Many Phantom phans share a common thread when it comes to the time they were introduced to the Ghost Who Walks - their first comics came via a Phantom showbag at their local show. So what on earth happened to these??
Scrolling through my twitter feed over a lazy Easter weekend, I was pulled up short by the following tweet:
With a few notable exceptions (@Phantom_Comic, @_GhostWhoWalks and of course our own @Chronicle_Tweet) it's not often that the classic comic strip hero makes much of an appearance on the popular and very modern short form social media network, so of course my interest was piqued. And the news that The Phantom Showbag was out of production after being available for over 70 years - this was huge!
What had happened to the iconic showbag that got so many people hooked on The Phantom??
A call to Australian showbag distributors Hunter Leisure confirmed the story behind the tweet - The Phantom Showbag is no more. As I suspected, it has actually been out of commission for a while now, with the Hunter Leisure representative stating that it had been "at least a few years" since the bags had been supplied by The Showbag Factory in Wangaratta.
By now I was down the rabbit hole so another phone call, this time to Craig Patrick at The Showbag Factory. Craig confirmed that their modern iteration of The Phantom Showbag had been produced from 1997-2015. He recalled it as "a good value bag, with 8-10 comics inside ranging from the $1.50 - $5.50 books". When asked why they had stopped producing the bags, the response was simple: "we lost our supplier. We had been getting books that were returned from newsagents, and when we stopped receiving those the showbag ceased."
The obvious question then was, if The Showbag Factory was somehow able to start sourcing the books again, would they resume production of the bag? "Probably not," said Craig. "It wasn't a big seller to be honest, only 1-2 bags at each country show... They were popular with collectors but that's about it. We've replaced them with other bags that sell better now."
So that's it - the end of an era.
Modern phans would possibly shrug their shoulders and say, so what, that really isn't an issue for me (especially if they already have a bag or two in their collection!). And perhaps there's a point there - after all if new readers aren't being introduced to the comic in this way anyway, does it really matter?
The nostalgic among us will say yes, of course it does. The showbag is an Australian icon and a way to tempt new phans. Perhaps the delivery just needs re-thinking.
Maybe Sammy J is on the right path with the showbag he was selling at performances of Hero Complex. Inspired by the Phantom bag, he included a comic but also a range of other merchandise - wristband, confectionery, Hero Complex book, signed photos... Perhaps giving punters a little more than just reading material is what's needed these days.
Could this be an idea for Frew? A Supanova or Convention showbag with a few random back issues, a replica issue, a Kid Phantom mask and stickers sheet or even a pin, a bookmark or two, maybe a special Phantom by Gaslight short story, a Universe card, a packet of Phile cards...
If it was successful at the conventions perhaps something like this could find its way back on the traditional show circuit. Surely there would be plenty of parents and grandparents who would love the nostalgic appeal of buying a wholesome Phantom Showbag for their children. There'd be oldtime phans who just might be surprised and impressed at the new stuff they find inside. And if it encouraged a few folk to the Kid Phantom website or into the newsagent for the next Jamie Johnson cover, it could be well worth it.
What do you think? Are we happy to see the death of The Phantom Showbag? Or would you like to see it make a comeback in a new and reinvigorated form?