Master Magicians and Phantoms: Lee Falk Interview, Part III

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Below is an excerpt of a 1996 interview between legendary comics creator, Lee Falk, and James Abbott, who writes a blog called “The Jade Sphinx.” This interview was conducted in 1996 and is published with Mr. Abbott’s permission.

BillyZaneLeeFalk

How would you explain the overwhelming popularity of Mandrake and The Phantom abroad? 

They’re very popular in Mexico, South America, Argentina and Brazil. I’ve been to these places and spoke to the people, talked at press conferences, and all that. In Barcelona, they started publishing a complete works of “The Phantom,” and he got out about six big volumes of comic books before he went bankrupt, publishing them in Spain and Portugal.

For a number of years, they published in Stockholm a “Phantom” magazine. They kept redoing my stories. In a one magazine, they could run a story that would take three or four months in the newspapers. They’d just chop it down and cut out the necessary repetitions that are in a daily strip.  So they asked if they could occasionally publish some of their own, which we granted. So they have a very good group of artists, from all over the world, doing their own stories of The Phantom, along with reprinting my original work. It has just grown into an industry, it’s huge!
The Phantom is popular almost everywhere. In Scandinavia, it’s amazing. There’s a complete saturation in all the newspapers. Last time I was there, they had Batman, Superman, all the rest. But they told me that The Phantom outsells all the others, combined. Isn’t that something?
Another story, somewhat painful, was during War, as people of my generation call World War II.  Norway was under Nazi occupation, a very cruel occupation. They controlled the newspapers, and put out misinformation like Washington bombed, New York bombed, America was crumbling, that sort of thing. It turns out that during this time The Phantom was appearing everyday, including Sunday, in Norwegian papers. And the Nazis did not change the text. The Phantom had not run in Germany, and they did not know him, but the Norwegians did.
Now the following is true, I had a Norwegian publisher who I met after the War come up to me, embrace me, and tell me the story. During the first two years of the War, I was in the Office of War Information, and still writing the strip. It turns out that this whole time The Phantom was being smuggled into Norway, and published in Norwegian, and that it raised the morale factor enormously. The Norwegians figured that if I was still at home, managing to put out The Phantom, that things could not be that bad in America! It was a big joke on the Nazis. But more than that, “The Phantom” became the password for the Swedish-Norwegian underground. I always liked that. Just about a year ago, oddly enough, I was at a dinner table with some other people, among them a woman who had just come from Norway that summer. She said that her brother, who was part of the Norwegian underground, took her out to the barn to show her a radio hidden under the straw, where during the war he would broadcast to the states as The Phantom. When she told me, I was so amazed — that not only that it mattered then, but that people still had memories of what he meant to them then.
For the full interview, please click here.
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