At the Wizard World Chicago this past weekend, New Jersey-based Dynamite announced that it had landed the rights to produce The Phantom comics.
“I don’t know all the particulars about whether or not the other publisher let go of the license, or how, but we were approached,” Dynamite’s Nick Barrucci told Newsarama.
The “other” publisher is none other than Chicago-based Moonstone Books. In 2003, Moonstone became the first US publisher to produce new comic books, the first ever prose anthology and annual based on Lee Falk’s classic comic strip character since Marvel Comics ceased publication of their Phantom 2040 series in 1995.
So, the big question is: Is Moonstone still publishing Phantom comics?
“Moonstone still has the Phantom license… as does Dynamite,” said publisher Joe Gentile when contacted by Newsarama. “The Phantom is still one of our top books.”
As for what he thinks of the “competition”, who, after all, has in recent years come to be known as a successful publisher of licensed properties, Gentile said, “Here at Moonstone, we have treated classic characters with respect for over a decade now. We are a successful publisher of licensed properties. Other publishers do what they do in their own way. We will continue to be who we are.
“Moonstone has published 24 regular comics, five prestige format one-shots, an Annual, three original graphic novels, two strip reprint books, three TPB’s, and 17 prose short stories (the first ever collection of such a thing!)… which is more Phantom material than any other US publisher has done… ever. We are very proud of our run.”
One of the main highlights of The Phantom run at Moonstone must be the 70th anniversary celebration in 2006. “How about the (sold out) ultimate Phantom origin story: Phantom: Legacy by Ben Raab, Pat Quinn, and Art Lyon?” asked Gentile. “What about Mike Bullock/Silvestre Szilagyi’s three-issue arc that had the Phantom in real Africa trying to deal with children being pressed into military service? How about the Phantom trying to help Katrina victims in Martin Powell’s “The Hungry Swamp”? Or what about that all-out action tale of slavery, diamonds, and witches by Chuck Dixon and EricJ?
“Look at this line up of talent that has touched Moonstone’s Phantom run (in no order): Ben Raab, Pat Quinn, Mike Bullock, Silvestre Szilagyi, Craig Shaw Gardner, Joe Corroney, Doug Klauba, Graham Nolan, Ruben Procopio, Nick Derrington, Rafael Nieves, Vatche Mavlian, Will Murray, Nancy Kilpatrick, Elizabeth Massie, David Michelinie, Chuck Dixon, EricJ, Bob Pedroza, Ken Wolak, Fernando Blanco, Joe Prado, Paul Mounts, Ron Goulart, and more.”
Looking at what's ahead for the Ghost Who Walks, Gentile said that they have “lots” of “cool plans” for The Phantom. “Oddly, we were just about to announce our relaunch of the book when the hubbub hit. We are relaunching with a new look and feel. For starters, for the first time in America, Phantom artist without peer Sy Barry will be providing an original Phantom cover.”
As for regular Phantom creative team at Moonstone, he said that “Mike [Bullock] and Silvestre [Szilagyi] will be staying on the book, but things will be different. More details to come.
“We want to go back to what the Phantom was like when Lee Falk created the character,” he continued. “The Phantom had a whole “mystique” thing going for him. We will play that up. He wasn’t so much the family man that we see in the strips. A new approach like this can best be accomplished when you have creators who know the property as well as Mike Silvestre do, as well as creators who are here for a long run of stories.
“The direction of the stories will focus on real Africa today… there are a million stories in the naked jungle… and we are going to start telling them. As the entire world looks to Africa, and I mean everyone from Bono and Oprah with charity work to the Discovery Channel & Bronx Zoo focusing on Madagascar… to the moving documentary Angels in the Dust, all the way to the National News Media's reporting on Darfur or Mugabe's sham elections in Zimbabwe, it's clear that Africa is a fascinating place in the year 2008. These places are real and relevant. How can we talk about the Phantom and not talk about this kind of stuff? Lee Falk tried to make his stories very topical for his day as well. We want his spirit alive in our books.
“Now, besides that, we have a couple of other special Phantom projects. We have the upcoming Phantom Annual (Nov ’08), which will be the first Moonstone Phantom/Mandrake team-up! Written by Mike Bullock and Kevin Grevioux, with covers by Pat Quinn, Leonardo Manco, and Nick Derrington.
“We have a one-shot of the only female Phantom there has ever been,” he continued to tease. “It is written by novelist Elizabeth Massie. Look for it around Dec/Jan.
“We will have more Phantom prose stories too.”
But what about Moonstone Books itself? Where is it headed, creative- and publishing-wise? “As Moonstone is in the middle of its second decade of publishing - we're even more focused on telling great stories with great characters that haven't been done to death,” Gentile explained. “We find the readers love it when we take a character and provide a freshness, tempered with respect for the past.
“Our sweet spot is taking characters about which people say "Yeah, he's cool" and "She's cool, but I'd like to learn more about him or her". And then we crank it into high gear.”
Such as? After all, as Gentile said earlier, Moonstone is a “successful publisher of licensed properties.” “Look at Captain Action - the guy had TV commercials and an action figure back in the 60s, everyone knew about him, but now we've assembled top talents to tell the tale. The fact is - our recent Captain Action #0 was a big hit for us - and that property has further great plans at Moonstone in the coming months.
“Or Buckaroo Banzai… We got the original writers of the character to tell new stories. If you liked the movie, you’ll love the comics. Banzai is our best-selling book to date.
“Or Kolchak… Many publishers, big and small, over the years, wanted this character. When we get an idea, we don’t let go! It took over a year, but we got TV’s first paranormal investigator!
“Or Domino Lady... There were only half a dozen appearances with her back in the day. Now we're going to have some real fun, and readers and fans are climbing on board for this sexy thrill ride!
“What about the Avenger? We fought for 12 years… Let me repeat that, 12 years to get this character… and we did. We are tenacious, my friend. I can tell you here that we will be announcing our very first company-wide crossover event: Dark Side of the Moon. Written with care and passion by Martin Powell, it is a wild story set in a familiar setting, that has The Phantom, Buckaroo Banzai, Capt Action, Sherlock Holmes, Cisco Kid, Airboy, Domino Lady, Kolchak, Mandrake, and more… all in one adventure!”
Newsarama Note: We will be inquiring with King Features in the coming days to report on who has which rights for the character, and how two companies can apparently hold the comic book rights to the same character.