Back in 1997, in the 4th standard of my junior school, my 9 year old self confidently filled in one of our class activity worksheets that I would make comic books when I grew up. The naivety of childhood!
Issue #9 Final Cover
January 2021 - I was given the opportunity to illustrate a cover for Regal Comics' ongoing full colour, English, 'The Phantom' comic book series.
It was a nerve wracking experience and after multiple iterations, editorial push & pulls I managed to get the cover approved. It was published on March 2021 as the cover of Issue #9. Fortunately it was well received by my editors & the readers.
I was aware that Regal were planning to commemorate the 110th Birth Anniversary of Lee Falk in their April issues & pitched my idea for a cover that I felt would be very unique but fitting.
Their response, contrary to my expectations, was very positive.
The beginning of the Lee Falk tribute cover
My idea was to project Lee Falk as a central multiversal god-like figure, conjuring 'mini globes' containing all the different Phantoms featured across different media - newspaper strips, animation, live action throughout the years.
I also decided that the featured Phantoms would be only limited to Lee Falk's lifetime - so anything created post the 1999 death of Falk would not be featured.
I scribbled a rough layout of the placements on my sketchpad and then got on to work on my friend's iPad Pro. I used the app, 'Procreate' for the whole process.
It was evident to me quite early that I couldn't do too many 'globes' as Regal would need ample space to add the story names and other texts or logos that they usually put on each of their covers.
I started with a quick sketch of Lee Falk's face, using a reference pic of him at the 1996 The Phantom Live Action film set, a pair of posed palms & some empty circles of different sizes. It led me to conclude three points:
Circles shouldn't be cropped.
The optimum number of circles of varying sizes that I could accommodate without making the art look too cluttered was nine.
The minimum size that a circle could be to keeping the art visible and be a good fit.
The most important decision was choosing which nine Phantoms to include.
One of my reasons to pitch for a cover like this was to have the opportunity to draw, mimicking the style of each legendary artist who worked on the strip. Which would help me analyse & learn from their work thus helping to enhance my own skills. Those Phantoms which did come from a non strip background however, I had to draw in my own way to best represent the look of their respective source material.
The nine Phantoms I chose were:
Sy Barry's Phantom
Wilson McCoy's Phantom
Defenders of the Earth Phantom
Ray Moore's Phantom
George Wilson's Phantom
Fred Frederick's Phantom
George Olesen's Phantom
Billy Zane's Portrayal of the Phantom
Now I will go into each image I chose for these nine different style of Phantoms.
Sy Barry's Phantom
This one was a no brainer & a very obvious choice. Is there a more iconic, popular & timeless rendition of The Phantom than Sy Barry's?
No. Hence I chose to draw him in the largest and center most circle. Barry's image of The Phantom riding Hero is probably one of his most recognised ones. I used my Hermes Press 'The Complete King Years' cover as the reference to recreate this iconic image.
Throughout the process I marveled at the sheer line control Sy had. It took me quite a long time to get the sketch to a stage where I was satisfied.
Phantom 2040 is a childhood favourite. I rank this series just after Batman - The Animated Series on my list of the greatest comic based animated shows. It is by far my favourite non-comic Phantom portrayal across all audio visual media.
I paused a YouTube video of the intro of the show to use a reference. As its a non comic Phantom I had to draw it in my own style but also be careful to retain that animated look. Phantom 2040 took the second largest circle - a choice made from sheer bias. Incidentally my publisher did suggest placing some other Phantom instead & draw this in some smaller circle, but I was adamant. Phantom 2040 is my favourite Phantom and I fulfilled a childhood dream by drawing him.
Hopefully having him more prominently on my cover will re-introduce him to a lot of older and younger phans who might have completely overlooked this gem of a show from the 90's.
Wilson McCoy's Phantom
Wilson McCoy & Ray Moore's Phantoms were not the ones I grew up on. I became aware of their existence when I was already in my early 20s & in my ignorance would look down on their art styles which I had deemed as 'primitive'. However I was well aware how important this Phantom was for establishing the strip & how loved he is by a huge section of the older phans.
The choice of image to draw was suggested by Jermayn Parker, his reasoning being that McCoy was the first who made the Mr. Walker alias look of The Phantom iconic. I used Hermes Press' Complete Sundays Vol 6's cover as my reference.
McCoy's Phantom took the third largest circle and was a humbling experience as I came to appreciate the man's simple but very tight and defined line control and inks.
The Phantom from 'Defenders of The Earth'
I was never fond of how The Phantom was portrayed in the 'Defenders of The Earth' cartoon in my childhood - The plain purple trunks instead of striped ones, the lack of any guns & a skull ring that shot out laser? Everything about him felt very disconnected to the character I grew up reading.
However, it did have some interesting additions. Most unique of them all was 'The Phantom' calling on his 'Jungle Birthright' to grant him 'the power of ten tigers'. That dictated my choice to go with the Image of The Phantom imbibing in the strength of those 'ten (though the animation actually showed about 7 flashes of those) tigers.
I used a YouTube video and paused in one of these sequences for my reference. It was pretty straightforward but a bit tricky to have clean line separation to have The Phantom as well as the tiger outline flash look like an animation sequence.
Ray Moore's Phantom
I have previously mentioned about my naivety in disregarding the art styles of Ray Moore and Wilson McCoy, however redrawing their art during this project really gave me so much more perspective & I had to admit my complete foolishness in treating their art with general disdain previously.
I chose a panel from the daily story 'The Singh Brotherhood'. I had two reasons for this choice, first - I got to include Diana, the wife of the 21st Phantom who is the main protagonist for most of the Phantom stories, and also its Falk's very first story featuring The Phantom. For colouring - I chose to use just a dot textured brush in grey to mimic the printing dots of news papers, as my tribute to the origins of the strip in black and white.
George Wilson's Phantom
George Wilson's painted covers for The Gold Key Phantom Comics & The Avon Phantom novels are legendary.
I was extremely intimidated whenever I was getting close to the prospect of replicating his art in the project. I chose to recreate his cover from the very first issue of The Gold Key Comics & used the reference from my Hermes Press 'Complete Gold Key Years Vol 1' cover.
Inspite of being one of the smaller illustrations, the time and effort I put in painting it was much more than any of the other Phantoms I recreated for the cover. I don't mind saying that I actually felt a bit proud seeing how it turned out.
Fred Fredericks' Phantom
Known more for his work on Falk's other well known character 'Mandrake The Magician', Fredericks' art and inks, in my opinion, was the most consistent & smoothest transition from Barry's style.
Although he was the Inker in his Sunday Strips run, his style was dominant over Olesen's pencils, which is evident when you compare the art with Olesen's work on the Dailies of that period where he was inked by Keith Williams. Fredericks also included The Phantom in some of his Mandrake stories and was one of the last artists to have worked with Falk on the character.
For reference I used a picture of a commission that Fredericks drew of Mandrake and The Phantom. It was a lot of fun recreating this style and was a lesson in making something pop with simple elegant line work and minimal but super effective inks.
George Olesen's Phantom
In all honesty the only reason I included Olesen's Phantom was because of the historical significance of him being the last artist that Falk worked with on the strips.
The reference image I chose to recreate was from a panel of the very last Falk written Daily Story 'Terror at The Opera'. I chose it for a few reasons - firstly it had Kit and Heloise, the children of the Phantom; secondly its the last Lee Falk daily hence it nicely brings my cover to full circle as I also recreated a panel from the very first daily in my Ray Moore recreation - finally, the story too was going to be included in the issue.
Billy Zane's Live Action Portrayal of The Phantom
The 1996 Live Action film 'The Phantom' so far remains the only major movie outing of the character and has very polarized reaction from phans.
However the one thing that phans on both sides of the camp agree upon is that Billy Zane was just the right man to play the Ghost Who Walks on screen. His portrayal is a phan favourite & I have a lot of nostalgia associated with it.
I took utmost care in sketching his portrait from the iconic 'Slam Evil' Poster of the film. The real challenge however was in the colours. The image demanded a colouring style that could hit the right balance between the live action & comic book aesthetics. It took a lot of experimenting with different brushes to get the look I was trying to achieve with the paints. I'm quite satisfied with the results.
I took a Watercolourish approach for the Lee Falk Portrait to give a more 'diety like' look that would heavily contrast with the flat colours of the Phantoms.
To each circle I painted on glass like reflections to give depth to make them look like transparent reflective spheres. I chose a bluish gradient for the background as a tribute to the blue colour of The Phantom by Team Fantomen, also it was one of the few shades that was not undermining the colours on any of the Phantoms.
Final Colour Art
Along with the cover I also did a portrait of Lee Falk and a Lee Falk signature for Regal to use if required.
Regal went ahead and used the portrait in the interior of issue #12 and the logo as one of the elements for their final Cover print.
I had a very enriching experience while creating this cover & am extremely thankful to my editor Pratheesh Jacob for giving me complete freedom in bringing my idea to the printed page.
I'm also very grateful to Jermayn Parker & Mikael Lyck for their valuable ideas and advice while making this cover, which always gave me a different perspective.
The Final Cover of Issue #12 with Regal's Presentation Elements