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The Phantom of Hamburg - Fantomen Veteran Artist Heiner Bade

Heiner Bade (born 1949) from Hamburg is an unusual phenomenon among comic artists one who is unknown to many fans in his own country and abroad.

Although he has been drawing the U.S. comic character The Phantom for almost forty years, very little is known about Heiner Bade in Germany.

A couple of brief mentions in the comic journal COMIXENE, a one-column article in the magazine TEMPO, and a biography of only a few lines in the comic album Seemannsgarn (Translated to Sailor's Yarn) have so far shed insufficient light on this hard-working artist.

Heiner Bade has succeeded over four decades in doing what other comic artists only can dream of, namely establishing himself as a long-term draftsman of adventure comics. He was able to do this because he lived in Sweden from 1970 to 1981, at a time when the editorial team of Fantomen experienced a major transformation that has made the bi-weekly magazine the world's leading producer of The Phantom comics to this day.

He has been a member of the Fantomen magazine's creative team since 1975 with his stories published from Australia to Scandinavia, his name is firmly associated with the transformation of a classic pulp character into a modern hero.

Heiner Bade has just celebrated his 45th Fantomen anniversary. The following interview was originally published in the 2014 German Magazine Camp. Bernd has given us permission to publish it on our website.


Bernd Frenz: Please describe a little about the influence that comics had on your childhood.

Heiner Bade: I grew up in a rather rural area, on the edge of a forest and heath landscape, very close to Hamburg. Even as a child, I enjoyed reading Fix and Foxi, Mickey Mouse, Rip Kirby (by Alex Raymond), Flash Gordon and The Phantom (by Wilson McCoy).

At that time, The Phantom appeared as a daily strip in the newspaper Hamburger Morgenpost, and I enthusiastically cut out and collected the strips, never suspecting what role the series would play for me once again.

BF: How did your graphic development proceed?

HB: A certain talent became apparent as early as the age of five. At that time I won many drawing competitions, illustrated the time of dinosaurs at school and drew my own small series.

Later, I trained in photography and illustration by correspondence course and took anatomy lessons as a guest student at the Lerchenfeld School of Art.

As a nineteen-year-old, I also painted the walls of Hamburg discotheques. That was in the middle of the flower power time, which influenced everything, I painted with phosphorescent colors. Perhaps you would today call it pop art.

BF: Did you already publish in print before you emigrated?

HB: Yes, at that time I designed postcard motives and did illustrations for the magazines Praline and St. Pauli-Nachrichten; for the latter also a weekly comic strip. In addition, I earned my money as a fashion model, so that photos of me were published, for example in mail order catalogs.

Unfortunately, I have kept nothing at all from this pre-Sweden period. The things were stored in the attic of a Hamburg friend and eventually disposed off.

BF: What made you decide to emigrate to Sweden? And how did you make your first publishing contacts there?

HB: I left Germany on May 24, 1970, in order to escape from being drafted into the Bundeswehr (German Army). Sweden had always been my second country, but working there as a model didn't work out.

So I drew cartoons and became somewhat known. During this time I also created a funny album in the style of Asterix, but it remained unpublished. At that time, I made contacts with all the publishers until I was able to sell a Sex & Crime series that I had developed.

The stories with the private detective Robert Starke which ran for about a year and a half in the True Crime magazine Veckans Brott.

BF: You also drew a Frankenstein comic back then, but it didn't find a publisher?

HB: Yes, I found the old Boris Karloff film version with its romantic black-and-white images very fascinating. I was tempted to adapt it, but the subject wasn't very popular at the time. Still, the work wasn't in vain, because the pages brought me contacts with magazine publishers like Semic.

I drew the comic Gengångaren (ghost), which I thought would fit very well into the Semic magazine Chock, but instead it was printed in Serie Magasinet.

After this publication, the editors almost fought over me. In 1975 I received an offer to draw a test page for Fantomen. When that turned out to everyone's satisfaction, I received the order for my first story. Since then, I have worked continuously for the magazines, for which I also have created several covers.

BF: Have you worked on other series or in other graphic areas over the years?

HB: Yes, in the 1970s the Swedish publisher Egmont offered me to draw Mickey and Goofy stories. I also supplied them with two episodes, but the strict Disney guidelines severely limited my creativity, and I quickly became bored with it. I also did various storyboards for advertising.

BF: After forty years of Fantomen – what fascinates you about this character to whom you have remained loyal for so long?

HB: First and foremost, that every new story also represents a new challenge for me.

Since there are only self-contained episodes, no story-line is like the other. And because the duties and costumes of the Phantom have been passed down from father to son for four hundred years, our stories can be set in all sorts of different eras.

Personally, I prefer to work on historical adventures.

BF: Eleven stories drawn by you were also published in the Phantom magazine of Bastei Verlag. How did you like the black and red printing back then?

HB: I didn't follow it much at the time. The German Phantom magazine was just horrible.

Our stories were rigorously shortened and the necessary changes were made by amateurish adjustments – for example, painting over characters with bushes. A crime! No wonder that these booklets did not establish themselves permanently on the German market.

BF: Your only other German publication known to me until this interview is a two-page contribution to the compilation album Seemannsgarn of the Hamburg Carlsen Verlag...

HB: Another short article about me appeared in the tween magazine Tempo in 1992, for which I also drew a page. Apart from this and the two pages in Seemannsgarn I am not featured in any other German publications.

BF: You've been living in Hamburg again since 1981, but you have little or no contact with the local comic artist scene?

HB: Even if I wanted to – with my immense workload, I simply don't have the time to maintain contacts with local colleagues. I don't have a 9 to 5 job.

BF: The older Fantomen issues are drawn in black and white, now they shine with very nice color pages...

HB: Yes, the changeover to color took place in 1991, which was not only received with enthusiasm at the time. And rightly so, because at first the stories seemed more screamingly colorful than colored.

Today, in my opinion, the Scandinavian color editions are quite a treat.

BF: How close is the cooperation within the very international team? Are there joint editorial meetings, or do you coordinate by email and phone?

HB: No, there are no editorial meetings. Communication is limited to a few emails, mainly to submit manuscripts, and rare phone calls. However, when I lived in Sweden, I delivered the finished episodes in person, which means I visited the editorial office once every three months.

Usually my manuscripts are written in English, only rarely do I get one in Swedish. There is no further communication with the authors.

Over the years, the authors have come to rely more and more on the illustrators, thus saving themselves a lot of work. This starts with the fact that they sometimes no longer describe such simple but important things as the milieu, the time of day, etc., and ends with the fact that they leave all the research work to the artist.

I don't have influence on future themes, but can of course make suggestions.

BF: Do you prefer jungle adventures or big city thrillers?

HB: In general, it doesn't matter to me. Well, maybe I do have a certain preference for jungle adventures. An episode without architecture is quite relaxing.

BF: In the 40 odd years that you've been drawing for Fantomen, are there any outstanding events or stories that you remember particularly fondly?

HB: It was quite nice when, at the beginning of my career, at the tender age of my mid-twenties, the Ku Klux Klan story aroused a lot of media interest. After all, I had also written the story, but later I unfortunately had no time left for writing. In any case, several newspaper articles about me and my work appeared at that time.

However, I also experienced some oddities in the process. Just one small example: I told a Swedish journalist at the time that I had converted the second largest room in the apartment – namely the bedroom – into my studio. In the printed article he wrote Heiner Bade draws in his bedroom!

BF: Can you describe a bit your working method and tell which working materials you prefer?

HB: I read the manuscript and do the necessary research, then I scribble through the entire story and determine the page layout before doing the drafts and sketching the individual pages.

Finally, there's inking with brushes. Covers I prefer to paint in acrylic.

BF: After more than ten years in Sweden, you moved back to Hamburg in 1981. What prompted you to go back then?

HB: My new wife – and the beer :D

BF: Thank you for your time.


About Bernd Frenz

A huge thanks to Bernd and Heiner for their time and allowing us to publish this article and interview which was originally published in the 2014 German Magazine Camp.

Bernd Frenz is a German novelist and comic book writer, who has been writing Crime, Western, Sci-Fi and Fantasy novels for over twenty years. The Blood Orcs trilogy established him firmly in the realm of German-language Fantasy. As a comic book writer he works for franchises like DreamWorks Dragons, Power Rangers and Vic the Viking, but also has published own stories in the US comic magazine Heavy Metal.

Beginning as a comics journalist in 1990, he has since worked for all major German comic journals, including Alfonz, Comic Report, Comixene, Hit Comics, and Reddition.

Here are a few links where you can find a bit more about Bernd and his comic work. In part 2 of the English article about the History of German Comic you find also a paragraph about Heiner Bade and his work for Fantomen magazine.


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