Seeing The Ghost Walk Away: Mike Bullock Talks Phantom

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Longtime Phantom writer Mike Bullock today stands as the creator who's got the most Phantom stories next to his name than any other writer on the US comics market -- past and present.

When checking in with Bullock to talk about said occasion, BF found out that The Phantom will be moving from Moonstone Books to Dynamite Entertainment, with Moonstone's June offerings being the last Phantom books shipping from the company. Luckily, the company is recharging its ammo with new licensed comics, including a big one they can't unveil just yet. Read on for all the details...

BROKEN FRONTIER: As a creator, you got your feet wet at your own company, Runemaster Studios, but quickly started doing a lot of work for Moonstone, most notable on The Phantom. Do you recall how that opportunity presented itself 6 years ago?
MIKE BULLOCK: My wife and I became enamored with the Night Stalker TV show, based on Carl Kolchak. I was familiar with Moonstone’s Kolchak stories and had a friend who wrote some indy stuff in a similar vein.

It struck me one day that this friend would be a great fit for writing Kolchak stories, so, since I knew Joe Gentile, I called him up and pitched him on the idea of hiring my friend to write Kolchak. Joe listened intently, made some notes, got the friend’s contact information and then said “Well, that sounds great, but what do you want to write for us?” I don’t think more than a second passed before I blurted out “Phantom!” like a kid talking to Santa Claus about a wish list.

As it turned out, Ben Raab, who was writing the series at the time, needed a breather, so Joe asked me to write a fill in issue and if King Features approved it, they’d publish it. I wrote it, King signed off on it and that issue became Phantom #12. As luck would have it, soon after King approved me as a Phantom writer, Ben stepped down. Joe called me up and asked me if I wanted to take over as the regular series writer and nearly six years later, here I am.
BF: Having so many to pick from, what are the three favorite Phantom stories you've written?
Honestly, I’m not really happy with any of them, as I always think of ways I could have improved the stories once I see the actual comics. But, if you held a model 1911 .45 to my head and made me choose, I’d probably pick the Checkmate arc (Phantom #21-25), White Knight – a prose tale in the first Phantom Chronicles anthology and Final Roar, from Phantom: Generations #14.

I’m also fairly happy with the Godfall arc, but I’m not done writing it yet, and the first issue won’t hit stands for a week or two.
BF: Did your love for the character grow a lot over the course of crafting his stories?
Absolutely. I enjoyed the Phantom a lot as a kid, and when I saw Phantom #1 come out back in 2002, it struck a chord with me and I can remember thinking “I’d love to write that character.” Once I was handed the reins, I spent hour after hour, night after night, devouring all the old newspaper stories.

My good friend, and Phantom expert Ed Rhoades, was kind enough to give me a complete run of the newspaper stories on CD, from the very first strip that ran on February 17th, 1936 up to the 1990s. I went to a print shop, had literally a two foot tall stack of stories printed out and read them all.

The more I read, the greater my appreciation for Lee Falk’s storytelling skills (you’d be amazed at how many Golden & Silver age comic stories are derivative of prior Phantom tales) and the rich character he created. At this point, I almost feel like Phantom is a family member.


BF: A little research tells me you hold the distinction of having created more original Phantom stories than any other writer in US comic book history. How much more Phantom do you have left in you?
BULLOCK: More than I can count at once. On my hard drive right now, I have seeds for roughly fifteen to twenty stories I had planned to do in the pages of Phantom: Ghost Who Walks. On top of that, I have tidbits and scenes rattling around in my head for dozens more. And at least once a day I’ll come across something that makes me dream up a new one.

The very nature of the character is a writer’s paradise. He’s international and has existed for centuries, so you can tell tales in settings anywhere on Earth, at anytime from the late 17th century onward. I’m also invested personally in Africa, so having the reins of a hero who calls an African country home brings with it nearly endless possibilities for storytelling.
BF: What happens to Phantom in Godfall?
BULLOCK: The Godfall arc is part II of the critically acclaimed Invisible Children storyline, where we discover just who has been pulling the strings behind most of the events so far in Phantom: Ghost Who Walks. After putting a few things together, Phantom decides to end the reign of the Warlord HIM once and for all, but the further he delves into HIMs world, the more he discovers just how evil this man truly is. Will it become a case of “the longer you stare into the abyss…”? Only time will tell.


BF: There have been rumblings that Moonstone will cease to publish Phantom material, as Dynamite Entertainment will be taking over the license this summer. Is that correct?

BULLOCK: Yes, though I must say that while rumors have been flying for years now, the truth is King Features didn’t make their decision on the license until about a week ago. I’m not intimately familiar with all the ins and outs of what occurred, but I do know business is business and at the end of the day, money talks.

It’s a very sad thing for me, as I have plans for The Phantom that would have kept me busy for the next several years, at least. The character has become more like a friend to me in the last half decade, so it’s a lot more than just losing a license to me.
I’ll also miss working with the editorial department at King Features. I often hear rumors of how tough they are to work with, but I always got along with them fine. I really feel my writing improved due to the interaction with Karen “Mary Worth” Moy, who is a fantastic storyteller in her own right. It’s always a great experience to interact with someone who gets the art of storytelling so well.
BF: How and when will the franchise be wrapped up?
BULLOCK: The Godfall arc will bring the series to a close with issue #12. I find it kinda of odd that my journey through the jungles of Bangalla began and ended with a #12 issue, but Phantom’s history is littered with oddities like that.

We have a few other mini-series running that will play out this spring (KGB Noir, Unmasked, Phantom/Captain Action), and several trade paperbacks collecting past work. Once they’ve all hit the stands by this summer, the doors to Moonstone’s Phantom office will officially close.


BF: Does Moonstone have any plans to fill up the hole left by Phantom in its publishing schedule?
BULLOCK: Well, you can’t really replace a character like Phantom. He’s the original sequential hero and there’s no character ever created who holds the same place in comic storytelling history. It’s not like we can swap him with a pulp license or a mainstream movie/TV license, or even another established literary or sequential character, because no one is on the same level as Phantom, not even Batman.

And, while that might sound a little out of touch to a lot of US comic buyers, the fact is Phantom is bigger than Mickey Mouse and Spider-Man combined in a large majority of the world.
However, Moonstone is rolling out a huge new line of pulp comics and prose, including a new Pulp Fiction magazine featuring stories of new and old pulp characters like Spider, Phantom Detective, Green Lama, Heap and Domino Lady written by some of the best modern pulp writers on the planet such as Will Murray, Martin Powell, C.J. Henderson and Nancy Holder.
There’s also another license which I can’t talk about just yet that will make a pretty big impact when it hits. It’s a property I’ve wanted to work on for decades, just as Phantom was, so hopefully, in six more years, I’ll be just as attached to that one as I am to Phantom. But, only time will tell.


BF: Will you be involved in any of these projects?
BULLOCK: Yes. I’m writing tales of the Black Bat, the character Batman was derived from and Stan Lee heavily borrowed from when creating Daredevil. He’s a blind attorney who takes his need for vengeance against criminals to the streets in a bat like outfit. And, he’s a little crazy, but don’t be too hard on him, a face full of acidic hallucinogens will do that to a guy.
After Black Bat, we’re proceeding with my first mature creator owned character Death Angel, who debuted in Phantom: KGB Noir #1. ‘Angel has received a great deal of praise and interest so far and will be splitting time with Black Bat in the new Black Bat Doubleshot series. The art for this book is coming to life through fellow Runemaster, Michael Metcalf.
I’m also working on stories with Captain Future: Wizard of Science (look by Leonard and Sheldon’s front door in Big Bang Theory to spot the wonderfully cool Captain Future poster they have) with art from Norm Lanting, who did the imagery on Phantom: Generations #14.
After that, I’m co-writing the exploits of Gladiator, the character most credit as the inspiration for Superman, with another fellow Runemaster, Josh Aitken. Steve Rupp is handling the art for Gladiator.
Add in the aforementioned new license of which I cannot speak and Moonstone will keep me pretty busy.
BF: You're a fairly loyal writer, having stuck by Moonstone for several years, as you've indicated. As such, I'm sure you feel the company is deserving of wider recognition?
BULLOCK: Absolutely. The folks at Moonstone have a huge love for the characters they publish. Joe often sounds like a kid at Christmas when he tells me about a new book or new license and Lori just may be the world greatest female comics’ fan. She knows more about comics than most guys and her passion for the medium is incredibly contagious. It doesn’t hurt that they’re both genuinely good people.
While it’s very tough for all the smaller companies to get by in this current economy and current comics’ market, I think it speaks volumes that Moonstone has been around for over fifteen years without the assistance of a big investor or large corporation behind them. And, the fact that folks like Tom Defalco, Chuck Dixon, Art Thibert and many others work for Moonstone regularly also shows this company deserves more credit than it gets.

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  • Richard Boom

    Richard Boom Mar 5, 2010 at 4:44am

    Phantom is one of those iconic characters that just stick in your mind.
    The generations of Phantoms, their wives and sons, their own Eden where tame lions roam free and where children interact with animals...sweet memories.

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