Have you listened to Episode 97 of X-Band: The Phantom Podcast - the Ulf Granberg interview? If so, no doubt you have learnt a lot and may also have been intrigued by his comments when we asked about Lee Falk's opinions about Semic* stories.
While of course Lee Falk's work provides the core of The Phantom canon, there are many disputes as to what else can be regarded as 'true' Phantom Lore. Scandinavian authors published stories on the origin of both of the Phantom's rings, and also of his faithful wolf Devil; but can these be regarded as part of the canon with Falk's stamp of approval?
One frequent question posed in the Falkism debate is: Did Falk endorse or approve of Semic's work? What exactly did he think of them?
Sadly with Lee having passed away almost 20 years ago, there is no real way we can say definitively one way or the other. But there are a few snippets and clues we can look at to try and find an answer.
As outlined by Ulf in his interview with us and elsewhere (e.g. his interview in 2011 which appeared in Lee Falk: Storyteller), Team Fantomen deliberately left Lee to make the big decisions like the marriage of the Phantom and the birth of the twins.
However, Semic did decide to write and publish three key origin stories, explaining the origin of the Skull Ring (The Ring 1977 by Ulf Granberg & Jamie Vallve), the Good Mark ring (The Message 1984 Norman Worker & Kari Leppänen), as well as Devil's origin (Devil's Story 1979 Donne Avenell & George Bess).
The Ring and Devil's Story most recently appeared in Frew's 2017 trade paperback For those who came in late. The Message's only appearance in a Frew comic was in #1373 back in 2006.
So the obvious question is: Did Falk know of these stories and accept the plot lines as part of official Phantom canon?
On behalf of the CC team, Jermayn has scoured both the Lee Falk: Storyteller book (video review here) and the Friends of the Phantom newsletters (the majority of these can be found on our P3) and it's pretty obvious that Falk knew about the Egmont / Semic created stories.
Lee Falk is quoted as saying "the Scandinavian editors have done a great job with the Phantom comic books. I've been told you produce a majority of the stories yourselves." (Lee Falk Storyteller, 196).
In a Friends of the Phantom interview, Ulf is quoted as saying, "we have furnished English translations of Swedish-produced adventures whenever Lee or King [Features] so have wished". The Election in Bengallan story, featuring Lamanda Luaga losing his Presidential office, is specifically mentioned as one that Falk requested a copy of (FotP #16). We note that Falk did not go on to change Presidents in the news strip...
So, we know that Lee Falk knew about the Scandinavian stories, and seemed particularly interested in those that addressed key elements on Phantom lore. To be fair, this is not particularly surprising - one would hope he'd take an interest! However, the bigger question remains: did he approve of or even like them?
The Skull Ring
After listening to the first part of X-Band #97, it is clear that Ulf feels that Lee Falk was a big fan of the Skull Ring origin presented in The Ring, based on the fact that he requested Ulf to translate him a copy years before Frew released one for English-speaking readers.
Perhaps Falk was keen to see what Semic had done with an origin story that he had already hinted at.
Keen eagle eyed phans with diplomas of Phantom history may remember the 28th Sunday story which ran in newspapers from 29 October 1950 to 10 June 1951 titled The Phantom's Ring which featured an almost throw away line in a single panel (right). The Phantom's Ring was last published in Frew #1720 (2015) and Fantomen/Fantomet 26/1999.
So Lee was certainly the first to explain the origin of the ring (however briefly), and his version is not compatible with Semic's far more detailed version written 27 years later. But did Falk even remember he wrote about it himself over a quarter of a century previously? Did he even write that story or was it ghost-written as some have proposed? Questions with no real answers, just conjecture.
Given Falk's history of mis-remembering and changing his own Phantom Lore, many phans might think it's safe to assume he forgot. All we know is that The Ring was a story that Lee was eager to read himself but to our knowledge never publicly commented on.
So do we accept the Falk version of the origin with one obscure mention that is official to many phans, or change to the more detailed and decisive Semic origin which is practically set in concrete with many others?
The Good Mark
On the subject of rings, Falk never wrote a story or apparently made any mention of the origin of the Good Mark, which is interesting as Lee explored the Good Mark mythos more than the Skull Mark. Indeed, he wrote several stories exploring the ring and the mark: The Two Signs (1958); A Tale of the Good Mark (1959); The Stolen Ring (1976); Tale of the Good Mark (1979).
Of course, in typical Lee Falk Phantom lore style, the design of the mark was changed and adapted many times over the years as new artists took up the inking brush.
As mentioned above, Semic did produce their own origin of the Good Mark in the 1984 story The Message (released in Denmark titled The History of the Good Mark), but we have no indication that Falk read the story.
As for the story of Devil, in Ulf's interview he stated that it was originally Team Fantomen's strategy to explore the origin of Devil. However, when Lee heard the idea he expressed a desire to write that story himself. Team Fantomen dutifully put the idea to one side, but ran out of patience and so in 1979 created the story after waiting several years for Lee and ultimately giving up. A key scene from Avenell's story is pictured (left).
Again, Phantom newspaper strip scholars may well point to Lee Falk making mention of Devil's origin in one of his stories. Ulf was not sure if Lee knew about the story but it's certainly possible to say that he did!
On 28th December 1986 the below panel appeared in the opening sequence to Falk's Queen Amaza's Mate. It refers to the Phantom finding Devil as a pup, which is clearly similar to the origin claimed in Devil's Story by Team Fantomen. While once again Falk never explored the story, it certainly dovetails very neatly into the lore set out by Donne Avenell and Team Fantomen 7 years earlier.
So to the questions we asked at the beginning Did Falk endorse or approve of Semic's work? What exactly did he think of them?
We have three clear example of origin stories that were left available by Lee Falk, and taken up by Team Fantomen. Did he approve of or like them? As we said at the start, with the great storyteller passed almost 20 years ago, we are just guessing, but the clues are there...
The Skull Ring, possibly disputed.
The Good Mark, no one knows.
Devil, evidence says it has been endorsed.
So, are these Semic stories to be taken as 'true', Lee-Falk-approved Phantom lore? As always, it is in the eye of the beholder!
* For those who came in late: Semic was the company publishing Phantom comics in Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark before Egmont brought them out in 1997.