top of page

Kari Leppänen, one of the most Iconic Phantom Creators


Kari Leppänen has been drawing Phantom comics since the late 1970's. For many of the phans reading this interview, Kari has always been around and they would not remember a Phantom world without his iconic style and dramatic storytelling.


The honour roll is amazing. 120 Phantom stories, 19 best story of the year awards and classic iconic stories like "The Test", "The Battle on Malta", "The First Phantom", "The Commander is Dead" and many others.


It is a great honour to be interviewing one of the most iconic Phantom creators for the last 40+ years.

 

Chronicle Chamber: Can you tell us a bit about yourself? What country and region are you from?

Kari Leppänen: As a Finnish person I was born in 1945 in Helsinki Finland and I spent my childhood in the southern area of Finland.


CC: Did you ever study art?


KL: I have never been a student of art. During my childhood it was the golden time of comics in Finland were there was an abundant of comics to buy from small moving kiosks which sold newspapers and other printed material and a large amount of different comics. They were mainly American and British and my mother bought plenty of them for me to read and devour.


There was more than enough material to learn how comics are done and drawn and I used them to create my own homemade magazines and comics as soon as I was able to read. My favorite genre of comics as a kid were Westerns and Science Fiction.


CC: Is there anyone in particular who has inspired you and influenced your work?

KL: Yes there were several talented artists who were the best in the business during that time. They all inspired me and they all were doing natural style comics.


To mention the best of them would be no surprise to many – Jose Luis Salinas with his perfect Cisco Kid, Burne Hogarth´s Tarzan, Alex Raymond with his excellent Flash Gordon and afterwards also Dan Barry. In the Science Fiction genre, Ron Turner was a standout who was from England.


CC: What made you want to be an artist?


KL: Hmm, it may sound strange but I never imagined myself to be a professional comic artist for a number of reasons.


Firstly it was only ever a hobby to me and then during my younger years it was unknown for anyone in Finland to become a professional in the comics business. It never occurred to me that I could make a career while drawing and living in Europe.

CC: Do you like working on the Phantom? Did you know of the Phantom before you started work on those stories? Did you ever read the character as a child?


KL: His adventures by Wilson McCoy and Ray Moore were published in some of the magazines which I regular reading as a child. However I must say that the artwork was not my favorite comic or artists, so I was not interested in the Phantom. Sy Barry's talented work came later after I stopped reading as many comics as I did when I was younger.


CC: How did you get the role of the Phantom for the Fantomen magazine?


KL: From memory it was not very difficult or memorable. I had drawn comics already by then for 30 years beforehand including my own magazines and for the Swedish magazine called Min Häst (My Horse).


The only difficulty I found during the whole process was that we were instructed to draw the Phantom´s face in the same style as Sy Barry. I found the jungle setting easy because of my love for the Tarzan books. The love was so much I even had a go at creating own Tarzan story which sadly never got completed.


CC: Do you have any particular writers that you enjoyed drawing for?


KL: A lot depends on the writer, the more interesting the script it helps me draw more exciting and enthusiastic pictures.


The writers I found that I enjoyed the most was the late British Norman Worker and soon to be retired Swedish Claes Reimerthi. There has been a couple more good ones too, but with Norman and Claes I have worked on a lot of their stories over the years and enjoyed them all.



CC: It may be hard but with almost 120 Phantom stories, do you have a favourite story?

KL: Actually, it is very difficult to choose. Some of the stories that stand out to me even today are:

  • Duel in Venice (Frew #1741 - 2015 & Fantomen 14/2005)

  • The Battle on Malta (Frew #1742 - 2015 & Fantomen 14/2005)

  • Public Enemy Number One (Frew #1132 - 1996 & Fantomen Christmas Album 2016)

  • The Phantom Crusader, Part 1-3 (Frew #1484, #1487 & #1493 - 2007 & Fantomen 14, 18 & 25/2007)

  • The Phantom Gladiator, Part 1-3 (Frew #1545, #1546 & #1557 - 2009 & Fantomen 7, 15, 25-26/2009)

  • The New France (Frew #1707 - 2014 & Fantomen 17/2014)

CC: Is there a story or two that you are extremely proud off? If so, can you share with us why?


KL: To answer that it may sound a bit egoistic but to date I have written and drawn only one Phantom story with the story taking place in Germany during the 30 years war in Europe. (Editors Note: The war lasted from 1618 to 1648, starting as a battle among the Catholic and Protestant states that formed the Holy Roman Empire)


The Phantom story was called "The Ring of Death" (Frew #1211 & #1212 - 1998 & Fantomen 17&19/1998) and I spent hours to get familiar with the plot and the history of the period and war. The script became so long, that it was turned into a two part story.


Sadly the experience became disappointing when it was published because I was only listed as the artist and not also the writer. It was sadly not the first time when a Science Fiction adventure series titled "Achilles Wiggen" that I created were the editor was also mistakenly credited as the writer.


CC: What about a favourite cover?

KL: Difficult to say... Maybe the cover for a rather good story "U-118" (Frew #1639 - 2012 & Fantomen 16/2012).


CC: Do you prefer drawing historical and or current day Phantom stories?


KL: Easy question to answer... Historical always. I do not like to draw the modern world except airplanes.


CC: In the early 1990's when Semic changed to colour stories. Did that affect your drawing? Do you prefer to draw in colour or black and white?


KL: When Fantomen turned coloured the first issues had really horrible colours, they were too strong. Now the situation is much better, but somehow when I compared coloured pages to black and white ones, the modern style of artistic coloring is not pleasant to see for me.


CC: Do you think the Phantom has a future for the next generation?

KL: Hmm... To be honest I do not think that it can live on for very long any more - not on its current traditional style. Today the young people are too digitally brainwashed to read traditional comics. If they change the Phantom too much then it is not the original type of Phantom we all love anymore.


In the USA there has been some changes and from what I have seen, it makes me sick. I am one of the last dinosaurs in this business.


CC: Do you work traditionally using pencils and inks on paper or do you prefer working on the

computer?

KL: Nowadays I am working with both, but the drawings are made traditionally by the way you referred. But there are some items which are easier to be made and edited by the computer. The computer is an important device and useful when I cannot send any more originals by mail to the editor.


CC: Do you accept commissions and if so, how can they contact you?


KL: It depends of the commissions, but the best way to contact is my guestbook on my website. I do not like to make my email public.


CC: What is the best place for phans to see your Phantom work?


KL: The best place is my website KariLeppanenComics.fi


CC: Thank you so much for joining us and for your work on the Phantom, on behalf of everyone - Thank you!