Claes Göran Reimerthi
Born 12 January 1955
Died 23 July 2021 age 66
Author Fantomen magazine and Daily/Sunday The Phantom newspaper stories
Claes Reimerthi, giant of the Swedish comics community and one of the most important individuals in The Phantom history, passed away over the weekend. In this post, Chronicle Chamber pays our tribute and our respects.
Claes Reimerthi’s first published Phantom story appeared in Fantomen #22 of 1984 under the pseudonym Michael Tierres, an anagram of his own name. 22/1984 featured the first instalment of the two-part Gold Fever with art by Jaime Vallve, and tells the story of a young, pre-oath 16th Phantom. With the benefit of hindsight, it was perhaps a telling introduction to an author who would become renowned as one unafraid to make his own mark on the story and legacy of The Phantom. Gold Fever was published in Australia by Frew in 2010, in The Phantom #1583.
The emerging author was credited in 61 issues as Michael Tierres over 9 years before giving up the pseudonym. He would go on to be the credited writer in a further 218 issues of Fantomen, for a total of 279 total. While he has quite a number of two- and up to six-part stories spanning issues which means that this cannot be regarded as the total number of stories as such, there is no doubt that he has been clearly the second most prolific Phantom author of all time (particularly once you factor in the epic 50-part Heart of Darkness). The editorial team at Fantomen retains a number of his unpublished scripts written in the months before his retirement earlier this year, so that number will grow posthumously.
However, Claes Reimerthi is not remembered simply for the volume of stories he wrote, but also for the enormous quality and talent he brought to the page. His stories include some of the most popular with Phantom readers and have consistently been voted highly by readers in Best Story awards, topping the count eight times in Sweden between 1984 and 2018, a further six times in Norway (1998-2009) and once in Finland (1986).
Talented and popular, Claes was one of a small group of influential creators summoned into "the Brain Trust" of Team Fantomen by editor Ulf Granberg in 1992. This core group participated in annual seminars to discuss the Swedish team's development of The Phantom and determine the direction of their own ongoing continuities and story arcs. Claes and long-time colleague Hans Lindahl would later become co-editors of Team Fantomen's Phantom production from 2013 to 2015, following Granberg’s retirement.
1994’s two-part tale Election in Bengali was one of the first stories produced under this new regime and was the first time a story is attributed to Claes Remeirthi. As the harbinger of a new editorial direction, Election in Bengali remains a seminal, if somewhat controversial, story to this day. In periodically removing Lee Falk’s Lamanda Luaga from the Presidency, Claes and Team Fantomen created a split in the Phantom universe that (spoiler alert for non-Fantomen readers) would not be completely resolved until Luaga was returned to the position in 2019's A New Hope by Mikael Sol and Anthony Spay (Fantomen 24/2019 – not yet published by Frew).
In much of that 25-year interim period, Team Fantomen were able to play with the politics of Bangalla and create a raft of unique tensions for the Phantom to deal with. This freedom allowed another key story arc that Claes had a lead hand in: the generational evolution of the Singh dynasty. He oversaw the introduction of Sandal Singh as the leader of the Singh Pirates in the mid-2000s and developed stories that saw her take her turn as President of the fictional African nation. While Claes’ development of Sandal’s complicated relationship with the Phantom through the early 2010s remains contentious among many phans, it is further evidence that he was prepared to expand and develop the character right throughout his career.
This spirit of creativity and expansion saw some of the most formative stories in Team Fantomen’s contribution to the Phantom universe coming from the pen of Reimerthi.
He was particularly active in historical stories about previous generations of the character, from the 1984 Best Story winner The First Phantom to the popular The Triads and Nat Turner’s Spirit sagas. While many of these tales were well received by phans, there was also the occasional criticism that his historical tales could become wordy and bogged down in detail at times.
While always respectful of the source material Cleas was also very prepared to step well away from Falk lore, creating such diverse titles as The Phantom Crusader, The Phantom Gladiator, In a Strange Land, and Rahotep, all set before the established Phantom timeline and reconsidering some elements of possible Phantom history. While not to the taste of all phans, this genre of “fantasy” Phantom stories were clearly a favourite of his. Not restricted to the past, Claes also threw the Phantom into a future scenario in The Phantom vs Singh 2050, which was initially written as a "what if" story but has since been accommodated into potential lore by editorial choices around the cryogenic freezing of Dogai Singh.
One of Claes' last undertakings as a writer was to begin a process that few authors would dare – shifting The Phantom from the 21st to the 22nd generation, not as a "what if" scenario, but as an extension of Phantom canon according to Team Fantomen. 2016’s The 22nd Phantom saga has established a succession path for the character and opened the door for another writer to move Team Fantomen’s Phantom into the next iteration. It remains to be seen if the current editorial team, and indeed the powers that be at King Features, are keen to continue the move in this direction.
Claes retired from writing Phantom scripts this year, to spend more time to write his own projects. His final script for the Phantom was finished early in 2021, so Phantom fans can find some solace in that he wrote everything he wanted to write for The Phantom and left no unfinished Phantom scripts.
While obviously it is his work for Sweden’s Fantomen magazine that he will be most remembered for, it is also vital to commend his role in the newspaper strip. Credited as the author for three Daily stories and six Sundays between 1999 and 2003, Claes helped bridge the gap between Lee Falk’s death and King Features appointing Tony De Paul as a permanent replacement. Claes was an influential figure in Tony’s development as a Phantom author and appointment, having been his colleague at Team Fantomen for a number of years through the 1990s. There are phans who would argue that without the assistance of Team Fantomen and Claes Reimerthi in particular, The Phantom newspaper strip may not have survived the immediate post-Falk period.
Outside the world of The Phantom, Claes was also very active in the Swedish comics community, writing a variety of titles including for Kerry Drake and The Gauntlet of Fate. He contributed to the comedy strips 91:an, Lilla Fridolf and Sputnik, the children's comic Bamse and the historical graphic novel series Gustaf Vasa about the Swedish king of the same name.
In his spare time, Claes was a comics scholar who produced several books, articles and reviews of comics and comics creators. He received The Adamson Statuette (Sweden’s finest comics award, presented to an acclaimed comics creator) in 2001, and The Unghunden Award in 2015 (for his contributions to comics for children and youth).
Claes Remerthi is survived by his partner Anna-Marie, daughters Sanna and Malin, and his loving grandchildren.
Many thanks to Andreas Eriksson, Pidde Andersson and Michael Lyck for their feedback and provision of information for this obit.
Chronicle Chamber will release a special podcast tribute discussing the life and legacy of Claes Reimerthi later this week.