News have reached us from Turkey that longtime Phantom artist Özcan Eralp passed away on January 12, 2019. His funeral was held in the Kızıltoprak mosque on January 13, 2019. He was 83 years old.
When I was a child, my uncle lived with us for a while and drew The Phantom. Some of the best memories I have, was from when he drew and I was watching, as he explained how the images and speech bubbles would fit together.
We always had fun, calm and cozy moments, even though he was working. This was a big thing for a small child. We have visited my uncle in Turkey several times after he moved. I would like to describe my uncle as a good artist, down to earth and very kind hearted. In my eyes, he was and will always be the amazing talanted warm man that I am proud to call my uncle.
Suzan Eralp Doberck
Özcan Eralp's association with the Phantom is long and unusual. He moved to Sweden in the 1960s, inspired by his brother who was already there. He found work as an illustrator with comic book publisher Semic Press. His ambition to draw his childhood hero The Phantom came true in 1968, but first only as a filler artist adding and redrawing panels when Italian Fratelli Spada stories were adapted to the format of the Swedish Fantomen magazine. His first complete Team Fantomen Phantom story was The Treasure Seeker published in 1970, and was not only drawn but also written by him.
Eralp remained a cornerstone of the Team Fantomen production until 1991, even after he moved back to Turkey in the 1970s. Each year he had a steady output of stories, sometimes as an inker for artists such as Knut Westad and Bertil Wilhelmsson. His last writing credit was from the 1989 story Secret of the Volcano Valley. His final Phantom story as an illustrator was Mystery of the Reef in 1991. During this time and beyond, he was also a productive illustrator in Turkey, producing comics, cartoons and illustrations.
He was greatly inspired by his favorite artist Sy Barry, whose style he sometimes followed very closely, but he also varied his technique in the late 80s and produced other, non-Barry-esque art. But to be honest, he was never the phan favorite that some artists are and compared to some of his more spectacular fellow artists he was given relatively little attention and was a bit of a mystery. That's one reason why one of the first online Phantom article that I wrote was a piece on Eralp for Deepwoods.org, that you can still find there.
I figured that the "big names" would be covered by other writers, so I gathered the information I could find and put together an Eralp tribute.
Özcan Eralp was a humble man, and I spent quite some time from 2010 and onwards trying to get in touch with him. I found his relatives in Sweden that forwarded messages from me, but the only time he replied it was to say that all that needed to be known about him was already available online at Deepwoods.org - in the article I wrote!
As years passed, it was however clear that my article was far from complete and much was still unsaid about Özcan's life and career - and even his Phantom work. PhantomWiki's top contributor Marko Davidovic was as far as I know the first person to realise that some Eralp stories published in Turkey had never appeared elsewhere.
I tried to find out more about this from Eralp, but no luck. I contacted his former coworkers Ulf Granberg and Janne Lundström, who were completely surprised by the fact that Eralp had done Phantom work elsewhere, but also continued to praise Eralp as a reliable and dedicated resource, who was a genuine Phantom phan at heart.
The Phantom stories where he is credited as writer or co-writer were usually done on his own initiative on his spare time, investing a lot of time without knowing if a story would be accepted or not. Some stories required some editing and redrawing before they were accepted, but his editor/co-writer Janne Lundström noted that Eralp may not have seemed pleased about the extra work but always completed it as instructed. A true professional.
Having temporarily served as editor of Fantomen, and being a publisher/editor for other titles as well, I can vouch for the fact that editors dream of having artists like Eralp in their roster. Someone who you can always trust will get the job done on time, every time. Eralp was a Team player, and his longevity as a Phantom artist is a testament to how appreciated he was by Lundström and later editor Ulf Granberg.
Notably, Eralp also completed the map of Benagli commisioned by Semic in the early 1980's. This map has been widely recognised as the most comprehensive and complete map of Phantom Country and beyond ever created. [An English language verion of the map is available in the P3 - Ed.]
Frew brought some of Eralp's stories into the light recently: Breaking the Circle in the 80th Anniversary special and Badlands, Wagon Master, The Indian Hater, and Terror in the Desert in the 2018 Annual: Phantom Cowboy Special. Guran's Secret also appeared in a regular Frew issue early in 2018.
Thanks to Eralp's family, copies of these issues were sent to Eralp, but at this moment we don't know if they reached him before he passed. All we can hope is that he felt appreciated for his Phantom work.