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Wednesday, July 06, 2022

The Ghost Walks Again

In Sarnath Banerjee’s debut graphic novel Corridor,his protagonist,a lanky Bengali from Calcutta,reminisces how he would spend lazy afternoons reading from the nine leather-bound volumes of Phantom...

Written by Anushreemajumdar |
June 2, 2009 11:08:23 pm

In Sarnath Banerjee’s debut graphic novel Corridor,his protagonist,a lanky Bengali from Calcutta,reminisces how he would spend lazy afternoons reading from the nine leather-bound volumes of Phantom – The Ghost Who Walks till his friend Bambi makes off with Volume Four. “Phantom by Lee Falk influenced my life. The protagonist in Corridor and I share a history of such a grandfather and such a passion for Phantom,” smiles Banerjee,36,who remembers reading his first Phantom comic in Bengali,at age seven. “I was in the Congo recently traveling through Phantom country. My friends who grew up reading the comic like I did joked about how I might be received by Guran,chief of the pygmy tribe and Phantom’s best friend,” adds Banerjee who quietly tells me that it would have been nice to meet Diana,Phantom’s curvaceous wife instead.

Phantom turned 70 last week on May 28. There was not a word from the publishers,comic book aficionados or bookstores about this unforgettable comic hero. But long ago,when the first regular series of Phantom comic books in India were published by Bennet Coleman under the name of Indrajal Comics from March 1964,the superhero without superpowers captured the imagination of a nation’s youth. “I used to draw comics as a child and my biggest influences were Tintin,Phantom and Mandrake the Magician. The setting of the story fascinated me and it drew one into the actual location,” says Orijit Sen,46,renowned comic book illustrator. “The jokes about Devil being a wolf and not a dog,stories of the first Phantom were all so familiarly entwined in the childhood of that generation. That is not the case today,” says Sen.

Sad,but true. There are only a few bookstores who still sell Phantom comics but none of the original comics remain. “We stocked the new lot a year ago and those who grew up reading them bought them out of a sense of nostalgia. But the sales have shaken no trees,” says Ajit Vikram of Fact & Fiction,Vasant Vihar. Bahrisons in Khan Market is a bookstore that faithfully stocks all comics that have been published in India and proprietor Anuj Bahri gets excited when I ask him about Phantom. “We renew our stock everytime a new title is out but people don’t buy them. Honestly,it’s an age thing. Phantom is to us what Hannah Montana is to 13-year-old girls,without the silliness of course,” he chuckles.

But all is not lost. Euro Books,the company that has taken over the Phantom franchise in India since 2000 has reformatted the Phantom comics,although many fans of the original Indrajal comic might not take to it. “Our market is the teen group and since Falk’s demise in 1999 there is new content being developed in Scandinavian countries and Australia. We’ve converted Phantom into a graphic novel format and they’re priced accordingly,at Rs 199 each,” says Uday Mathur, Managing Director,Eurokids International. The company has sold approximately 10,000 copies last year. Considering the downturn in the market and the fact that books are a niche market anyway,the sales figures offer some hope. “Undoubtedly the Indrajal figures would have been better,those comics were at Rs 30 and far more popular. But we’re trying to revive interest in Phantom. We’ll have 12 brand new titles in October,” says Mathur. Let’s hope,the talking drums might just start beating again.

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