Fantomen is currently celebrating their 70th anniversary in 2020. This is a HUGE achievement and the two publishers of the title, Semic (1944-1997) & Egmont (1997-present) have a rich history of creating their own stories over that 70 year period. However there is a trend emerging which has some phans worried with a mere FIVE stories new to Fantomen readers, of which only ONE is an original Team Fantomen story, released so far in this special anniversary year*.
It has been mentioned on some Facebook groups as well as discussed on our own X-Band: The Phantom Podcast #148 March 2020 Comics & News by Swedish correspondent Mikael Lyck. In the most recent Fantomen magazine, 8/2020, reader Pierre also wrote a letter to the editor, Mikael Sol, about the lack of new stories.
Full credit to Mikeal Sol for publishing the criticism. A translation of his reply, directly related to the reprint topic follows:
Yes, it is correct that we may become more and more like Agent X9 [a comic that consists entirely of reprint stories] for the immediate future. Personally I prefer to have new stories and I believe many other readers also prefer it...... New Phantom adventures will only be in the double issues. Hopefully we will get an increase of production of new stories in the future.
These very open and honest comments by Mikael Sol have received mixed responses by phans, with fears that the magazine is on a sharp downward spiral and will become a lot like more generic Swedish comic magazines that only deal in reprints. (The example used, Agent X9, is a comic title that only publishes reprinted stories like Modesty Blaise etc.)
Chronicle Chamber has also had a quick chat with Mikael Sol about the lack of new stories in 2020, and he has been good enough to respond to our queries.
First of all there has to be some perspective around this. We are currently in a pandemic that is causing worldwide distress. Between illness, deaths and dire effects on all economies there is a lot worse going on than the effect on our comic books. Some may have seen that the global distributor Diamond Comic Distributors has ceased delivering new titles to comic stores around the world. The fact that we are still getting new Fantomen and The Phantom comics from Egmont and Frew Publications at all is a testament to the editors and publishers.
With regard to the issue of Fantomen, according to Mikael Sol, sales have NOT decreased this year despite the magazines being mainly reprinted stories.
I am worried that the readers will lose interest because of the reprints, but right now the sales are pretty much unchanged according to the numbers so far.
We also asked if the double issues which feature new stories have seen an increase of sales.
It's pretty much the same. I suspect there are different kind of Fantomen readers. Those who love the old stuff, so they're super happy now, and those who love the new stuff, so they might be a bit more disappointed, at least if they're subscribers. But those who buy single copies generally only buy every 5th issue, so they can choose issues to pick.
I do believe that the product Fantomen in Sweden is new Team Fantomen stories, so it might be a high risk to change the concept up like this, but there wasn't any other choice this year. And if it bombs it's going to be hard to tell if it was because of the reprints or the current crisis.
There is a willingness to publish stories created by Frew in Australia, but again budget constraints bite
We save money on using King Features stories instead [and then] we can produce more of our own. Frew costs us more.
It is not a surprise or secret that the budget of Fantomen magazine to spend on newly created stories has been decreasing. We are told that new stories take anywhere between 8 months to 24 months depending on creators, changes to the script and other editorial changes.
It must be said that 2019 saw NO reprint stories which was a first for Fantomen for many years. Perhaps if 2019 had been a mixture of new and old stories there may have been more new stories available to be published in 2020. It probably comes down to the type of person you are, whether you prefer to have the new stories spread out over time or have them published as soon as they are available.
It could also be argued that 2020, the 70th anniversary of the magazine, is a good year to "catch up" with the budget and reprint extra old, revised covers and stories seeing it is a celebration of the past.
At the end of the day all this probably raises more questions than answers, and some will still focus on the negatives and predict doom and gloom for the Fantomen magazine.
Mikael Sol has promised Fantomen will produce more new stories from 2021, and leaves us with a small tidbit of what we can still expect for this year.
The annual book will have new high resolution scans of old McCoy and Sy Barry stories that we are going to use from the old print proofs that KFS had and from Bulls Press. They will look really good in print with sharp lines and blacks that's not messed up.
But this year is heavy focused on nostalgia. We do sit on a treasure trove of a lot of good old stories that haven't been reprinted at all, or not in a long time, so I do think it's fun to drag them out into the sunlight, and hopefully we can find a nice balance with old and new stories for 2021.
* Stories released by Fantomen in 2020 (accurate to #9/2020) include:
1 newly produced Team Fantomen story: Den hemliga teatern, del 1: Mannen med Silvernäsan by Claes Reimerthi & Kari Leppänen
1 Frew story not previously published in Fantomen: Kärlek i djungeln (Jungle Love) by Pidde Andersson & Shane Foley
3 newspaper stories not previously published in Fantomen: Uppgörelse med Nomaden (A Reckoning with the Nomad); Brevet från Himalaya (Kit's Letter Home) both by Tony DePaul & Mike Manley; Passageraren i hytt 7 (Danglor, International Bank Thief) by Lee Falk & Wilson McCoy
10 reprinted stories - five newspaper and five Team Fantomen titles
Many thanks to Mikael Lyck for this research.