. A good guess would be somewhere between a few more months and a few more decades.
What’s more important is this: if another Phantom movie is never made, it won’t be because Hollywood viewed my 17-year tenure as a gap in the chain of title to the Phantom property. That’s where we left it on May 17, when I resigned. The copyright uncertainty wasn’t in anybody’s interests, and I said as much in my resignation letter.
Brendan Burford, my former editor at Hearst/King Features Syndicate, now general manager for syndication, was behind the initiative that resulted in today’s news. Brendan’s not a lawyer, and hadn’t been the point person in the contract talks that led up to me resigning, but he called in late May (Correction: early June) and asked if he could meet with my lawyer in New York, an informal meet over coffee or drinks, see if there was any possible way forward. I was sure nothing would come of it for all the many reasons detailed here.
We talked some more in the weeks ahead, appeared to come to another dead end. Then my lawyer, Eric Rayman, proposed an entirely new deal, and KFS proposed one of its own, and Eric edited some of the language, and we were getting somewhere, maybe, possibly. KFS hired outside counsel, that was a new cook in the kitchen throwing out ideas, and when we saw something new in writing Eric made some changes to that and the company was good with it, and then some more back and forth and et cetera, et cetera…
In a nutshell, I sold the rights to the scripts I wrote between 1999 and June 30 of this year, and agreed to write new scripts on a work-for-hire basis. That part of the deal is open ended, and either side can get out of it on short notice. Not knowing what’s in store is fine by me. Since 1999 I’ve been happy to serve at the pleasure of the corner office.
Today, when I got word that all signatures had been signed and all terms met, I sent Jeff Weigel the first four weeks of a new Sunday script, which got him back to the drawing board on the Phantom’s behalf. Jeff ran out of copy about a week ago. Mike Manley, the artist on the daily side of things, Monday through Saturday, he has six weeks of copy in the bank before he’ll be looking for a new story.
After all these years of writing 12 to 18 months ahead of deadline, I’ll be writing copy as the artists need it. At least until I can scoot ahead of them again and leave them in the dust.
Which brings me back to that summertime motorcycling thing, the dust and the scooting parts. The need to write Phantom yarns all of a sudden is yet one more good reason to not go anywhere in the heat. It was with a heavy heart that I made that call in recent days. I had been planning to get on the road around the 27th, head west with a Chris Rea tune in my head, spend time with friends in Seattle, then south to California and Johnny Danger’s place in the high desert on the eastern Sierra. We jawed about that on the phone the other day.
Oboy, though, July on two wheels, crossing the hellish heatsink that is Kansas…
The main reason not to go: I’m having a pain-management problem that’s been more or less chronic since last winter. I’m dealing with it at PT twice a week. It’ll get fixed but not in time for summer riding. Bumps I hit on the road come right up through the rear wheel and make sparks where C1 meets the base of my skull. It’s age, arthritis, and the only thing I can fix—and have fixed—lousy ergonomics at my work station,
Might be in shape for a long-distance run in the fall, maybe, who knows?
So that’s the news. It’s good to be back. The irony is, the daily story running in the papers now would have been a superb sign-off to my Phantom career. It’s easily one of the top three stories I’ve written since 1990. It’s about the Ghost Who Walks coming to terms with his mortality, and the vision of Old Man Mozz, the seer, who warned the Phantom that the end of his world is nigh.
None of that was news to the Phantom. He knew it long before Mozz did; long ago enough that he arranged for his son to go away to the Himalayas for his secondary education.
As they hiked in to the remote mountain city, young Kit had an inkling of what was going on.
Only the Phantom knows where Kit is, so when the Phantom meets his fate, his friend, Guran, chief of the Bandar, won’t be able to find Kit and bring him home to swear his oath as the 22nd Phantom. Far too young, the boy, only 15. No match for The Python, certainly, nor The Nomad.
Now with Kit safely away, things are rapidly moving to a conclusion. The Phantom feels eyes on his back everywhere he goes. Doom creeping up…
This story’s driving readers bonkers. Which is half the fun. People who’ve been reading the strip for 80 years are bracing to see their hero die. Others think it’s about time we killed him off.
I’ll enjoy working with Evelyn Smith, the new editor on the strip, and will be happy to resolve the storyline about the Phantom’s daughter, Heloise Walker, rooming at a boarding school in Manhattan with the daughter of The Nomad, an enemy the Phantom needs to do something about pronto.
Heloise likes her roommate, Kadia Sahara, but senses that things are a little off. She’s confided as much to her mother, Diana Palmer Walker.
Tony DePaul, July 17, 2017, Cranston, Rhode Island, USA