A very special collection of original Phantom art, comics and collectibles is currently on display and viewable to the public in a Library in Sydney, as part of an event called the Comic Con-versation. The ChronicleChamber team has had a chat to the good folk at the Liverpool City Library to find out all about it!
ChronicleChamber: For non-Sydneysiders and those who came in late, what is Comic Con-versation? How many venues participate?
Liverpool City Library: Comic Con-versation is an annual event, held in mid July, which celebrates the best of Australian comic culture with workshops, panels, exhibitions and presentations for children and adults across Sydney libraries. Twenty-one libraries in 16 councils participated in 2017.
CC: How did The Phantom: The Ghost Who Walks Exhibition and all the Phantom-related events that followed (Glenn Ford Curator’s Talk, Kid Phantom Launch, and the Aussie Phantom panel) come to be a part of Comic Con-versation? Did the organisers approach Frew Publications, or the other way around?
LCL: Liverpool City Library had an exhibition space that was available during Comic Con-versation. Program coordinator, Julie Ditrich, who is also a comic book writer, is a friend to a number of Australian comic book creators who were working on The Phantom for Frew Publications, and who were sharing their stories with her about their creative process and their excitement about being attached to such a fantastic comic book brand. Julie pitched the idea of having the library host a Phantom Exhibition in the space, and the organising committee was thrilled at the prospect. Julie then approached Glenn Ford, Frew Publications Publisher, who agreed to lend part of his collection to the exhibition.
Glenn was exceptionally helpful in helping the curators (Judith Ridge, Coordinator, Outreach Programs, and Julie Ditrich) choose the art and the collectibles that would have a special significance not only to phans but also to the Australian comics community.
CC: Can you describe The Phantom: The Ghost Who Walks Exhibition for us? How many pieces, display cases etc, what type of items are on display, what does the space look like—what can visitors expect to see?
LCL: The Exhibition Space is one large white room with two pop-up white walls that run perpendicular to the back wall but that allow people to walk around them. The descriptions below are from the vantage point of looking into the exhibition.
Upon entering the gallery space, customers can stop and read the exhibition description, which is punctuated with the famous red The Phantom logo.
Nearby is a poster of Hamlet Phantom (1981), which was created for the Brooklyn Academy of Music and credited to Sy Barry and The Phantom creator Lee Falk.
As you walk around the exhibition you start with a singular piece of the young Phantom reading in the Chronicle Chamber—which in some ways is a perfect symbol for the connection between the character and the library. As you round the corner, the wall on the extreme left contains daily comic strip art, as well as original covers with paste-up from the 1950s and 1960s. Some of the artists featured include Wilson McCoy, Sy Barry and Pat Boyette.
On both sides of the pop up wall opposite are painted and inked pieces of the Phantom from international artists such as Bernie Wrightson, Bill Sienkiewicz, Sergio Aragonés, Simon Bisley, and Antonio Ciarelli. There is also a piece from Australian comic book artist John Dixon, which features the Outback Phantom at Uluru.
In the middle of the back wall is a glass cabinet, containing a large purple Phantom bust with eyes that light up and change colours. The bust originally topped a gaming machine. In the cabinet are Phantom rings from around the world on the top shelf, as well as a Phantom bike helmet, board games, trading cards and plastic model assembly kits on the lower shelves.
On either side of this display are more contemporary Phantom posters and limited edition prints including a 1960s pop art piece with him grappling with a tiger, as well as The Phantom and Shark King’s Comics cover poster.
The right hand pop up wall contains two different themes. The side facing the interior contains a Kids Phantom Gallery, which is covered by freshly minted Phantom art rendered by children who have visited the exhibition. There are beanbags on the floor, and a variety of colouring in projects and activities sourced from various The Phantom Annuals. There are also copies of Kid Phantom #1 and #2 comic books for the children to read.
On the other side of the right hand pop up wall is the trading card art, which includes pieces by Fred Fredericks, George Evans, Rudy Nebres and Sy Barry.
In the bottom right hand corner of the exhibition is a New Guinea Shell Tribal War Shield circa 1976.
On the right hand wall on are two movie posters—one from India, showing the 1942 serial, and the other from France—from the 1996 Phantom movie starring Billy Zane.
In front of the movie posters are two large cabinets. One contains a selection of vintage comic books and annuals in different languages, while the other contains Phantom statues, and bobble-heads from around the world.
The exhibition contains about 40 artworks, a dozen figures and bobble heads, 30 books and annuals, and various other collectibles.
CC: That is a sensational walk-through, thank you! It must have been an amazing experience to set up the display, working with Glenn to select pieces and organise them?
LCL: Judith Ridge and Julie Ditrich drove to the Frew Publications office where they met Glenn and the Frew team. Glenn brought out various pieces from the archives and mentioned their provenance, as well as the artist’s name. Firm and loud excited ‘yeses’ could be heard at the mention of artists such as Bernie Wrightson, Sy Barry, and Sergio Aragonés. The team chose the art first, specifically requesting some Diana Palmer pieces—several daily newspaper strips and a large Dick Frizzell “The Big Kiss – Phantom Kissing Diana” lithograph from 2007 made the cut.
The curating team then pointed to the large Phantom gaming machine topper and said they definitely wanted that in the exhibition. Glenn made further recommendations on what other collectibles and memorabilia to add to the list.
The exhibition was installed according to themes: paintings and inks, daily strips, covers, trading card art, as well as collectibles and memorabilia.
CC: Are there any particularly rare or iconic pieces that you see as being a drawcard for Phantom phans?
LCL: The drawcard for many phans will be the actual artists themselves. These include Bernie Wrightson, Simon Bisley, Bill Sienkiewicz, Sy Barry and Wilson McCoy. The original daily newspaper strips from the 1950s and 60s are also fascinating, as well as the cover paste-ups. For the collectors it will be the rings and the vintage comics from around the world. For those who respond to story it will be the recognition factor of artworks that contain iconic locations such as the Skull Cave.
CC: What did it add to the Con-versation that you have The Phantom as a character, a renowned artist and collector such as Glenn Ford, and indeed the company Frew Publications, involved?
LCL: Liverpool City Library is honoured to host an exhibition of such a famous comic book character who predates the Marvel and DC superheroes, who is the central figure for some amazing adventure stories, and who also invokes nostalgia in so many Australian and International phans. The exhibition itself was the centrepoint for Comic Con-versation programing at Liverpool in 2017. In fact, we book ended the event by starting with the launch of the exhibition, and ending it with “Phantom Friday" as we affectionately came to call it when three Phantom sessions were programed back to back. What the coordinating team loved seeing were the visitors to each—many phans attended every Phantom session! Some brought their children and grandchildren to pass on the legacy of their love for and commitment to the character and the world in which he exists onto the next generation.
In fact, that was a pivotal theme of Glenn Ford’s involvement in the exhibition, as well as one of the motivations in the launch of Kid Phantom… to attract a new young phandom who will love the stories as much as dedicated long term readers. Glenn Ford and the Frew Publications team were pivotal to helping Liverpool City Library choose the pieces for the collection, but also in filling in the gaps in our knowledge about the Phantom brand. It was a privilege for the library to have Glenn attend all the Phantom sessions, as well as present his Curator’s Talk, which provided information on each piece and artist on display. He also entertained us with the backstories such as the phan obsession and love for all things Phantom from even remote places such as the jungles and mountain ranges of Papua New Guinea.
CC: How did the Grand Opening (Thursday 29 June) go? Can you give us some idea of crowd size, how the Exhibition was received, how the speeches went ? What was the occasion like?
LCL: The launch of the exhibition was a happy and relaxed affair. About 30 people attended on the actual night plus a large number of the library staff who were interested. Many others had booked as well who didn’t make it. We found out later that several of them had tried to drive to the launch but got stuck in peak hour traffic so either came late or decided to return another day.
The launch opened with an introduction and welcome from Judith Ridge, followed by a speech from Liverpool Councillor Nathan Hagarty who was a perfect choice to open the exhibition because he loves pop culture, superheroes and more importantly, The Phantom. Councillor Hagarty also brought his children to the opening, which was wonderful to see. Glenn Ford then took over and made a speech about the collection, and answered questions from the floor. The attendees then walked around the exhibition and also indulged in pizza and other food and drink at this catered event.
CC: And how was the big event day of Friday 14 July 2017?
LCL: Phantom Friday was terrific!
A fitting way to finish off Comic Con-versation! Again, about 30 people from all walks of life attended, as well as all ages and genders. Fairly soon everybody knew each other’s name and reminisced about all things Phantom. Glenn Ford took the lead with the Curator’s Talk and the crowd followed him through the exhibition as he talked about each piece. After that, Andrew Constant (writer) and Paul Mason (artist) of Kid Phantom joined the phans and spoke from the podium, alongside Glenn Ford, to officially launch the new titles. They then sat at a table and signed copies for people who were eager to add the new comic books to their collection. The launch was catered so people grabbed their drinks and nibblies in between chatting to each other.
Most people stayed back for the final event… the Aussie Phantom Panel, which was held in the Gold Room up the stairs. Artist Jason Paulos (Phantom by Gaslight) also joined the session. (Unfortunately, writer Christopher Sequiera (Phantom by Gaslight) couldn’t attend because he was in New York and on his way to the San Diego Comic Convention. He was there in spirit.) The panel discussed the pitch and collaboration process and answered lots of questions from the audience.
It was relaxed and jovial night with lots of laughs… and for the lucky and hungry creative team a Thai dinner in the heart of Liverpool after the library doors had closed for the night.
CC: Is there any merchandise associated with the event that is for sale at the Liverpool Library? Is there a way for phans who cannot attend the Exhibition to purchase this?
LCL: No there is no merchandise available from the exhibition. The two Kid Phantom comic books, which were launched and were available for sale on the Friday can be found at:
CC: What do you hope that the Exhibition achieves?
LCL: Comic Con-versation as a whole showcases the best of local comics. The Phantom, which is Australia’s highest selling comic book series and which has been published since 1948, is the penultimate comic book publishing endeavour in the local scene so part of the push is to bring the exhibition to the attention of Liverpool residents and beyond by celebrating wonderful art and great storytelling.
Liverpool itself has a large and diverse population. Pop culture and comic book culture crosses all boundaries no more so than the Phantom, which is published in multiple languages around the world.
In fact, we believe the Skull Oath is still relevant and resonates in today’s society: “… to devote my life to the destruction of piracy, greed, and cruelty, in all their forms…” and that’s what makes the Phantom such an enduring and universally loved character who fights to the greater good.
CC: Thank you so much for your time and your wonderfully thorough responses!
The Phantom: The Ghost Who Walks Exhibition runs from Monday 26 June to Friday 25 August 2017 at Liverpool City Library.
17-0 George St, Liverpool NSW 2170 Australia