That’s it for me and the Phantom

Share

THE SKULL RING he wears on his five-knuckled sleep aid has indelibly marked many an evildoer since 1936. But we bid farewell now to the Ghost Who Walks, Man Who Cannot Die, Guardian of the Eastern Dark, defender of the innocent, and the weak.

On May 17, a disagreement over movie rights ended my run as successor to the great Lee Falk, the Phantom’s creator and first writer. The issue was whether companies licensed by Hearst/King Features Syndicate can use my stories and characters in a Phantom movie.

Without a deal they can’t. That’s the position I took.

This is Lee Falk as a young man. He wrote the strip every day of the week for 63 years, which kind of puts my 17-year run in perspective. He kept pace with the times without sacrificing the genius of the original.

I did my best to emulate Falk when it was my turn to both advance and safeguard the legacy. Whenever I created a new place, a new character, one with a recurring reason to inhabit the Phantom universe, my first thought was: What do I know from Falk’s run that can inform where I’m taking his creation today?

Falk produced and directed stage plays most of his career, but never lost his passion for writing the Phantom and Mandrake the Magician, his other notable creation from the golden age of newspaper comics. I’ve written a few crossovers, had Mandrake and the characters in his universe—Narda, Lothar, Hojo—appear in the Phantom strip. Great fun! Readers loved it.

This is Falk in his later years. The old gent wrote the Phantom from 1936 right up to his death in 1999.

Hearst, the publishing and broadcasting empire handed down from Citizen Kane himself, owns the Phantom. In picking up where Falk left off, I worked with editorial people at two Hearst subsidiaries, King Features Syndicate in New York and Reed Brennan Media Associates in Orlando.

I have nothing but good to say about the people I worked with. My beef was with the corporate side in the posh glass tower.

 

The mother ship in midtown Manhattan, West 57th Street and Eighth Avenue, just south of Central Park.

 

When Falk died, Hearst/KFS held tryouts for a couple of us who were writing 30-page Phantom yarns for Fantomen, a Swedish comic licensed by KFS. By the summer of 2000, KFS had made its choice: I had the job writing the Phantom for newspaper syndication around the world.

My assignment was to create five stories a year, more or less. Standard lengths are 18 weeks daily, 26 weeks Sunday. They can run longer, shorter, whatever it takes to tell the tale, but figure roughly three stories a year for the daily papers, two for Sunday papers.

Writing for comics is a lot like writing for film. You’ve seen movie storyboards. In comics, you’re basically doing the same thing, stringing together snapshots of a story, panel by panel, advancing a narrative, creating continuity, dialogue, art direction when there’s a reason for it (usually to avoid getting tripped up on continuity issues that lie ahead).

Comics may look like a few words on a page, but it takes a fair amount of information to get them there. I think I probably wrote 5,500 pages of script over the years. The script for my current daily story is 100 pages. It describes 425 panels in sequence, published 2 or 3 panels a day for 28 weeks.

Between the overseas books I started writing in 1990 and the newspaper strips in ’99, I’ve worked with maybe two dozen artists around the world. Every one is different, different temperament, some will wow you every time, some need their hand held. The best ones, you mostly just leave them alone. All they need to know from the writer is where the characters are in a given panel, what they’re doing, what that setting is like, time of day, what the characters say, what they know, and what they think and feel about what they know.

 

I never had a contract to write the Phantom for the newspapers. There was never a mention of one when I started. Some years later I find out that everyone else who writes for Hearst/KFS is under contract and on the monthly payroll. My first editor set me up on my own unique arrangement. He told me to start cranking out stories and get the Phantom ahead of deadlines by two years. I’d be paid four, five, six times a year, depending on when I filed copy. He told me to invoice the company as needed and keep the stories coming. So that’s what I did.

It went without a hitch until this past November, when the company kicked back one of my invoices and said I needed to be under contract and on the monthly payroll before I could write another story.

I have a theory about that: I think it had something to do with Hearst/KFS licensing a production company to make a Phantom movie. Maybe these guys, maybe someone else. I’ve tried to get details, names, a look at the script. No dice.

As I say, just a theory, but I suspect that someone in Hollywood or New York realized over the winter that under federal copyright law my non-contract status amounts to a potential break in the chain of title to Lee Falk’s Phantom. In other words, Hearst/KFS sold movie rights that belong, in part, to me.

Who’s this guy writing the Phantom for the last 17 years? Are you sure we have the movie rights to everything he’s written?

Hell, no, Moe. If Phantom characters or narratives I created appear in your movie, I expect to be paid.

 

After World War II, the Phantom started appearing on tribal war shields in Papua New Guinea. You can see an interesting collection of them here.

 

If a Phantom movie uses characters or storylines I created, I’m not certain why it would so offend Hearst/KFS if I were paid for that.

The company sought to avoid this nightmare scenario by time-traveling back to 1999 for a do-over. They wanted me to agree to a fiction: to say I was a work-for-hire writer the whole time. That was just plain weird; as if I had done something dishonest, tricked them into waiting 17 years to put a contract in front of me.

Work-for-hire means the company owns the rights to everything you produce, as if you’re an employee drawing a paycheck (which you’re not), sitting at their desk (you’re not), using their computer (not), their electricity (nope), covered by their health plan (ha!) their Social Security contributions (dream on), eligible for unemployment benefits if the work runs out (what are you smoking there, son?)

My lawyer in New York, Eric Rayman, told Hearst/KFS that retroactive work-for-hire is simply not contemplated in the text of the law. Work-for-hire requires a signed contract before the work begins. That’s all there is to it.

The company kept trying different word games to achieve a de facto retroactivity. (Pretty impressive how I can talk all that legal talk myself now, isn’t it? ipso facto, bingo bango, you name it.)

At a certain point I realized we were just burning the time my editor would need to find a new writer before deadlines are upon her. So on May 17, I resigned in a letter to Evelyn Smith, my editor at Hearst/Reed Brennan.

The final days of my current daily and Sunday stories will be published in the fall.

 

A point about new characters before I close, how they weave in and out of these narratives and become an integral part of the whole: Movie options on comic strips typically list all the characters the production company can use. I’m guessing that whoever bought the Phantom option is looking at a list of the many I created: good guys like Babudan, Hawa Aguda and Kay Molloy; villains like The Python and The Nomad; and in the antihero class, one of my favorites, the deadly but fetching Captain Savarna, a pirate hunter from India.

Savarna roams the seas alone on an automated freighter with hidden gunboat capabilities. Her family was wiped out by pirates, so she and the 1st Phantom have that in common.

Here’s how the late Paul Ryan drew Savarna. She just destroyed a pirate speedboat not knowing it was the Phantom at the helm. He’d already dealt with the original occupants.

Savarna won’t recognize him in Phantom guise. From previous adventures, she knows him only as “Walker,” his street persona.

In a later adventure, Savarna helped the Phantom get his wife, Diana, out of Gravelines Prison in Rhodia, the fascist state bordering Bangalla. That took character, given that what Savarna would really like to do is elbow Diana out of the picture and have the Phantom to herself.

Jailing Diana was the work of a madman I created, Chatu, aka, The Python. At the time, Chatu was running his terror network out of a cell in a different lock up, Boomsby Prison in Bangalla. You following all this?

Savarna shelled Gravelines from offshore, to help the Phantom (he’s wearing a guard’s uniform) get Diana out and safely across the Rhodian frontier.

Next up, Terry Beatty’s interpretation of Savarna, from a subsequent adventure in the Sunday papers.

The Rhodian junta sank Savarna’s ship as payback for high explosives raining down on Gravelines. (Note how the Sundays are written so they make sense without the top row. Some newspapers publish only the bottom two-thirds of the art you see here.)

When the Phantom gets to Rhodia to confront the naval officers who ordered the attack, he finds Savarna there, hunting and assassinating those same men.

Who knows where the adventure goes next? The Phantom universe is diminished without Savarna, one of many new characters who came to life on my watch.

Anyway, now you know: If you ever see Savarna in a Phantom movie, that writer didn’t create her. I did.

 

Speaking of Phantom movies, the 1996 outing was a disappointment from my POV. Some people love it. It’s harmless good fun but pure cheese from the get-go. A campy little romp aimed at 6-year-olds. Indiana Jones in purple tights (written by the Indiana Jones writer, the late Jeffrey Boam).

Billy Zane did a wonderful job as the Phantom, given the production design and script he had. But I’d love to see the Phantom rebooted on the big screen with an entirely different headspace behind it. A dark tale. The Phantom as a night creature, at home in the shadows. But with that bright and sound psychology Falk gave him. Not just another comics cliché, as in the haunted Batman, the deranged Punisher.

I hope the producers who bought the option can succeed, despite that no one at Hearst/KFS thought of steering the screenwriting work my way.

Steering’s not the right word, they can’t tell the production company who to hire. But, c’mon, it wouldn’t have cost a dime to give me a friendly heads-up on the deal so I could make a pitch for the work. The company got 17 years of professional writing services at fanboy prices, resold my stories around the world without ever throwing a buck my way. Mention me to your movie people, fer crying out loud.

 

I was unhappy for, oh, 60 seconds. Because I know this drill. From 26 years in newspapers I know that the workaday ox treading out the daily bread is taken for granted and rarely seen as potentially more. Maybe that’s true of business in general, you tell me. All I know is media, short on imagination, long on inertia. Someone in management checks a box on a checklist and that’s you, function covered.

Okay, but to have another go at everybody getting what they want, my lawyer proposes a counter offer that makes it easy for the company to say yes. He was concerned it might be too easy.

We tell them I’ll sign over all rights to my Phantom stories and characters for token money, a few grand to help with the costs of negotiating a deal. But in return I want to see money down the road if the movie ever gets made and is derived from rights I currently hold. We cap it at $20,000, pocket change in movie terms. And I’m last in line for chow. I won’t see a dollar until the company has made quite a haul for itself.

Not a chance, came the reply. If I want to keep writing the Phantom I have to sign away my intellectual property with no strings attached. I’m to have no expectation of ever being acknowledged or rewarded if other people make money off my work.

That’s when I knew the other side was locked-in and determined to miscalculate.  The outcome it was intent on achieving—me handing over my rights for free—had nothing to do with how badly I wanted to keep writing the Phantom. I could want to keep writing but simply choose not to.

So that’s what I did.

It’s never easy to walk away from work you love, but if you need to trade your self-respect to keep it—walk away.

 

A few days after I resigned, I got word that readers of Fantomet magazine in Norway had voted one of my Hearst/KFS stories the best Phantom yarn of 2016. It was a two-parter that ran for 36 weeks in the newspapers, then the company sold it to the Norwegians for republication there.

Ironic timing, to be sure, but what fun to get a good word from the readers! That’s who I’ve really been writing for all along.

I gave up work I enjoyed but I’m a happy man, like this guy. It was my honor and privilege to carry on the legacy of a classic adventure strip loved around the world: 64 original stories in the overseas books, 76 stories syndicated in newspapers, published online, republished everywhere.

It all started circa 1959, when America liked Ike. I was vaguely aware of his mug on the front page, but the Phantom, way inside the paper, was the one and only reason this grubby little street kid snatched the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin off the front steps. What great fun, in that concrete-and-asphalt world, to spread out the paper on the living room floor and imagine adventures in a jungle over the far horizon.

Who could have predicted that one day I’d write the great Lee Falk’s Phantom for a worldwide audience? No wizard I know.

Tony DePaul, May 31, 2017, Cranston, Rhode Island, USA

Share

About Tony

The occasional scribblings of Tony DePaul, 62, father, grandfather, husband, freelance writer in many forms, ex-journalist, long-distance motorcycle rider, motorcycle wrecker, motorcycle rebuilder, collector of surgical hardware, blue routes wanderer, outdoorsman, topo map bushwhacker, handy with a wrench, hammer, chainsaw, rifle, former photographer, printer, logger, truck driver, truck mechanic, jet fueler… blah blah...
This entry was posted in Personal goings on. Bookmark the permalink.

71 Responses to That’s it for me and the Phantom

  1. brad barber says:

    Wow, Tony. Good on you for sticking up for what is right. I’m very proud of you.

    What are you going to do with all the words and stories that well up inside of you?

    • Tony says:

      Thanks, Brad. Well, I’m editing my novel, got a semi-promising iron in the fire on a movie script, I’ll keep busy.

      Hey, I hope to ride out and see you zipping along on the Bonneville Salt Flats one of these summers. Get that record-setting motorcycle built, amigo!

      • brad barber says:

        I look forward to reading that novel and seeing the movie!

        Just got both eyes operated on for cataracts. I can see without glasses for the first time in my life. Crazy!!! Anyway, next project is to finish the bike build. I want us to meet on the salt and I want you to make a run on it. Good for the soul.

  2. Ryan says:

    I am going to sincerely miss your work. For what it is worth Captain Savarna is a favorite of mine as well.

    At the very least I will keep up with you here. Hope to talk to you again and catch up soon.

    • Tony says:

      Savarna rocks. Saw your brother the other day. He dropped by the house and watched me paint the side porch. It’s always funny yakety yak with him.

  3. John Barfuss says:

    I salute you, your service, your dedication, your integrity. Work-for-hire is the bane of the creative professional. Heh. According to Wiki, Bane is also an escaped convict from an island prison in South America and subsequent “super-villan.” Fitting. Road trip!

    • Tony says:

      Thanks, John. Road trip in July, I think. Working on it, anyway. If I go I intend to try to get our old friend Duane Collie to ride to the Pacific with me.

  4. Kjell Steen says:

    This was sad to hear, Tony. You were and are a true heir to Lee Falk. Norwegian readers put hight “Mr. X “, where the Phantom loses the memory. You have had many intelligent stories in your seventies and actually several years when you wrote directly to Egmont in Scandinavia.

    A wise and well-equipped man like you will probably find new ways and stand on Paul.
    For: “The secret of our success is that we never never give up.”

    Good luck Paul, and thank you for all the pleasant and exciting reading evenings you have given readers all over the country in Norway.

    Sjefen (The boss)

  5. Tim Fisher says:

    I hate to hear that you’re leaving, especially on those terms. You’re an awesome writer, and I hope you’re happy in whatever you do next!

  6. Cynthia says:

    I’m glad you have kept your self respect. That is yours to protect. Thank you for sharing this story with us.

  7. King Viswa says:

    Tony,

    Am deeply saddened by the way events unfolded. However, i take great pride in the way you’ve handled this entire situation and as you’ve rightly mentioned, //It’s never easy to walk away from work you love, but if you need to trade your self-respect to keep it—walk away.//

    It is the right choice to walk away. By doing so, you’ve earned the respect of the Life time Phantom-Lovers like us.

    Whatever you do, you’ll be a winner, Paul.

    All the very best.

  8. Jermayn says:

    Huge phantom phan and sad to see your reign end. You brought excitement and passion back to the newspaper stories which will always be your legacy along with two of my phavourites in Savarna and Chatu.

    Big BIG shoes to fill!

  9. Bobby Rehman says:

    Tony you are a great man! We in India, worship you, we salute you. We don’t even know who H/KFS is. We know Lee Falk, we know Paul Ryan and we know the fantastic DePaul.

    You are a man who has been busy keeping “the Ghost” walking with full honesty and sincerity that is the reason you never had signed a contract and that is why you are not a bingo bango monkey on “their” payroll. You were honestly busy in your own small gigantic world. We know your name Tony, you ARE the man for the world. People in the remote villages atop mountains of North Eastern India, where in the next thousand years you’ll never see a can of Coke, you’ll never see a hotdog or a Wrigley’s chewing gum, yet they know DePaul. You live everywhere Tony. You are the real Ghost Who Writes…..

    When you lay down at nights, always remember that people know you in the most remote parts of this planet, where they have newspapers 🙂

    God bless you Sufi and your priceless family! Thank you so much for your hard work. Thumbs up!!!!

    • Tony says:

      Haha! Thanks, Bobby. This makes me want to ride a Royal Enfield across India, as I’ve been promising myself for way too many years now. Thanks for your loyal readership on the Phantom yarns.

  10. Laura DePaul says:

    Sad that it had to end this way or end at all, Dad. I am so proud of you for standing up for yourself and always setting a great example for us. Love you!

  11. Ellen McCurdy says:

    Tony, this is truly a loss to your readers and to writers everywhere. For Hearst to demand that you sign away your rights to your own material for nothing – absolutely criminal. I’m sorry this happened to you, but I know there’s something better around the corner. You can stand tall for your work of the last 17 years. Best wishes. Ellen

    • Tony says:

      Thanks, Ellen. I’m still plugging away on that movie script you read for me. I did a rewrite based on coverage from a director I really like. Fingers crossed!

  12. Joseph Pomis says:

    Farewell Tony. Really enjoyed your stories over the years.
    Lots of changes in the skull cave over the past couple years.
    Hope the suits don’t screw it up.
    Good luck and look forward to seeing your stuff in print again. And I bet you get that screen deal after all.

    • Tony says:

      Thank you, Joe. It would be helpful to know who’s got the option. Too bad it wasn’t with Sony, it would be public on Wikileaks right now. The Hearst/KFS option on Popeye got picked up in the Sony hack a few years ago, minions of Kim Jong-un at work. The Popeye agreement has got some heft to it, 72 pages I seem to recall.

  13. Dudley Hogarth says:

    Tony, Have just read “That’s it for me and the Phantom”. It is a travesty and complete injustice! If there was one ounce of moral compass in the corporate corner such an act of deceitful manipulation of labour could never occur. I congratulate you on your time of faithful service to The Phantom universe and for walking away with your dignity intact. Enjoy the open road and thank you for the many wonderful stories that were true to the Lee Falk legacy!
    Best Regards
    Dudley

    • Tony says:

      Thank you, Dudley. And thanks for all you do for that great legion of loyal Phantom phans Down Under.

      I must say, I do regret that one of the stories I had in the pipeline, “A Reckoning with the Nomad,” won’t ever be written or published now. If you recall, I wrote to you in January to say the comments you made in Frew No 1772, your message to readers, would appear far-seeing indeed when The Nomad met his fate next autumn and winter. An awful lot has already happened in the background to set it up.

      The next writer is in quite a bind, to have to treat the last 17 years as a gap in continuity. Such a waste.

      • Aman King says:

        Such a sad state of affairs. Thanks for your outstanding labour of love over all these years. Your contribution is even more special as it provided an excellent platform and vehicle for great artwork from the likes of Nolan and Ryan.

        Your name is well known in India like another person mentioned in the comments. Not just due to the newspaper strips but also because some Scandavian stories were published there in English.

        As for the final showdown with Nomad, any chance phans could see that story published in Frew, even if not in the newspapers?

        • Tony says:

          Hello, Aman. Thanks so much for writing. I wrote the Nomad synopsis almost two years ago, I’d like to see the story find its way into print somehow. If there’s ever any news on that, I’ll be sure to post it here at the Nickels. When I resigned on the 17th, I offered to write two more stories for Hearst/KFS if they’re unable to find a new writer by July. I did that not with the stories in mind so much but just to give my editor more time to make a smooth transition. I’m not sure the corporate types will allow her to take me up on the offer, though. Time will tell. Cheers, and thanks again for following Lee Falk’s Phantom.

  14. Hugo says:

    Say it isn’t so!!! Well joke ’em if they can’t take a f*ck! Their loss Tony and our gain that you have more to invest elsewhere. Love to you both. H

  15. Peter Howard says:

    I’m shattered by the distressing news that you have resigned from the Phantom newspaper strip. You were a excellent choice to succeed Lee Falk and your 17 years of creating new characters and situations of your own have only added to the Phantom legacy. I guess your excellent former colleagues in Sweden will keep the Phantom comic books coming in Scandinavia and here in Australia but I was personally looking forward to seeing what would happen to simmering plot-lines in the dailies and Sundays. Heloise and her roomies creepy dad (the Nomad) in NYC. Kit Jr and his training in the Himalayas. Will any of that ever pan out the way you intended?
    Avid Phantom fans will thank you for the lucid and, I think, fair way you have laid out what went wrong. It will help us to understand if the Phantom goes in unfamiliar directions and your plot threads are just left hanging.
    I think the greatest problem was that gentleman’s agreements like the one you made with your first King editor can only work if both parties to the agreement are gentlemen!
    I’m sorry that it has come to this but on the bright side, you still have all the other things you enjoy in life and writing projects to work on. I wish you everything good for the future. And if those lawyer types should climb down and want to re-open negotiations at least listen to what they have to offer.

    • Tony says:

      I don’t know how they’re going to handle that, Peter. I would guess the next writer is going to have to pick things up where they were in 1999 and go from there. I wrote about that in my resignation letter, saying it made no sense to drop the Kit and Heloise storylines just as we got them set up. What was to happen to Heloise in New York was going to be talked about for a long time among readers, I thought. And I had created two new characters to support Kit’s adventure in the Himalayas: Kyabje Dorje and Chief Constable Jampa. It’s really just an unfortunate turn of events. I’ll be as curious as you are to see how the next writer handles it. Many thanks for your comments, Peter.

  16. Tarquino says:

    It’s a sad day for me as a Phantom’s fan. The spanish/english barrier stops me for expressing what I think and feel right now, but I’m sure that what you did is the best. As Emiliano Zapata (one of Mexican Revolution’s Caudillos) said: “I want to die a slave to principles. Not to men.”
    The next Phantom’s writer will have a very hard task, have been 17 years of great stories, new characters developed with great passion for details and off course, some of the best artist’s collaborations to bring The Ghost Who Walks to the new millenium with freshness but without losing his legendary status. And now, I’ll wait to see your next project!
    Thank you, Tony.
    And thanks to The Phantom for allowing me to meet a great person like you, a good friend and someone who inspired me to start writing my own stories.
    “That silence is the deep woods’s farewell for a Phantom’s friend”
    (not-so-old jungle saying)

  17. Vincent Ogutu says:

    Tony, I’m writing this in dismay all the way from Kenya, East Africa where your strip has featured in the Sunday Nation for as long as I’ve lived to the present day. Only God knows to what extent you and Falk contributed to my fertile imagination and creativity through the many times you held me captive as I devoured my weekly dose of The Ghost who Walks, waiting anxiously for the story to advance the following week, imagining all kinds of ways in which the Phantom would come to the rescue… Sad to see you go, and I’m still holding out the hope that reason and justice might still prevail.

    My only consolation is that no one can take away from me the friendship you extended to me when we first met in the US. And I’m forever honored to know Pam and the rest of your family, and to regularly follow your wonderful lives through your blog and Pam’s FB page.

    • Tony says:

      Hey, Vincent! I think of you every time I read my Quartz Weekly Africa Brief. I’ve been following the news on the M-Pesa mobile money system and all that. Always interesting!

      BTW, has the Phantom saved Ms. Akinyi O. in the Sunday Nation yet?

  18. Jeff Day says:

    Greetings Tony. As I read the title of your blog I already had a feeling that you were being screwed somehow and the following paragraphs proved that. Good on you for being the better man and taking the high road. Your comment on being angry for about 60 seconds reminds me that I heard somewhere that healthy anger lasts about 60 seconds and anything after that is a resentment. I don’t think you have many if any resentments in your life and, even though we have never met, is one of the many reasons I like and admire you. Love ya brother.

    I am planning a trip to the Baja Peninsula this winter so if you’re in the area…………

    Jeff

    • Tony says:

      Thanks, Jeff. And Baja… hmm… Trailering from NC or dual-sporting the whole way?

      • Jeff says:

        Still trying to decide that. I have a KTM 350 excf now that I could trailer behind a little class B van/rv I recently acquired or pack up the BMW and head on down. I have an invitation to hang with Roger Mears at his place along the Sea of Cortez for a while down there this winter so the RV makes sense to have a place to hang and just take trips from there on the KTM. Taking the BMW the whole way would be great but then I would have all my stuff packed on it and riding some sections down there might get a little hairy with a 600 lb. bike plus camping gear, clothes, etc. Haven’t decided yet.

  19. Robert Deveau says:

    As a Phantom Phan who has been reading the strip since it was drawn by Wilson McCoy, all I can say is: incredibly stupid and short sighted decision on the part of KFS. You created the most worthy adversary the Phantom has ever had (The Python), advanced Diana Palmer into the 21st Century and wrote one of those most gripping stories in the strip’s entire history (Diana in prison), created the wonderfully complex Savarna, and was setting up the futures of Kit and Heloise – none of which can be used again unless they come to an agreement with you, which sounds unlikely. You made the right decision, but its a big loss for Phantom readers worldwide.

    • Tony says:

      Thank you, Robert. And hey, any mention of Wilson McCoy brings a smile to my face! I think Mike Manley is going to be one of the greats. He’s an astonishing talent. And to get dropped right into the middle of it when Paul Ryan passed so suddenly. I’ll take a blast down to Philly on the motorcycle one of these weeks soon and finally meet Mike in person.

      Thanks so much for the kind words and your long-time support for Lee Falk’s Phantom.

      • Robert Deveau says:

        I started reading The Phantom during the final years of McCoy’s run, then read it faithfully throughout Sy Barry’s run while enjoying enormously Bill Lignante’s Gold Key stories. One of the great things about social media has been the ease with which we readers/fans can talk with the creators/writers/artists of the stuff we love. Without Terry Beatty’s link to your blog, I would have wondered why the heck there’s somebody new writing The Phantom and why certain characters and storylines have vanished. I appreciate the thoughtful, creative work you’ve done over the past 17 years on this classic strip; thank you again and the best of luck in your future endeavors.

        • Tony says:

          Hey, Robert. Many thanks for the good word. I didn’t know Terry had linked to my blog. I was sorry to see him finish up on the Sundays but Jeff Weigel will do well in Terry’s stead, I think. You’re right about the social media thing, I’ve always enjoyed hearing from readers who find their way here. They tend to be people who really know the Phantom universe, have thought about it and have something substantial to say, whether it’s a thumbs up or down. By way of contrast, the comments section on the KFS website is quite the snake pit. Paul Ryan used to check it all the time and it would just bring him down. I could never persuade him to break the habit.

  20. Peter Ryberg says:

    Tony ; this is sad news for a true Phantom fan. All these great stories ( My favourite; Diana in prison) and the outstanding characters Chatu and Savarna. Would have loved to read more about them.
    Thank you Tony and good luck in the future.

    Peter Ryberg, Sweden

    • Tony says:

      Much appreciated, Peter. Yep, good thing Diana can’t be suppressed. She made that brief escape, got a few seconds of whispering into a phone and didn’t get shot by the home owner while doing it, and her mom thought it a cruel prank but the Phantom felt it was worth checking out. If not, Diana would still be presumed dead and Savarna probably would have moved into the Skull Cave by now!

      That was a fun story to write (hell, they all were!). Glad you enjoyed it.

  21. Jon Brush says:

    Well, Tony, you gave us a warning a few posts ago, that all was not well with the deal. So not totally surprised and could have predicted you would stand up for your rights. Looking forward to your next endeavors.
    From a long time Phantom Phan, used to read them in the Newark Star Ledger in the 1950’s.

    • Tony says:

      When you read the Phantom at a young age, as you did, Jon, you can’t help but recognize an adventure when you see it. Like riding the wheels off a Norton motorcycle and abandoning it in Newfoundland. 🙂

  22. Swaroop says:

    Great work all these years Tony! It feels like a wrong has happened here, propriety seems to have been abandoned by a business giant for reasons I cannot understand. Must’ve been hard, but respect for walking away.

    For the sake of us Phans, I do hope a movie comes out, hope it becomes big and hope you still get compensated for your material.

    Congrats on an amazing run of 17 years and thanks for the stories, characters.

    • Tony says:

      I wish them all the best on the movie, if it happens, even if they choose to steer around the material I wrote. It would be great to see the Phantom introduced to a new generation. Thanks for writing!

  23. Matthew Crompton says:

    Tony, as a huge aussie Phantom Phan, I am sorry to see you leaving, but obviously you have some decent points on why you are leaving – and good for you.
    Hopefully we have not seen the last of you in the Phantom Universe, as I, and alot of other Phantom Phans love your work.

    Best Regards from Australia

    Matthew

    • Tony says:

      Thanks, Matthew. Yeah, it was just an unfortunate turn in the road. If KFS didn’t want a contract all of a sudden, or if they wanted one I could sign, things might have gone on indefinitely. But none of us ever know what life’s going to throw at us next, gotta roll with it. Thanks for helping to keep the Phantom alive out there!

  24. Eric Benjamin says:

    Dang, Tony! The 1%’ers want to keep all the moola! I’m so glad you stood up to them. But not surprised at all. And if you find yourself road tripping through ATL, you’ve got a hot meal and iced whisky waiting. Your fine ladies might have mentioned we are currently down on Tybee. I will drink to you tonight. After I toast you this afternoon. Cheers, my friend! Endless adventures and more babies await you!
    🍺

  25. Pique' says:

    Tony – a Phantom reader from the early 50’s. Thanks for all your work, and best wishes, continue to grow & prosper. May the Good Mark be recognized when you need it. “No dogs allowed.” “He’s not a dog, he’s a wolf.”

  26. Michael says:

    Tony,
    I will be very sorry to see you go. Your work has been so excellent. I hope the powers that be do not use your current story line to end the strip., although I’m hoping you are going to do something I’ve wanted to see for some time now, Phantom gets hurt, needs time to recover, and Young Kit steps in to the role while dad recuperates.
    Stick to your guns. If they try to use any of your ideas in a movie, sue the pants off of them!

    • Tony says:

      Thanks, Michael. Falk did a story like that, as you may know. Julie Walker, the sister of the 17th Phantom. She stepped in, donned the costume, battled evil in her brother’s stead until he was able to recover from his wounds. Something like that could work again, no doubt.

  27. Ross Morisson says:

    I’ve always been a fan of the ‘classic’ Falk-era Phantom and must admit that, until recently, I hadn’t paid a whole lot of attention to the ongoing strip. My loss. A recent Frew colour edition showed your stories in a fresh light and I realised just how much you’d been able to develop the strip while retaining the essence of Falk’s hero – no easy task!

    Well, it is getting a bit late in the game now but I did have a couple of queries. To me the Phantom has always been a character who is prepared to shoot/kill someone if he has to, but only as a last resort (like when he fights off a jungle invasion or blows up a pirate base). It really irks me when I see versions of the Phantom where he could/should use his gun to get out of a situation, but doesn’t (Like the movie, where he shoots swords out of the pirates’ hands and they simply pick them up again as he runs out of bullets…argh! This is the ‘scourge of pirates’?). I see that you have depicted the Phantom (or at least his ancestors) in situations where he has had to shoot to kill…but what exactly are your thoughts on this? Have you been hampered editorially in your views?

    Also – the Phantom’s mask – in your view are the eyelets opaque or not?

    • Tony says:

      Hey, Ross. A couple of things: first, the mask. I say the Phantom’s eyes are concealed behind it. That’s in keeping with a comment Lee Falk made, that his take on the Phantom was inspired by classic Greek and Roman statuary. There’s the humanity of the form but no eyes to make the form completely human. Some mystery there. The eyes, as often said, are the window to the soul. So I think if you can see his eyes, he’s clearly just a man, no Ghost Who Walks.

      For me, Falk is always the touchstone, so on the Phantom using deadly force, I defer again to Falk. He never showed the Phantom solving workaday problems with his guns. At the same time, why give him a brace of pistols if he can’t kill in extraordinary circumstances? Surely they’re not a fashion accessory.

      So I’ve tried to explore that idea a bit. In “The Iceman,” a Sunday story published in the winter of 2014-2015, I had the 14th Phantom shoot a villain to death, but only after he was very nearly fatally shot himself.

      And in the Death of Diana Palmer Walker saga from 2009-2011, the Phantom clearly wanted to kill Chatu the Wambesi, aka The Python. I talked about that just today in an interview published in Australia.

      Here’s the link if you’d like to see it. Cheers, and thanks so much for writing, Ross.

      http://www.chroniclechamber.com/single-post/2017/06/05/Interview-with-Tony-DePaul

  28. Sagnik says:

    Hello Tony,Sagnik here. I am a phan since late ’80s and follower of your stories for long time and probably have had read majority,if not all. At first I took the news as a writer taking his retirement, before I read your post,and if I am not wrong, the characters introduced by you will not appear in future strips.If it is the fact, thousands of phans will be disappointed, including me.
    Finally, a big thanks for the work you have done.

    • Tony says:

      Thanks for the good word, Sagnik. You’re a true phan who will always follow the Phantom no matter who writes it, pencils it, inks it, colors it. All the best to you!

      • Sagnik says:

        I will, Tony. And I also wish to see you keep writing Phantom stories,in any other medium as strips aren’t an option now. Specially want​ to see the next parts of Twins’ future alongwith Nomad,in Egmont or in somewhere else. We have seen many stories in the 80+ years but growing up of twins and stories involving Heloise and Nomad are completely new take and looked great in Manley’s illustration .These should not be wasted just like this. Thanks.

  29. James Kolenchery says:

    Phantom and Mandrake were the comics I ever read – and were the reason to pick up newspaper in my childhood. Many other super heroes have come but Phantom remains my favorite. You transitioned from great Falk with ease and brought more human aspects of the phantom visible in modern times.

    I will certainly miss your arcs.

    Wish you the best,
    James Kolenchery

    • Tony says:

      Thanks, James. It’s funny how many readers love both the Phantom and Mandrake strips. I wrote “Trouble in the Twelve Nations” last year mainly because Terry Beatty is such a Mandrake fan. I think he really enjoyed bringing that story to life at the drawing board. For me, it was great fun to see the Phantom punching it out with Hojo in a dark stairwell, thinking he was an assassin working for Otanko, Lothar’s old enemy from the Falk years.

  30. Tim Lasiuta says:

    Thanks Tony for years of great work. Integrity cannot be bought. Just like the Phontom, you are the writer who walks…

  31. Cameron says:

    I’m 29, and I’ve been only reading The Phantom strip for four years now. I’ve never saw it in my local newspaper. If I did I definitely would’ve read, and remembered it. I discovered The Phantom strip online reading the first Phantom story that I’ve ever read titled “The Phantom Lion” I thought it was great, and then when I discovered vintage Phantom stories from the 1940s from the Falk/McCoy era on Dailyink now called Comics Kingdom I got very interested in The Phantom strip after that. I love his back story of there being previous Phantoms before him, with the first phantom giving the oath, and saying all of his sons will follow his footsteps. That immediately peaked my interest. I think The Phantom strip is the best action/adventure in newspapers, and online out there. I think he outranks Batman, Superman, Spider-man etc combined. He’s also pretty much the very first comic superhero. The Phantom doesn’t get enough credit, that he deserves. I’m sure a lot of people my age, and younger probably don’t even know who The Phantom is, or his background, because I didn’t know who he was until discovering it on Dailyink fours ago, and started to read it. Lee Falk was an amazing writer for The Phantom strip. He was very committed to it, and Mandrake until his passing in 1999, and then he handed you the mantle. It’s a shame to lose you Tony DePaul. But I can understand why you’re stepping down. Such a darn shame. You ought to check out a comment I made on Comics Kingdom last year on February 17th on The Phantom’s 80th anniversary about you, Paul Ryan, and Terry Beatty. I never saw this coming a year ago. Now all three of you are gone. I do love Jeff Weigel’s, and Mike Manley’s art of The Phantom strip though. They’re excellent artists. Some of my favorite stories so far that you’ve wrote are “Terror’s Munity”, “John X”, “Farewell to the Deep Woods” “Mandrake’s Bon Voyage”, “Death Comes to the 5th Phantom”, “The Ghost Story”, and many others. I haven’t read all The Phantom stories you’ve wrote, but I definitely will on Comics Kingdom. I’m definitely anxious to read “The Death of Diana Palmer Walker”. A very good friend of mine gave me access to his Phantom files that I could download on my flash drive, and put them on my laptop to be able to read. The files have ALL The Phantom stories from Lee Falk/Ray Moore all the way up to you and Paul Ryan. I was so elated about this! I loved, and enjoyed reading “The Singh Brotherhood” story! What an AWESOME story. It made The Phantom movie from 1996 look like a joke. Falk was such an amazing writer! I’m reading the stories in order. I’m OCD like that. XD. I read exactly six strips each day so that it concludes the whole week. Right now I’m on story #12 titled “The Seahorse” from 1940. It’s really good, and exciting so far. I just finished reading the second Sunday Phantom story titled “The Precious Cargo of Colonel Winn” 1939-1940. Great story also. Wow, Falk was an amazing writer! I can’t wait to read “The Phantom Goes to War” story based off of WW2! That’ll be interesting to read. You were an amazing writer for The Phantom strip too, Mr DePaul. How, and when did you start working by Lee Falk’s side? And did you read The Phantom, and Diana’s wedding when it was out in newspapers at the time in 1977? I’m gonna miss your writing of The Phantom strip. You really had a good run with it, Mr DePaul. I really hope there’ll be a new writer for The Phantom strip. I really want to see it turn 100 in 19 years. And if there will be a new writer for The Phantom strip I hope they’ll be good as you, and Falk. Farewell, Mr DePaul. I hope you have blessed life in whatever it is you’ll do now. Take care, good sir.

    • Tony says:

      Thanks, Cameron. That’s always the $64,000 question, how to introduce the Phantom to the next generation of readers. It doesn’t seem that anyone in a position to do anything about it is giving it much thought, beyond managing the decline of the newspapers’ role. The initial stories from the 30s are interesting because you can see Falk zeroing-in on things as he goes. I liked to flash back to the old stories now and again, whenever it was relevant. Did it a few times recently in “The Twins’ Futures.” Might have done it in “The Hunt for the Unknown Commander.” Getting late, can’t think of other times off the top of my head, but you’ll spot them as you go along on Comics Kingdom. Cheers, and thanks again for writing.

  32. Gator Gene says:

    Not only has KFS screwed you, they’ve screwed all of us loyal, long-time readers. Although I can handle not seeing Chatu or Savarna again, not because they weren’t incredible characters, but because he’s safely imprisoned and she’s living her own life; I can’t handle the idea that I’m never going to know what happens with Heloise living in New York with the Nomad’s daughter, and I’m never going to know what happens to Kit with his tutor and the constable.

    I wonder, if the new writer can’t manage to make everything coherent and part of the Phantom established history, whether I’ll remain a faithful reader. In the five decades that I’ve been reading, everything seems to mesh, with very, very few inconsistencies, and that’s been an attraction for me.

    I’d hate to become disenchanted with the strip, and I’d hate for it to be discontinued. But I’m wondering if maybe your (forced) resignation is the beginning of the end. Whatever happens, you’ve brought me 17 years of regular and repeated joy and entertainment. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *