Fantomen 6-7/2022 is out March 10 2022 and it features a new writer Bernd Frenz, some may remember Bernd for his interview about Heiner Bade that was published on our website. You can read the interview here.
To learn more about Bernd, please read on...
Chronicle Chamber: Welcome, thanks for joining us. Please tell us about your history with the Phantom.
Bernd Frenz: As you know, in 2014 I did an interview with Fantomen artist Heiner Bade, who until then was pretty much unknown in Germany. At that time I was mainly interested in Heiner, because he is one of the few German artists who have continuously published realistic comics over decades.
I was able to track Heiner down via the Fantomen editor Mikael Sol, who then sent me two Fantomen issues that had just been published. One issue contained "Cyclops" (Fantomen 8/2014), a story by Heiner Bade, and the other "The New France" (Fantomen 17/2014) drawn by Kari Leppänen.
I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by both stories. My previous experience with Phantom books was borrowing them from friends as a child. I myself was and am primarily a fan of Franco-Belgian comics, the kind of comics that are published in Fantomen as secondary stories. In terms of superheroes, I grew up with Marvel and DC comic books, and there primarily with heroes like Spiderman and Batman.
It wasn't until I delved deeper for the interview with Heiner that I realized how complex The Phantom actually is, and what narrative possibilities this character offers through its long line of ancestors. The whole thing fascinated me so much that I continued to explore the topic even after the interview with Heiner was published.
First of all, I got myself quite a few Fantomen stories, and since I can't read Swedish, I had to look to the Frew issues for that. Unfortunately, it's not cheap to look around for very specific numbers in Australia, because Australian postage is so terribly expensive. But I still managed to buy some issues with stories drawn by Heiner Bade, Kari Leppänen and Jean-Yves Mitton.
After reading the first Frew issues, I realized that the Swedish Phantom Comics could completely convince me also in terms of content. Thanks to the internet I was able to get deeper and deeper into the Phantom Cosmos. (We're talking about a period of several years here.)
In the end, this led to me writing an article about The Phantom for the respected German comics journal Reddition in 2020, which was subtitled "A classic superhero with modern unique characteristics" for good reason.
It was the first professional article in German to examine Lee Falk's character and his narrative possibilities so comprehensively.
CC: Can you tell us more about your relationship with Heiner Bade.
BF: After immersing into the Phantom, I contacted Heiner Bade again. This quickly led to a whole series of phone calls, as it became apparent that we had a lot to say to each other. Since I had already been working as a professional novelist and comics writer for over twenty years, there were also aspects that were new and interesting to Heiner.
CC: How did it Happen that you two would collaborate together?
BF: At some point Heiner said that he would like to work directly with an writer who he could simply call if he was unclear about something in the manuscript, and therefore suggested that I could write a story for him. Of course I didn't turn down the opportunity he gave me, because in Germany there aren't too many possibilities for writing realistic comic stories for a mainly adult readership.
What made it different was that he wanted to surprise Mikael Sol with the finished story, which was a bit scary to me from the start, but Heiner said that wouldn't be a problem. Unfortunately, in retrospect it turned out that the idea wasn't so clever after all.
Heiner emailed the finished comic to Mikael Sol at the very moment when he had just handed in his resignation at Egmont. It then took a while until the new editor, Jacob Habinc to get back in touch with us. The other change was that plots for new stories have to be submitted to King Features in advance for review. Fortunately, it turned out that our story still met all the points necessary for approval.
CC: Can you tell us what the story is about?
BF: It is about illegal cutting of tropical forests. The special thing about it is that the felled trees are processed into charcoal, and can thus be exported without any problems, although the export of tropical woods is strictly prohibited.
It may sound absurd, but unfortunately it is a sad reality. The idea came as at the time when I was thinking about a plot, a corresponding documentary was shown on German TV. I immediately thought to myself that this is a form of white-collar crime that I can guarantee has never appeared in a The Phantom story before. Heiner was also enthusiastic about the idea, so I immediately started working on the story.
However, it was important to me to embed the theme in a fast-paced plot that contains many classic Phantom elements like Hero and Devil playing key roles in the story. At the same time, there is no doubt that the plot is set in the current present with the Phantom using a captured quad to track his opponents which was used as the front cover of the comic by Luca Erbetta.
CC: That sounds so cool. Thank you for your time and anything else you want to say to the readers?
BF: With the amount of time I spent researching and reading the Phantom comics, it became completely immersed in the world of The Phantom and I hope it will transfer to the readers. Heiner Bade was impressed with my story, and he has been familiar with the character for over forty years I am reasonably optimistic the phans will also enjoy this story.
CC: I am sure phans will enjoy the story, again thanks for your time. If you want to re-read the interview with Heiner Bade. Go here "The Phantom of Hamburg - Fantomen Veteran Artist Heiner Bade".
Our review of the comic will be out this week.