The Phantom Comics and the New Left: A Socialist Superhero


For those who came in late, Swedish academic and Phantom phan Robert Aman has had his Phantom thesis turned into a book! His recently released volume The Phantom Comics and the New Left is an extensive examination into The Phantom and the way the stories played an important role in politics in Sweden during the 1960s and 1970s. The book is now being shipped around the world, with many phans having already made their purchase.

Robert has graciously appeared on an episode of X-Band: The Phantom Podcast (October 2018, see link below) discussing elements from this book, and we also covered many of these ideas in May 2019 when we interviewed seminal author Magnus Knutsson (link also below).

Phantom Comics and the New Left is the first in-depth academic treatise focused on the foundational comic strip heroes contribution to Swedish politics, with The Phantom contributing to the ever-growing body of literature on the rise of the New Left, the student revolts, the solidarity movements and other events associated with leftist radicalisation during the 1960s-1970s

It details how The Phantom offered a direct commentary on Sweden’s perception of its own role in the world as a leading proponent of international solidarity.

Even today elements of this time period still features in Phantom stories with the fictional country Rodia appearing as a fascist state modeled after South Africa in their apartheid reign. It took Rodia a lot longer to kick out the racist leader and swear in Nelson N'Dela as their new president in 2014 (Epilogue - Fantomen 9/2014 & Frew 1697 2014).

It is worth mentioning Rodia has become so far entrenched in Phantom lore, it is one of the few Team Fantomen elements that has made its way into the newspaper stories.

Phantom Comics and the New Left is incredibly detailed, with Robert taking the time to extensively interview former editor Ulf Granberg and writer Magnus Knutsson several times, which even included Robert visiting Ulf several times in person to ensure his research was accurate.

Their writing colleague at the time, Janne Lundström, was having health issues during the time of the book's production, Janne sent Robert a transcription of a recent long interview he had done about his life and times in comics, which provided further background information. This formed an analysis focus on the actual storylines, interaction with readers on member pages and on-going debates at the time in other public forums such as the media back in the 1960s through the 1980s.

Here is the blurb of the book:

This book is about the Phantom in Sweden, or more correctly: about Sweden in the Phantom. Socialist Superhero uncovers how a peripheral American superhero – created in 1936 by author Lee Falk and artist Ray Moore – that has been accused of both racism and sexism has become a national concern in a country that several researchers have labelled the most antiracial and gender equal in the world. When a group of Swedish creators set up their official production of licensed scripts to The Phantom comic in 1972, the character is redefined through the prism of New Left ideology where the plots, besides aiming to entertain readers, also inform the reader about the righteousness and validity of the dominant ideological doctrine among the Swedish public at the time, which also impacted on the government’s foreign policy. Through a series of close readings of the comic books, alongside fan writing, cultural criticism, political documents, and interviews with creators and editors of The Phantom comic book, The Phantom Comics and the New Left’s various thematic chapters discuss how topics such as foreign aid and poverty elimination, guerrilla warfare and postcolonialism, socialism and equality are expressed on the pages of the comic book, along with the fight against apartheid, the construction of a cooperative society in the jungle and the Phantom’s self-affirmed role as spokesperson for then Prime Minister Olof Palme. What will be seen is how the common denominator is ideology: the Phantom reflects values, and embodies a dominant political point of view, of how Sweden sees itself and its role in the world.

To get a better understanding of some of the elements Robert talks about, we have included a list of some of the adventures that are discussed in some detail in the book. As you can see, there’s quite a few Lee Falk stories which are used as points of comparison but also highlight what critics in Sweden at the time were targeting when Team Fantomen was founded.

Many of the Team Fantomen stories have not yet been published in English by Frew Publications or any other publisher, so if they sound of interest to you, make sure you let Frew know.

Stories created by Lee Falk:

  • The Sky Band (1936-37) script: Lee Falk; art: Ray Moore.

  • The Inexorables (1942-1943) script: Lee Falk; art: Ray Moore & Wilson McCoy.

  • The Governor’s Wife (1953) script: Lee Falk; art: Wilson McCoy.

  • The Mysterious Ambassador (1962-1963) script: Lee Falk; art: Sy Barry.

  • Walker’s Table (1969) script: Lee Falk; art: Sy Barry.

  • The First Phantom (1975) script: Lee Falk; art: Sy Barry.

  • The Tree House (1980) script: Lee Falk; art: Sy Barry.

Stories created by Team Fantomen:

  • The Water Test (Fantomen 26/1970), script: Janne Lundström, art: Bertil Wilhelmsson.

  • The Secret of the Plantation (Fantomen 16/1971), script: Janne Lundström, art: Bertil Wilhelmsson.

  • The Dead River (Fantomen 1/1972 & Frew #1799 - 2017), script: Magnus Knutsson; art: Jaime Vallvé.

  • The Slaves (Fantomen 14/1972 & Frew #1844 - 2019), script: Magnus Knutsson, art: Jaime Vallvé.

  • The Trade War (Fantomen 3/1973 & Frew #1840 - 2019), script: Janne Lundström, art: Bertil Wilhelmsson.

  • Diana in the Jungle Patrol (Fantomen 5/1973 & Frew #1804 - 2018), script: Magnus Knutsson; art: Jaime Vallvé.

  • On Forbidden Land (Fantomen 1/1977), script: Janne Lundström; art: Jaime Vallvé.

The book is available at the Palgrave website. It will cost you 42,79€ (approx. $73AU & $50US at time of writing) for the eBook version or 49,99€ ($85AU & $55US) for a physical copy.

If you are a Chronicle Chamber Patreon supporter, there are some excerpts included in the Phantom Preservation Project section.

Thanks must go to Robert Aman for keeping us up to date with the book's progress, and the insights into his research and the book.

We recommend listening to the below two podcasts with Robert Aman and also Magnus Knuttsson. These elements, the stories and the importance of the work to the Phantom we read and love is all covered in the below podcasts.

#RobertAman #MagnusKnutsson #UlfGranberg #JanneLundstrom #BertilWilhelmsson #LeeFalk #WilsonMcCoy #RayMoore #SyBarry #Fantomen #TeamFantomen #Politics

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