Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Ghost who Walks...

Even though The Phantom comic strip was created in USA, it is much better known in India, Australia and some parts of Europe. Name this comic book character in the US or Canada and you will get blank stares. For me, The Phantom forms such an integral part of my childhood. Comics were my first love, long before I discovered films, soccer, literature and women (in that order). And the Indian publisher Indrajal comics provided me with the rich universe of The Phantom, Mandrake the Magician and even Aditya the monk. In fact, this blog was originally signed under the name Aditya, as inspired by that comic book character. As as child, I had almost all of The Phantom comic books but it is still a mystery in my family as to where they disappeared. Maybe they were somehow lost in a house move. My uncle believes that maybe my grandfather might have accidentally disposed of them but it is remarkable that not a single issue survived.

I forgot about the comics as I grew up and since one could not find any Indrajal comics in India or any Phantom issues in Canada, I moved on. Until 1996 that is. That is when The Phantom film made its way into theaters. Needless to say, the film didn’t do well as most people didn’t pay any attention. On the other hand, I managed to convince a few friends to rush to the cinema to see it. While we enjoyed parts of the movie, the best aspect of the film was a certain villainous female character. All of us stayed behind to look her name up in the closing credits and we uttered her name in unison -- Catherine Zeta-Jones. We were all sure that was not the last we had seen of this actresses and in a way we were proved right. But after the film, I went back to real life so to speak and once again, The Phantom fizzled away.

And then finally The Phantom turned from an abstract memory into something more substantial when I happened to be visiting Victoria, B.C in the fall of 2007. I chanced upon a comic book expo there and discovered some old issues of The Phantom. I managed to get names of some publishers who were reprinting new issues and told myself that I would finally look them up. I didn’t have to wait too long as later that day, I walked into a downtown Victoria comic book store and found an entire section dedicated to the Phantom. In a way it was not surprizing to see so many Phantom comics in Victoria as that city still has a huge British influence and maybe it was because of the British influence that countries such as India and Australia latched onto The Phantom. Nonetheless, I managed to get quite a few issues and was glad to discover that Moonstone publishing was reprinting The Phantom. I also discovered a few blogs that have tried to keep The Phantom alive by scanning old Indrajal comics on the web.

And finally, this past weekend another chapter in my assembling of The Phantom took place. At the Calgary comic expo, I came across Ruben Procopio’s booth.

It turns out Ruben has been sketching The Phantom for a while and I picked up The Phantom Chronicles, a collection of short stories with sketches of the "ghost who walks" done by Ruben.

It has been a real treat in re-discovering The Phantom over the last 2 years, not only from a childhood point of view but also from a story perspective. One real advantage this character has over other super-heroes is that The Phantom logically lends itself to exist forever because as per the story when one Phantom dies, his son inherits the costume and continues the fight. In fact, as per the story quite a few generations of The Phantom have existed. This secret that The Phantom is a mortal human is only known to a few people while enemies and common folk believe in the legend of The Phantom as "the ghost who walks". On the other hand, there is only one Spider-Man or one Batman and the same character never ages for decades on end.

Comics or graphic novels don’t get as much credit as they do. But they were indeed a main form of imagination or entertainment before films became mainstream. And even now, films are diving into graphic novels for inspiration. Italo Calvino once talked about the importance of comics and said that one day if civilization was destroyed, maybe future generations could piece together the history of the world via comics. At times one may have to work hard to discover relevance to reality in comics but quite a few comic books contain political elements or aspects of modern society.

This weekend’s comic expo was great in that it rekindled my love of comics and I was glad to have discovered some new works. I will have more to talk about some of these newly discovered titles in upcoming weeks....

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