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In the Phantom Zone

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After creating the hit property Lions, Tigers & Bears for, above all, the youngest of readers among us, Mike Bullock will take on one of the oldest comic book heroes when he becomes the regular series writer on Moonstone’s The Phantom this month.

BROKEN FRONTIER: Let's talk first about how you landed the job writing The Phantom. Did it spin out of LTB and your other Runemaster work?

MIKE BULLOCK: Actually, I went to Moonstone Editor-In-Chief Joe Gentile to hook another writer up with a gig and by the end of the conversation I was writing The Phantom.

BF: Was it a character you were familiar with at that point? He’s been around since the thirties, after all...

MB: Yes. I used to read the newspaper strips when I was a kid and I loved Moonstone’s ongoing series. I had no idea there was so much history to the character until I’d taken on the job, however. Thankfully, a friend hooked me up with a complete collection of Mr. Falk’s newspaper stories.

BF: Are there any of Falk's stories that jump out to you immediately as favorites?

MB: The very first one, entitled "The Singh Brotherhood," always comes to mind. But there are so many, that it’s hard to point to any one story and say it stands head and shoulders above the rest.

BF: The Phantom has been all over the world (and time, really), dealing with different ethnic groups and enforcing justice at various exotic locations. As you're becoming ever more familiar with him, what is it that stands out about the character?

MB: His integrity and the fact that he’s still a true hero. There is no disgruntled, anti-hero waiting to unleash his “shades of grey” version of justice on the world hiding inside The Phantom. He has an indelible sense of right and wrong and does what must be done, no matter the cost to him personally.

BF: Yet, as brave as he is, he's never been held as dearly in the hearts of the American public as Superman and Batman. Often, people overlook him when referring to the Golden Age of comics? Why do you think that is? Because he's not a 'caped crusader' or as 'fantastical' as the other two?

MB: I think it simply comes down to marketing. Since Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and the rest of the ‘mainstream’ US superheroes have such a huge marketing scheme behind them to entrench them in US culture. I’ve never seen Phantom bed sheets, tennis shoes, soccer balls or toothbrushes, yet any kid in America can walk into a store and pick up any of those items and many more bearing the likeness of one of Marvel or DC’s biggest heroes.

Without that mass-marketing campaign behind them, I’m not sure any of the aforementioned heroes would have the foothold they do on American Pop Culture.

Click to enlarge    Click to enlarge    Click to enlarge

BF: Was domestic marketing something King Features for some reason didn't pursue, then?

MB: I think they did at one point in time, a long time ago, but I’ve seen nothing of the sort since my childhood. King Features owns such characters as Popeye, Dennis the Menace, Mandrake the Magician and Flash Gordon. All of these are iconic properties, yet they have no home in retail stores where Spider-Man and Batman are prominent. 

BF: True, though everybody loves spinach because of Popeye. [Laughs] Moving on to Moonstone's The Phantom series then. You're hopping on board with issue #12, out October 15th. How much of a new direction will we see when you take over the writing helm?

MB: When any new writer comes onboard a book, a new direction is inevitable. Ben Raab did a fairly decent job of not leaving very many loose ends, and those he did will be tied up in a special project Moonstone has planned for next year. Issue #12 introduces a new villain, who will play a rather large role in the book over the next few years, and sets the stage for what’s to come as we lead up to the double sized issue #25.

Click to enlarge    Click to enlarge    Click to enlarge

BF: In terms of direction, your stint will be longer, and, hopefully, uninterrupted, unlike the previous #11 issues which saw Ben Raab, Chuck Dixon and Rafael Nieves all scripting stories. How long do you see yourself staying on the title?

MB: The current goal is to put out more consecutive issues than any previous US publisher. This leaves me roughly 63 more issues. After that, who knows? I just finished the script for #17 and I’ll be starting on #18 as soon as I finish this interview. If all goes well, I’ll have #25 done by the end of the year. So that’ll leave me just over 50 issues to go. 

BF: That's a strong commitment. Where does that leave your Runemaster properties?

MB: Lions, Tigers and Bears is finally back on track and if all goes well, Volume III will be out in Spring of ’07. I’m still looking for a suitable artist to work on The Light Knight, however, I did just get another offer to publish the book last weekend. As for The Gimoles, there’s some publishing interest in turning it into a series of chapter books, so that would pull the little green people out of the comic world and put them in the story book world, where they were originally intended to exist anyway.

Beyond that, I have a new all-ages property I’m currently developing with a great artist and fellow Runemaster Rob Schwager and I are working on some Christian-themed material that’s too early in the development stages to really talk about.

BF: Delving back into the Phantom, can you offer a bit of a recap of what has gone on before under the Moonstone umbrella for readers who haven't picked up any of the previous issues?

MB: So much has come before (the character has been around since 1936) that it’d be virtually impossible to recap it all in one interview. However, for those who came in late, here’s an excerpt from the inside front cover of #12:

For Those Who Came In Late:

Nearly five centuries ago, during a daring raid at sea, pirates took the life of merchant ship captain Christopher Standish, ex-cabin boy of Christopher Columbus. In the heat of the pitched battle aboard the ship, Standish’s son was knocked overboard to wash ashore on a remote beach where he was found by a friendly pygmy tribe.

After stumbling upon the body of his father’s killer, young Standish swore an oath on the murderer’s skull to devote his life, and the lives of his sons and their sons, to the destruction of piracy, greed, cruelty and injustice. 

His son and grandsons did follow him for generation after generation.

To the outside world, this man, seemingly immortal, has always worn the mask. As the legend grew, it transcended the life of any one mortal.

And that legend became THE PHANTOM!

BF: And what about your first few issues then, you mentioned it's a new direction but nothing really specific beyond that, so where are you taking the character?

Click to enlargeClick to enlargeMB: The first two-issue arc introduces the new villain Manuel Ortega and sets the tone for what’s to come over the next several issues. You can’t have a man as powerful as the Phantom without making some equally powerful enemies. Those enemies will start crawling out of the woodwork by the time we’re nearing issue #25.

Issues #14-15 fill in the gap between two existing Lee Falk stories set in early days of the current Phantom. Issue #16 is a lead-in to the three-part story coming up in issues #17-19, a story torn straight from the headlines of modern Africa that will come with a lot of baggage.

I can’t really say much more than that just yet, but hopefully readers will have as much fun taking in the stories as I’m having putting them out.   

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