Daniel Herman: Let's start out by talking about when you heard King Feature's was interested in getting a new artist for The Phantom, how did you find out about that?
Sy Barry: Okay, what happened was another artist, Frank Giacoia, I don't know if you know that name —
DH: Frankie Giacoia, you mean one of the great inkers of the Silver Age – never heard of him. [laughing]
SB: That's right, never heard of him eh? [laughter] He did Johnny Rebb, Sherlock Holmes, you know. I helped him a little bit with those strips.
DH: Well, I mean you and everyone else because he was an inker not a penciler and he couldn't pencil on a consistent schedule so he had everyone in the business penciling for him.
SB: Exactly, exactly. So I did some layouts for him and because he would look at a blank page and for hours would just be glaring at it and staring at it and he'd have to get in that mood, when the juices would start to develop, so that he could create, but he had to be in a certain temperament, at a certain time, at a certain minute you know [laughing].
DH: You know I've been looking at art he worked on and his inking was really, really very good.
SB: Oh yeah, I loved his inking he had a great style to, and he admired my inking as well. Which I was honored because he was like my brother Dan's (Dan Barry) age, 5 years older than me so I kinda looked up to him. I knew him for many years, I knew him together with Joe Giella. So anyway, what happened was Frank and I had come to King Features with a good idea, it was a civil war strip, and it was called This Summer Storm and its based on Tara and -
DH: Yes, Gone with the Wind.
SB: And what’s the name, Scarlett O'Hara.
SB: But this is the end of the war; the war is over and there desolation and the new hope is to go out west and see what is going on out west. And there was one character who was in the Civil War, he was a scout and his name was Jim Hawke, and she fell in love with him and he loved his horse more than he loved — [laughing]...
SB: We made her a real knockout with black hair and round light eyes, you know, we made her a really luscious woman.
DH: I mean it's Vivian Leigh how could you do Vivian Leigh badly? [laughing]
SB: [laughing] Right, but she was very strongly from the south, she never got over the bitter defeat that they went through. So what we wanted to do was to show the history of what went on after the war, the misery had left behind and how people tried to change their lives from what they had, from the past so, um, and how our new relationships developed, you know? And we had a nice story worked out, a very nice story. So then we were thinking about it and it was in that boardroom to be determined and suddenly Wilson McCoy became ill. He seemed to have an infection, a lingering dormant infection that he picked up in Africa and they had gone and treated him with antibiotics but every once in a while it would crop up a bit and affect his heart a little bit to. And uh, this time he had a heart seizure in the hospital after having been battling the disease and meanwhile they had called me in because I had just finished the script and was fresh on their mind and they knew me from the days I had helped Dan on Flash Gordon as well, which King Features was publishing.
SB: So they were familiar with me, and you know, they would call me as a matter of fact and let me know what's happening on the strip idea that Frank and I submitted and they called me and I thought it was just another one of those wait and see kind of calls and he said 'Sy, you know Wilson McCoy is in the hospital and he's ill and we're hoping for a recovery, but he seems to be in poor shape and we would like you to handle a few weeks until he recovers of the daily.' So I said, 'well fine, I could do it if I pushed some of my work aside.' And I figured if I grabbed this now it might be an opportunity for me you know, and I wouldn't have to wait for a new script to develop and start to make sales and all of that if I can get onto this script. And, as a child, I always said to myself when Wilson McCoy was doing it, well I should say as a teenager anyway, that I would love to draw that strip and give it some drama. It just seemed lax, and make it a really mystical kind of script you know with strong blacks and good expressions – some feeling, some oomph and it just seemed so weakened -
DH: That's what you did when you got the strips.
SB: And almost immature in its style and technique.
DH: Well, when Wilson McCoy did the strip it was completely two dimensional.
SB: Absolutely. That's exactly what it was and it needed some depth. Meanwhile, while I was working on the daily, Carmine Infantino began sending in a Sunday every now and then to show them what he could do on a Sunday. Now, Carmine and I never had much of a relationship, I worked up in DC and I left some work for DC as I was doing the daily. And they were considering Carmine and they had already asked to do to temporarily do the Sunday and uh, I didn't know what was going with the Sunday except that I heard that Bill Lignante was taking it over temporarily. And meanwhile, my dear, close friend Frank, who I submitted the other strip with, went behind my back and submitted a Sunday.
DH: Oh, that was nice. That was very nice of him.
SB: We exchanged blood or something [laughs] he [Frank] said, 'since we're partners I thought that if you would get the Sunday I would get the Sunday and we would share it.' This is where he pushed me. I let him have it because to do something like this without even asking knowing that I was already doing the daily and that I had an opportunity to add on the Sunday as well. To do this behind my back without telling me, then telling me after he submitted it – and so our friendship ended right there. I just couldn't, there were the little things he did but I took it in good grace but this really hurt me and was like a stab in the back.
DH: Well it is. I mean that's what we call bad faith.
SB: Right, so I was quite angry at that and a few weeks later I got a call and they said “would you come in and bring your lawyer with you.” So, I go ‘well, wow I may have the daily and that’s so exciting.’ So I bring my lawyer with me, and he happened to be a very close friend of my brother Dan but he was also an excellent contract lawyer he was very good and had a very good reputation and I went with him and he argued, debated with them, and then they told me as a matter of fact we are planning on giving you the Sunday as well. Well, I was stunned.
DH: That’s hitting a home run.
SB: I was really stunned; I mean I thought that one of the other guys definitely was getting the Sundays. So, when my lawyer heard it, he said “well now we have a different conversation.”
DH: I was about to say, that’s a big deal.
SB: They negotiated and as a matter of fact my brother, just two years before had changed his arraignment with King Features. What he did was get off a percentage arraignment and got onto a salary.
SB: And his lawyer friend who is my lawyer told him, Dan, don’t do that.
DH: Keep a percentage.
SB: He said, “what if it becomes very popular again and science fiction could turn around the become very popular again and you could get royalties on byproducts, don’t do that, you’re burying yourself.” And Dan said, “I don’t trust them, I don’t believe them or their figures and what they are showing me. I want a flat salary.” And then later on he really regretted it because science fiction started to come back and the strips started to pick up a little, you know. So anyway, then when I got done, I wanted to call my wife and tell her after what happened, she was out shopping with my daughters, and I couldn’t reach her, and my mother-in-law lived upstairs, and we hadn’t gotten a house yet. I tried to reach her, and she wasn’t in. I tried to reach my next-door neighbor, who was a very dear friend –
DH: How frustrating!
SB: I couldn’t find anyone to break it to, no one to break it to.
DH: That’s terrible.
SB: I think I wound up calling, oh, I called my sister to let her know because she knew I was going into contract. So, I called my sister, I was at least able to get the word out to her and then I went into a bar and had a beer.
DH: That’s a good way to celebrate.
SB: Yeah, so the guy, as a matter of fact the bartender took a little tiny glass of beer and clicking my glass to help me celebrate. But it was so exciting when I heard I was getting the dailies and the Sundays. They said “the reason we didn’t tell you about the Sundays was because we were negotiating with a previous artist partner was helping. You know Ray Moore was helping every once in a while.
DH: Yeah, I remember when Ray Moore was still alive.
SB: Well first Wilson McCoy helped Ray Moore.
DH: Yes, he was his assistant.
SB: But Ray Moore was not always able.
DH: No, he had facial neuralgia when he came back from the Second World War and he was on and off. He had a lot of physical problems.
SB: Right, exactly. And I understand he also hit the glass now and then.
DH: Yeah, that was a big problem with a lot of them.
SB: That was a bit of a problem to, so. But I knew about the partial paralysis – I heard about that. And because of it they were thinking he was drunk when he really wasn’t because of the way his speech was. Sometimes his speech would be affected. So anyway, during that, because I guess I didn’t say that Ray Moore had passed away in the hospital, I don’t know if I said that, but that’s what brought about the –
DH: And I don’t know if he finished the continuity he was working on or how far ahead he was —
SB: Oh, oh it was done. He was just beginning a new story of the slave market –
DH: Yes, the Slave Market of Mucar.
SB: I think Lee [Falk] had finished off with someone before I got on. Lee had just finished the last week, had ended it and began a new story with me. So, the Slave Market of Mucar was a brand-new story that I was introduced to. The funny thing is that the first week of my work I did in my own style and it looked like Flash Gordon.
DH: You know, I actually own one of the strips that’s from the first continuity that you didn’t sign –
DH: And I have to tell you the inking is really slick, it’s really really slick.
SB: Yes, I remember, and they said, “Sy, we really love the artwork but, my God, the editors of the newspapers are going to be wondering what the hell’s going on. Why is there such a different style from one week to the other. Sy we are going to have to relinquish that week of work — ”
DH: Oh, that’s —
SB: Yeah, “and if you can rush it through, if you need any help or whatever, but you need to get the next week out very quickly and it must look like his.” Well it took me twice as long to try and work in his style than it would to work in my style because I would have to try and pencil it in his technique and his simplicity, it was so odd. I couldn’t think that way, I couldn’t think that flat you know?
DH: The problem with Wilson McCoy’s artwork is, and I’m sure you know this, he relied almost exclusively on photo reference.
SB: Yes, he did.
DH: And he –
SB: But you wouldn’t know it.
DH: Well, you know I’ve read and I’ve gotten letters and things that he would lay it all out and I remember like Wally Wood or Gil Kane, they’d use photo reference but they had, like you probably do, tons and tons of files -
SB: Well yeah, we all have –
DH: Of guns and tanks because they didn’t have the internet back then and so you had a to have a huge inventory of images to rely on.
SB: I had sixty years of National Geographic to - [laughs]
DH: Which was especially helpful, and what McCoy was doing was getting his kids and his wife and he was actually shooting the scenes using them and then looking at them. He was basically –
SB: Yes, you’re right, he was using this wife as a model.
DH: He was basically I don’t know - a journeyman commercial artist –
DH: And it was not doing comic art, which is an art in and of itself –
SB: Oh yeah.
DH: It was not his forte and as you said, he started out as an assistant doing more backgrounds and finishes. So he never really developed – his art developed and it got a little more sophisticated as he went along but it was never as sophisticated and multi-faceted as yours because yours was, and I don’t know if you know this or not, but Heritage Auctions a big auction house –
SB: Oh yes, sure.
DH: They had a big page that you did from a mystery story maybe about six months ago and it was all spotting blacks because you were basically doing a night story where there was only one light source –
SB: Oh –
DH: And you were doing all the slats of the blinds so you could see the light through them –
SB: With the light coming through them, yeah. That was the drama I tried to introduce into the strip and that’s the kind of drama.
DH: Yeah but the inking in that is absolutely textbook of the best inking of that time period because –
SB: Oh my God.
DH: Because it’s not a craft, it goes from craft to art because the page itself, which has no super heroes and none of the stuff that would attract people, it’s just a page telling a story.
DH: I have to tell you that the image itself was just absolutely perfect and I was showing my wife the image and I said, “see this is what Alex Toth was talking about.”
DH: This is what the art of comics is really about. About how it’s not about detail it’s about giving the illusion of detail by good inking. And you brought that to the Phantom. Let me ask you this, when did you first meet Lee Falk and begin discussing about what you were doing as opposed to what he was doing?
SB: I had spoken to him mostly on the phone and I believe there was a dinner that we went to, I think it was a cartoonist society dinner, that was back in ’62 or ’63. I don’t know, I think a year went by before I actually got to see him physically.
DH: Oh, that’s interesting.
SB: We were always on the phone.
DH: I see.
SB: But I never got to really see him. Even at the contract signing he wasn’t there, and he was a partner in it. I would’ve expected him to be there, but his lawyer was there.
DH: Well I guess that’s the next best thing [laughs].
DH: As long as they sign the deal.
SB: In a way I got to feel that the way he tried to minimize my impact on the strip every turn he could find. I began to get more and more turned off to him. I tried my best to be pleasant with him and tried to look away at some of the things he did behind my back, some pretty sneaky, but I just, I found out about him and I let my lawyer know what it was about and he said, “we’ll just have to stay more wary of it” you know. But never the less it never quite affected me financially, but it could have if I hadn’t found out in time.
DH: The story has always been that after, and I don’t know if this is true or not, but it looks to be true, after Lee Falk saw what you were doing he began to very seriously rethink The Phantom because the stories become less humorous and more contemporary - I do like the funny ones, though. I think they’re very cleaver, but the stories became much more contemporary –
SB: Contemporary, yes.
DH: Do you feel that’s a proper –
SB: Right, even the dialogue, the things that The Phantom would say would be sort of a play-off words and a little bit of humor in it and even that became a little more stressed, you’re right it did. The situations became more serious too, they were not, I mean when I would look through some of Wilson McCoy’s work and I would read the story along with his interpretations I would visual it so differently than the way Wilson did it. But the stories were so interesting and at the same time they had a light touch that bit of light humor. But that little touch of humor that the second character gave it you know, it was that little background humor like they would do in the westerns and he used to have a little of that, but he was a little more serious. But my style is more serious and less light, more dramatic and he went with more dramatic stories to, but because he saw that I could draw just about everything. Because he knew what Wilson McCoy’s limitations were he tried to write around it. He would throw in armies and fiends for me and would have these elaborate situations, three actions going on in one panel, that kind of thing. I mean, he laid it on me. And then he would call and tell me, “Sy, you’re right on schedule, you gotta get ahead a little bit.” What? You want me to get ahead? With your stories how can I get ahead?
DH: I was going to say, yeah, all you’re doing is – and the problem is that you are not getting a comic book page where you have the ability, mind you a twice up comic book page –
DH: Where you have the minimum of maybe six panels, or usually five –
SB: And you could provide them with any feature you wanted because the length of one, stretch one. I was limited to –
DH: A grid.
SB: Yes, a physical grid.
DH: And you couldn’t do – and you’re stuck, and Alex Toth always used to say “well that always makes you work harder.”
SB: [laughs] Yeah, thank you.
DH: [laughs] Alex Toth used to say –
SB: He’d be joking, but at my expense! [laughs]
DH: But Alex Toth would say “six panels just makes you work harder.”
SB: Right [laughing], and of course he [Lee Falk] was a very very strong egomaniac, oh my god did he love himself.
DH: Yes, I understand.
SB: You know, I had two egomaniacs in my life, Lee Falk and Dan Barry. [DH and SB laugh] –
DH: You know what they say –
SB: That it was my luck that I had to inherit.
DH: It’s like they say, you can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your relatives. [laughs]
SB: That’s right [laughs]. I was blessed with those two characters.
DH: So, your composition was much more theatrical and much more evocative of film.
SB: I feel my head swelling as your talking to me. It’s growing [laughing]
DH: You know, I was standing behind Alissa Fisher, who’s my chief graphic designer who is working on the first book with your work in it. And I was watching her fix it, and I don’t mean it was broken, what I mean is I was watching her digitally reconstruct it because the proofs are good but they’re not perfect. There are imperfections in them,
DH: And, they are 50 years old and some of them have degraded. And you know they’re all on coated stock paper.
DH: I try to explain to people, who say ‘this doesn’t look like the tear sheet which has all these beautiful tones in it.’ And I say, “the tear sheets have tones in them because of the printing process, not because there is any tone in the proof. The proof is shot flat and all of the tone that you would see in the inking is completely rendered into a monotone black — it doesn’t look like the original art,” and these people don’t understand that the proofs are literally only black and white. But I have to tell you I was looking at the scanned proofs from behind when the book was being laid out and they’re really outstanding, they really caught my eye as being beautifully composed and inked. And this is even without seeing the originals, the originals are an entirely different matter. Especially because you’re applying zipatone to them.
SB: Yes, right.
DH: You're making your indications and a lot of people say to me “why’s it blue under there?” And I say, “because that’s the indication as to where the zipatone goes.
SB: Exactly, that’s what I did, and I had an assistant who would put the zipatone in for me.
DH: Well, the other thing that I read somewhere was that, and I mean everyone had help when they were doing these strips to stay on schedule.
DH: Somebody mentioned in something that I read somewhere that somebody assisted you on the second continuity is that correct?
SB: From when I started at the very earliest –
DH: Yes, at the beginning.
SB: Somebody did because I believe by that time, I had begun doing the Sundays to.
DH: Well then there’s no way that you could do both at the same time. Who was assisting you anyway?
SB: I had [thinking]…
DH: I heard Joe Giella was assisting.
SB: Joe Giella, yes, he was helping me on the inking and now and then in order to pull the Sunday ahead I did get some – I’m sorry, to pull the Dailies ahead while I went onto the Sunday I had Bob Forgione do some.
Sy Barry: It’s funny because I looked at Degas work, and Degas, to me, was more of a comic artist painter, because there were elements in his painting that just have the motion and movement of a comic artist. When it came to fine art he was one of my greatest influences.
Dan Herman: You remember Rockwell Kent?
SB: Oh, sure.
DH: I Kent’s Complete Illustrated Shakespeare, and that really stood out in my mind as I was growing up. They were singular images; self contained and very interesting. The style that he used is very 20s-30s and you had artists like William Gropper, who was a court room artist; he did illustrations, he did paintings and murals, you know all these people. It’s interesting what you said — a lot of artists who were in the comic industry were influenced by early 20th century illustration. And they looked at it very carefully and boiled it down so they could use it. Like Alex Toth — boiling everything down to a very simple equation. And the thing that I find most ironic is that your brother Dan and Alex Toth and all these other people who developed comic book storytelling in the 40s-60s, have been abandoned now by the contemporary comic book artist. They seem to be obsessed with details that are unnecessary.
SB: Yes, it drives me crazy!
DH: Gil Kane told me that he had to do maybe two books a month, 26 page books, in order to make a living. And this was maybe twenty years ago when I had this conversation with him, and he told me “You’ve got these kids now and they’re all rockstars! And it takes them a month to do a page.” And I said “well, you can’t make a living doing that.”
DH: Back to The Phantom. So it’s 1962 and you’re doing The Phantom — you’re moving along… were you working on anything else?
SB: I took another job now and then, but other than things like working for Dan on the Flash Gordon strip…when I was talking to him… Laughs
DH: In looking at the original art from the first few years of the strip, I won’t say it was done twice up, because they don’t do comic strip art twice up, but the format you were doing it in was the standard format of the time, which was maybe 5 by 20 inches or something.
SB: The daily?
DH: Yes, the daily.
Sy: Let me see…about 5 or 6, yes. By about 20. It was pretty big.
DH: As you went on, did the size of the artwork begin to decrease?
SB: It did. By the time I finished in ’94 it was…my eyes were under stress and strain because the page was so small to work with. The daily pages. And it was ridiculous! Why in heavens name they had to change the size…I mean, to satisfy the printers? It didn’t make sense. All they had to do was work on a diagonal and break down the size…why couldn’t they just work with the size? Why did they have to have us working smaller and smaller? You know, we changed it three times (the size).
DH: I didn’t realize that.
SB : The Daily. The Sundays we changed it twice.
DH: I think when you took the Sunday over the original art was a three tiered horizontal strip.
SB: Yes, it was three tiered. It always was three tiered.
DH: Actually, when it started out it was much more vertical and less horizontal.
SB: Yes, I remember that. I started working on the Sundays about a year, year and a half after I started the dailies. I did see some of the Lignante stuff.
DH: Western Publishing did seventeen issues of The Phantom from 1962-1966; during this time comics books were really hot because of Batman TV show, then King Features decided that they would have their own imprint, that lasted from 1966-1967 — eleven issues; they were subcontracting the production to Western for the interior work, but they were doing covers that looked like knockoffs of panels that you had done…
SB: That’s right. Because they were.
DH: It didn’t look like you had done the covers.
SB: No, they did not have me do the covers. Somebody else did them, or they swiped the panel right out of my artwork.
DH: Previously we talked about how the strip had started to change because Lee Falk tried to make it more contemporary.
SB: Yes, and a couple of them were my suggestions…
DH: Yes, tell me about them.
SB: One of the things that…it’s strange, because my oldest daughter would just once in a while look at the proofs of what I was doing and she would see a president or mayor, and she saw that white people were representing those roles in Africa and she said, “You know dad, things are changing. I wonder if Lee Falk is aware that black Presidents are coming in and black Ambassadors at the UN...and I think he should be keeping up with this and making it more present day.” And I said, “You know, I have to look into that. Let’s talk more about it.”
At first, you have to know Lee to work with him, which I did, and you have to be very careful with him, kind of walk on egg shells. And I did. Because he was very sensitive. And I had to tell him in a very calm way, without getting too instructive, to tell him that in today's world, the countries in Africa are becoming much more African run, and tribes and chiefs and different kinds of governments are being established. Some were democracy, some were autocracy, but nevertheless they are taking over as black leaders. It’s not white south Africa anymore. The whole of Africa is not apartheid. It’s not colonialism anymore.
First he said, “Well, you know a lot of leaders like the way I’m writing it. But I’ll think about it.”
And I said, “My daughter was talking to her friends, and she’s very up on the world and what young people like and their thoughts are changing. It’s not just the old timers now. Just think about it, anyway.” Next thing I know he sending me a new story and sure enough the new president of Bengala has been newly elected and he’s Luaga Lamanda, and suddenly Colonel Weeks is Colonel Waragu.
DH: Obviously he figured it out pretty fast.
SB: Yes, he did. He finally began to realized that, hey, maybe Sy is right. I won’t tell him he’s right laughs but I’ll make those changes. He never gave anyone credit. He was always like that laughs
DH: Let me ask you about the way you were doing this strip in terms of when you would get the story — would you get the complete script for the entire continuity?
SB: Oh, Lee winged it. He did it as he went along.
DH: So you’d be flying by the seat of your pants.
SB: I’d get sent three or four weeks at a time. I never knew how it was going to end. And I’d say, “How are you going to resolve this?” And he’d say, “You’ll find out.” He’d be playing games with me. How stupid – I’m the artist, I need to know these things! Come on!
DH: I’ve never seen the scripts, but when Lee did them, did he give you some breakdowns in terms of angles and stage direction? Or did he just give you the dialogue?
SB: He just gave me the dialogue. No, he never broke it down and gave me angles or directions, because he knew I’d never follow them anyway. And he knew that.
I would always visualize it when I was reading the script; I knew what the angles would be, and the stage setting. I always had the ability to see it in my minds eye.
DH: After they hired you, they didn’t make you give them thumbnails and roughs of the weeks strips, you just did them, right?
SB: Yes. I’d just deliver the final product. They had enough confidence in my style that I was able to just send it right in.
DH: Well, you did the strip until 1994, and I know why you retired, because you said so, but I’ll ask you…why did you stop doing the strip?
SB: I’d say about 8 years before, in the 80s, I saw the painting, or rather, the study, of an artist here on the island, and thought he was excellent. His studio was in Locust Valley. He was an excellent painter, and his florals were just incredible. His portraits were also very good. I was able to learn a lot about handling flesh and form and all of that. His one thing was trying to make black and white objects look rounded and three-dimensional. It was a whole different study and application.
I began to really love painting, and this was just in oils. I worked a little in acrylic, but this was just in oils and I liked working with oils, even if it took a long time to dry. You had more freedom in being able to change things as you’re going along. Acrylics would just dry so fast. But with oil you can just put one color over another and change as you go.
But that’s what got me to retire. I was going through some stuff with Lee, trying to get scripts and to try to get ahead, and I was having a very tough time. It was a weekly battle to try to get scripts from him and he just kept doing things that made it very difficult to keep working with him for any great length of time. By the late 80s/early 90s I was getting very frustrated. By 1992, about two years before I retired, I was getting to feel like I wasn’t having the fun or enjoyment that I was getting out of it before. And it was beginning to become…I was fighting the deadlines, I was fighting the script, and being late now and then because I wasn’t getting the scripts from Lee. It just began to become an ordeal rather than a fun job that I always loved. It was just foremost in my mind all the time, that it was something I had enjoyed all this time, but that I just couldn’t take it anymore. I wanted to keep my sanity.
And a lot of my friends were starting to retire, and things were kind of pushing me to try and have a life where I could have complete control over myself and what I was doing. And not be functioning under a strain week after week.
DH: Over the thirty plus year period that you did the strip…some of them were adapted into novels…like the Avon novels…when you look back over the years, are there any continuities where you think to yourself “yeah, that was a great one.”
SB: Yes, one of them, more than most. It would have to be, I guess it was the original “Founding of the Jungle Patrol.” This gang of pirates, Redbeard, he was a giant of a guy. Maybe 6 foot 10 or something, he was much bigger than the Phantom. (Referring to the Sunday continuity which ran from July 5, 1964- January 24, 1965.)
DH: When you were doing the strip, Lee Falk was going back and forth historically, like he was revisiting the Phantom Chronicles to get more background. I thought one of the really strong points of the character was that you could switch back and forth between one Phantom and another.
SB: I must give him (Lee) credit, that was genius of him. Using the 400 year period, you know, to be able to make use of 400 years of history and run around all those years.
DH: You were doing great stories where you were going back historically and…
Sy: Then we went back to the French pirates, Lafitte you remember that story?
DH: I do — it was “The Vault of the Missing Men” (a Sunday continuity that ran from December 16, 1979- June 1, 1980) and I reading stories from the Phantom Chronicles. In the comic books they didn’t do that that much. One artist told an story which takes place in 1776, Don Newton. He was the last artist who work on the Charlton Phantom. He was an up-and-comer, a great guy. He loved The Phantom. He was arguable the best artist that did the Phantom in comic books. The story, which is one of my favorites, is The Phantom of 1776, which is the last Charlton issue, #74.
SB: Dan, you’re really a walking encyclopedia. Laughs Did Don use anyone else’s style?
DH: Well, it was C.C. Beck, but you’d never know it. His stuff really doesn’t look like anybody’s. A little Gene Colan, a little Gil Kane…Don was all over the place.
SB: Before we end, there was one quick thing I wanted to tell you. Lee, in the early years, he was writing very well. He was writing some wonderful stories, and especially more Phantasy stories, and historic stories. I loved doing them, I loved doing the research on them. I always enjoyed that. But later on, during the late 70s, early 80s let’s say, he sort of began to fade off a little bit. He began to leave characters that were in trouble, or victims that needed saving…he would leave them and begin to go off and fight with the Villain, and forget to pick them up again.
DH: Oh no!
SB: He would leave them on islands or in other countries. And I’d say, “Lee! You’re ending this story…” And first of all it was running way too long, so it had to end suddenly. The managing editor would come in and say, “Lee, it’s been running for 26 weeks, you’ve got to wrap it up!” He didn’t like that interruption in his stories, so in his anger he’d just cut it. And I’d say, “Lee, you’re ending it here? What happened to so-and-so?” And Lee would just say he’d pick it up in the next sequence. Which he didn’t always do. And so sometimes the story would end, and the next week would pick up with the Next Week, New Adventure, and the Phantom would have to swim over to some random country to get to this person and get them out of their random problem. And it would take about two weeks for that to happen.
And then he’d start the new story. It was horrible. People want to know how this guy is going to get out of this situation, and then…nothing. You know, there are cliffhangers, not permanent hangers. You have got to close the gap!
That’s just a little extra tidbit.
DH: That’s a good one.
Pictured: Jessica Balboni (co-mgr. of Escapist); Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson, Colin Epstein, and Ben Rosenthal
Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson presenting on DC Comics Before Superman