Marz, Dixon, Bedard, Nieves & Bullock talk "The Phantom Annual"

Thu, October 19th, 2006 at 12:00am PDT

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Lori G., Guest Contributor

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"The Phantom Annual" - Covers A & B
70 years ago, comic creator Lee Falk unleashed the Phantom on an unsuspecting world! The character debuted as a daily newspaper strip on February 17th, 1936 and has been a lasting icon ever since. Now, in 2006, Moonstone Books is celebrating that legacy with a first of its kind publication - the first ever "Phantom Annual." The book contains stories covering five generations of The Ghost Who Walks by an all star cast of creators that includes writers Ron Marz, Chuck Dixon, Tony Bedard, Rafael Nieves and Mike Bullock and artists Ruben Procopio, Graham Nolan, Joe Prado, Tony Akins and Juan Ferreyra.

CBR News sat down with the writing team to learn more about the stories they crafted, how this project came together and the challenges they faced in coordinating these stories

Allright, guys, let's talk about the "Phantom Annual." This is a rather ambitious project with a large creative team with stories that cover five generations of The Ghost Who Walks. Whose idea was it to create the "Phantom Annual?"

Chuck Dixon: From what I could tell, the email chain started with Ron Marz. So, I guess we can all blame him.

Rafael Nieves: I think it might have been Ron Marz who came up with the idea. I'd been talking to [Moonstone Publisher] Joe Gentile about doing a new Phantom story with artist Tony Akins, but Tony was knee deep in his new "Jack of Fables" book for Vertigo, so we couldn't do anything long, page-wise. We were at a crossroads until Joe contacted me about the "Phantom Annual."

Mike Bullock: I'm not entirely sure whether the annual idea was Ron's or Joe Gentile's, but it just feels right to blame Ron.

Ron Marz: Yes, it's my fault. I've always wanted to write a Phantom story, so I opened my big mouth and got the ball rolling. And then I was kind enough to sucker in a bunch of my friends.

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Can each of you give a brief overview of your chapter? What can readers look forward to in this Annual?

Marz: I'm doing the lead chapter with former Disney animator and sculptor Ruben Procopio providing the art. It's set during the golden age of piracy, with the Phantom taking on the Singh Brotherhood, who prove to be the recurring villains through the story.

Tony Bedard: I'm doing the second chapter, which is set in the Revolutionary War era and illustrated by a terrific find named Allan Goldman. It concerns the eleventh man to take on the mantle of the Phantom. It also has to do with the prison barges the British set up in New York harbor - a real, historical horror story you don't hear much about.

Dixon: The chapter I wrote re-unites Graham Nolan and me for the first time in a long time. The second big plus is that we get to do our chapter as a western; something Graham and I have wanted to do for a long time.

Nieves: The story that Tony Akins and I are doing is set in Tibet, in the mid 1930s. I wanted to tell an action-packed, high adventure kind of story that had undertones of mysticism running through it. Akins wanted to draw accurate airplanes and kick-butt fight scenes. How does all that mesh? You'll have to read the story to find out.

Bullock: Juan Ferreyra provides the gorgeous line art for my story. It's the final chapter, so I can't really tell you much without giving away a lot of what precedes it. I can tell you it's the first appearance of the new head of the Singh Brotherhood, Temur Singh. Who will not only play the role of linchpin in the annual, but his actions will have lasting effects that will reverberate through the ongoing series as well.

How did the five of you get involved in this project?

Dixon: Like I said, I got this crazy email one day and…

Nieves: Well, I can't speak for the rest of the guys, but as to my being involved, I can only guess that Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Brian Azzarello, Stephen King and Dan Brown were all too busy!

Marz: That's not true. I didn't ask Dan Brown.

Bullock: Once again, I blame Ron. When it was decided to pull several creators together to make this book, he turned to two of his good friends, guys he'd worked with at CrossGen, Chuck Dixon and Tony Bedard. Joe Gentile added Rafael to the mix and the "Phantom Five" was complete. Now it's just a matter of whether we can get Adam West to play Ron in the movie.

Bedard: That Ron, still clinging to the glory that was CrossGen. It's okay to let it go, Ron! You're good enough, you're smart enough, and, Gosh-darn it, people like you!

How did you guys decide which of you would write which Phantom? It makes sense that Mike would write the current Phantom, the 21st generation, since he is the new writer on the ongoing "Phantom" comic. But what about the rest of you?

Nieves: Ron really set the pace here. He told me I'd be handling the Phantom of the '30s, but gave me the choice between Chicago and Tibet as a locale. After discussing it with Akins, we agreed that Tibet had more appeal. Luckily for us, that was the setting Ron was hoping we'd pick!

Bedard: The fellas know of my penchant for prancing around dressed as an Eighteenth Century dandy fop, so they let me have the Revolutionary War era.

Did each of you bring your own artist to the table? Did each of you pick somebody you've always wanted to work with; or rather did you pick someone you've worked with before, a former partner-in-crime so to speak?

Marz: I met Ruben a few years ago, when mutual friend George Perez introduced us. I'm doing a book called "Samurai: Heaven and Earth" for Dark Horse, and Dark Horse decided to do a statue of the main character. I got in touch with Ruben to see if he might be interested in doing the sculpt, since I knew he'd left Disney and was doing some freelance work. Ruben took on the gig and just did an amazing job on the Samurai statue - in stores this fall, reserve yours today! During that whole process, we happened to compare notes on classic heroes and turns out Ruben is a big Phantom fan. In fact, he sculpted a gorgeous statue of The Ghost Who Walks for Electric Tiki. So when the Annual got going, I asked Ruben if he might have time to draw my 10 pages, and obviously he said yes. Hmm, seems like I have a habit of dragging my friends into this sort of stuff...

Dixon: Someone else was going to write Graham's chapter, but I shot him just to watch him die.

Bedard: Allan Goldman was a gift from the gods (Okay, really he was a gift from Joe Prado, artist extraordinaire and Brasileiro comics impresario). Watch out for this guy!

Nieves: Tony Akins and I have known each other for years, and we've always wanted to work together. We actually have a couple of projects in the works, but they're a ways off. This story, with its shorter length, afforded us the opportunity to do something together, finally! I've always been a fan of Akins' art, and to have him collaborate with me on this is a dream come true.

Bullock: When I needed an artist for my chapter, I turned to my brothers-in-arms at Image Comics and tracked down Juan Ferreyra. I've always loved Juan's work and was delighted he loved my stuff as much as he loves the Phantom. We might get Erik Estrada to play Juan in the feature film.

Is there a Phantom Bible somewhere that gives the breakdown for each generation of the Phantom? If so, can you get me one? You know that gives me an idea, I'm betting there are a bunch of Phans out there that would buy The Phantom Bible! Moonstone should publish that!

Nieves: I'll be first in line to buy one! A Phantom compendium would be pretty cool; "The World of The Phantom!" Maps! Diagrams! A glossary! I'm soooo there!

Bullock: Well, you'll have to clone Ed Rhoades as he's the living, breathing Phantom bible. Ed was good friends with Mr. Falk and stays in contact with Mr. Falk's family, as well as his creations.

Bedard: Ooh! I love Peter Falk! Did something happen to him?

Marz: If anything's wrong, it's Mike's fault.

Were the five of you able to share ideas with each other, once the wheels started turning? Was there a certain procedure that had to be followed to make this all come together? For example, did Ron write his part first (Chapter 1) and then send it on to Tony, who wrote Chapter 2, so that way Tony knew what had come before? Or did the five of you come up with your stories simultaneously, discussion following?

Marz: Having the overall outline was a big help, obviously, but I think the best thing we did was set the five chapters in five different eras. It allowed everybody to tell their own story, without depending on a huge amount of reference from each other. It's one big story, but each chapter works on its own as well.

Fixon: A general plotline was decided upon pretty early on and we all worked separately on each of our parts.

Nieves: In the beginning, there was a lot of discussion about the parameters of this project and how it would be handled; outcomes of the individual stories, how one might affect the other. I stayed out of a lot of it, just waited until decisions were made and then jumped right into my story, armed with all the answers.

Bullock: It was more like a massive chain of emails that flooded many an inbox until everything was sorted out. I think the first and final chapters had the most influence on and from the others, but I think each one could actually be read and enjoyed on it's own.

Mike, Raf, and Chuck, you all have written the Phantom previously for Moonstone - what is it about our Purple-Clad hero that makes you return to him again? As for Ron and Tony, you two are new to the Phantom - have you always wanted to write a Phantom story? What is it about the Phantom that appeals to you?

Marz: Yeah, I've got a soft spot for the pulp heroes and the strip heroes. I'm very pleased to get a chance to write the character, especially on a project that turned out this cool.

Dixon: The first masked comics hero? Who could turn that down anytime it's offered? And the chance to team with Graham again was hard to resist.

Bedard: I just wanted to feel close to Billy Zane in any way possible. Mmm...Billy Zane, Billy Zane, Billy Zane... Oh, and the Phantom rocks! All these heroes of today trace back to the original Pulp heroes, so why not go back to the Source?

The joy and the challenge of writing the Phantom is to respect the history and iconic nature of the character, while still trying to place him in new and exciting situations. That's a tough thing to do with any character, but more so with The Phantom, whose history and continuity are zealously guarded and adhered to. How do you make a character who is always going in one direction suddenly veer left or right? That's the fun and the frustration.

I think the ability to make the character multi-faceted is right there in his multiple incarnations. The Phantom may always appear the same to his foes, but that doesn't mean that each man behind the mask is a carbon copy of the last. This opens up cool possibilities for a character that practically begs you to dig deeper than the purple tights.

Nieves: I might have mentioned this before elsewhere, so forgive me if I'm repeating myself. The Phantom is one of the most intriguing characters in comics history. He doesn't have the powers of Superman, but he shares that character's moral center. He doesn't have the gadgets or angst of Batman, but he was "born" from violence, and has dedicated his life to protecting his home and his people. He has all the mystique of The Shadow, but doesn't dwell in the darkness or use agents to any great extent. And he wears these two big guns on his hips, but he has a code against killing! He puts himself constantly in harm's way, but is also a devoted husband and family man.

The joy and the challenge of writing the Phantom is to respect the history and iconic nature of the character, while still trying to place him in new and exciting situations. That's a tough thing to do with any character, but more so with The Phantom, whose history and continuity are zealously guarded and adhered to. How do you make a character who is always going in one direction suddenly veer left or right? That's the fun and the frustration.

Bullock: From a very young age, I was hooked on action stories with solid heroes in the starring roles. Characters like John Carter, Conan, Flash Gordon, Luke Skywalker and The Phantom all share a similar trait in that no matter what goes on around them, they always adhere to a deep seeded understanding of right and wrong and will sacrifice their own life and limb to see that wrong is undone to serve what's right.

With the Phantom, I very much admire the fact that in this day and age, where most every other costumed hero is now morally consumed by shades of grey instead of black and white, that The Phantom is still clearly the hero as defined by his actions, thoughts and motivations. He's not angst ridden, tormented, down trodden or seeking revenge. He's the hero in the white hat that every persecuted soul needs to help them overcome "cruelty, greed and injustice".

The "Phantom Annual" is the first of its kind. 70 years of history and this is his first annual, at least in the states. This issue seems like a natural way for both new and old fans to jump on board. Why should new readers try this issue? And is there anything in this issue that will especially appeal to the old Phans?

Marz: The story kind of sums up the whole notion of the Phantom, the generational aspect of the character. I think it's got something for the faithful readers, and it also works as a ground-floor read for someone who's never delved into the Phantom before. I hope this project will get some people to try the Phantom, because it's a classic character that really deserves more notice.

Dixon: Seeing a multi-generational story of the Phantoms would be the draw for longtime fans. For new fans, it's a rare opportunity to see, what to me, is the coolest aspect of the Ghost Who Walks; the idea that the Phantom is a legacy handed down from one Phantom to another over the centuries.

Nieves: Well, you just gave the best reason! This is a natural starting point for new readers. It's the first of its kind! It's five teams doing five Phantoms in five different periods, as part of a greater story! What else could a Phan possibly want?

Bullock: I think the fact that we have guys like Ron, Chuck, Tony, Raf, Graham Nolan, Tony Akins, Juan Ferreyra, Ruben Procopio and newcomer Allan Goldman is enough to excite new readers and old Phans.

 
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