Speaking to Jim Shepherd

Jim in the Frew office (image courtesy Fairfax media)

Publisher of the world’s longest running Phantom comic Mr. Jim Shepherd is a very important man in Phantom circles. Joe Douglas has the pleasure of chatting to the man behind Frew about his publication and his love for a man in purple tights…

ChronicleChamber.com: G’day Jim, thanks very much for joining us here at ChronicleChamber.com. First off, for those who came in late, tell us how you first became publisher of the world's longest running Phantom publication.

Jim Shepherd: In 1987 I was running a quite successful book publishing company of my own when I was asked by the then partners in Frew to handle some business negotiations on their behalf. Later the same year, one of the partners died and the other decided he wanted to retire. I agreed to buy a small stake in Frew and later purchased 50% of the company. The opportunity later arose to purchase all the issued shares. By 2001 I became the sole owner. CC: The Phantom is a huge pop culture icon in Australia. What is it about the character that makes him so endearing to Australian readers in particular, do you think?

JS: Almost certainly because the character has been around for so long…as a syndicated newspaper and magazine strip since the late 1930s for example. It has out-lasted so many syndicated Australian, American and British strips and today ranks No.2 (behind Ginger Meggs) as the most widely distributed comic strip in Australia. Frew has been on the scene since September, 1948.

1948 Frew #1

CC: Are you Phantom phan yourself, do you still collect Phantom memorabilia or do you just concentrate on putting the book out?

JS: I don’t collect merchandise, although a huge amount comes my way as gifts. I do collect Phantom publications of every type. If anybody out there has a copy of a comic book published in Russia, please get in touch! I think it is the only example of an international Phantom comic book I do not possess.

CC: Do you have a personal favorite Phantom story?

JS: I still love some of the very early Lee Falk stories and especially the original, The Singh Brotherhood. In no order, other Falk favourites are The Phantom Goes to War, The Golden Circle and The Slave Traders.

CC: You were lucky enough to have met the Phantom’s creator, the late Lee Falk. For those of us who never had that honour, tell us a little about the man.

JS: I first met Lee when he and wife Elizabeth came to Australia in 1988 and saw him at least once every year until his death. With one exception (when he returned to Australia in the 1990s) we always caught up in New York. He was a highly intelligent man, always friendly and interested in so many things. Despite our age difference, we hit it off because we quickly discovered we shared so many interests….the theatre (his real passion in life!), jazz and classical music, , magic and among many other things, boxing! At many of our longish lunches in New York, we often never broached the subject of comics, but concentrated entirely on the merits of boxers from the golden era of the 1940s and 1950s.

CC: Lee Falk’s other comics hero, Mandrake, almost comes hand in hand with the purple clad hero. Even though they have only appeared together on few occasions the characters seem almost inseparable. Do you personally enjoy the Mandrake strips?

1946 Harvey Comics Joe Palooka #7

JS: I loved the Phil Davis era with Mandrake and rate it one of the best illustrated comics of that time. Sadly, a lot of the Mandrake ‘magic’ faded when Davis died, but of course, that can be said for so many other famous strips ranging from Dick Tracy, Joe Palooka, Prince Valiant.

CC: This may go in hand with the previous question but apart from The Phantom are you a fan of any other comic books or strips? JS: Far too many to mention in detail! I grew up with vintage Buck Rogers, Dick Tracy, Joe Palooka, Prince Valiant, Flash Gordon and still like to read classic adult/adventure strips of the period. I was also something of a fan of old Australian strips such as Wanda The War Girl! Wish I’d kept the hundreds of old Australian comic books I once owned!

CC: Much of Frew’s output in the last few years has been reprints of Egmont stories. How exactly do you choose which stories to print?

JS: When I first became involved with Frew, I was extremely selective about Semic and later, Egmont stories, because fairly early, I embarked upon a plan to bring back as many complete (unedited) Lee Falk stories as possible. Now that Frew has re-published so many old Falk stories in their entirety, I have almost been forced into purchasing almost every new story published by Egmont. Once sufficient years have passed, I will probably cut back a little on new Scandinavian stories and bring back more of the old Falk adventures.

CC: Recently Frew has printed many multi-part Egmont tales. Due, I assume, to the availability of the scripts and art there is often a “filler” issue between one part of the story and the next. If Frew has these stories to use as “fillers” would it not be better to print those “filler” stories until all issues of a multi-part story are at your disposal rather than having the story interrupted by an unrelated tale, or is Frew not able to do this? JS: Go back a little and you will note that we did, in fact, publish Semic and Egmont serial stories in an unbroken line. Sadly, Egmont now follows a schedule of having long gaps between episodes of serial works and it is not unusual for a four-part story to be spread over 12 months. I’d like to run part stories in a continual line, but this is not possible.

2004 Frew #1389

CC: It’s known that some Egmont re-prints in Frew editions are edited to conceal nudity and such. An example would be the story Giovanna which saw the title characters’ bare breasts covered in the Frew edition. However, in Son of the Pirate Queen (Frew #1389, 1426, 1427) a female pirate’s naked breasts are seen in nearly every page. Also, in the recent Circe’s Island (Frew #1455, 1456) Felmang’s art, while not explicit is defiantly suggestive yet these stories were not edited or censured in any way. I am not saying these decis