Last week a group of Norwegian phans met to celebrate the 54-year run of Fantomet magazine, and commiserate its demise at the end of 2018.
Arranged by phan Kristian Hellesund, the wake took place in the cellar of Barbarista, the pub run by May Vik Medås (partner of Lightning Strike Comics author Arild Wærness). The venue features an open space in front of a stage, as well as a bar. With a Phantom cosplayer and a number of The Phantom and Fantomet creators on deck, the mood was suitably solemn but also ultimately upbeat, as we will explain.
Unfortunately Arild himself was unable to attend due to a medical condition, but Mike Collins and Knut Knutsen were present, as was keynote speaker and long-time member of Fantomet's editorial staff Kjell Steen.
Around 50 phans attended the evening, and the wake ended up drifting on as these things do, finishing more than an hour over schedule. Understandably, it seems that there was a little denial in the room, with loyal readers very hopeful that their magazine could make a comeback and eager to know what the future would have in store.
From our vantage point, it would appear that the accountants and bean-counters at Egmont copped a bit of a hiding from the crowd gathered. Word in the room was that what ultimately sank the Norwegian Phantom comic was that an accountant at Egmont Norway determined that it was too expensive and decided not to approve the budget for 2019.
Kjell Steen shared a number of insights on the possible future of Phantom comics in Norway, which we can report on here. Apparently reprint collections will continue to be published, given that they are cheaper to produce than new and original material. Reports suggest that Fantomet was paying a higher reprint rate for the Swedish-produced Phantom stories than they did for the US newspaper strips. Together with the reprint collections, there are also hopes that Egmont Norway may be able to produce an annual anthology book as a way to publish new Phantom stories.
Between this, and a focus on the emergence of Lightning Strike Comics with their use of a Norwegian creative team and setting the story in issue #2 in Norway, people were able to leave the wake with some sense of optimism and on something of a high note.
Interestingly, concerns were also raised for the future of Fantomen in Sweden. Reprint fees from Norway (and Frew in Australia) for the Swedish-produced Phantom stories go in part to budget for their writers and artists. Therefore, there are fears that the loss of the Norwegian market could impact on the profitability of the Swedish comic and force them to significantly reduce the number of new stories they produce. The Norwegians are hopeful that initiatives like the proposed annual anthology may help Fantomen maintain production at current levels.
It must be noted here that in the editorial for Fantomen 25-26/2018, Team Fantomen promised no reprints in their 2019 schedule - only new stories and others that have not been seen in a Fantomen magazine before. Indeed, in a Q&A session earlier this year, it was even suggested that there would be more new stories published in 2019 (18-19 up from 13 in recent history).
Trond Sætre, editor of Norwegian comics newssite Serienett, also reported extensively on the event and has posted his tribute here, which we would encourage you to visit and read (usefully for international phans, it is English!).
Many thanks to Knut Knutsen and Trond Sætre for sharing their experiences of the evening.