With the recent announcement of the new King Features comics from Dynamite, Byron Brewer has been chatting with the writers of the upcoming series. Now he talks with Brian Clevinger, writer on the new The Phantom series.
BYRON BREWER: It's an anniversary 100 years in the making! Brian, how does it feel to be part of this salute by Dynamite to the characters of King Feature Syndicate?
BRIAN CLEVINGER: It's quite an honor! I've really grown to appreciate the legacy of Lee Falk and his characters. This guy more or less invented the bulk of what people think of when they hear "superhero." And a lot of that comes from The Phantom.
BB: How did you get involved in the celebration?
BC: Nate Cosby is the one guy in the industry who's crazy enough to give me work. He asked me if I wanted to work on The Phantom. It took me a while to figure out if I wanted to say "Yes," but I never wanted to say "No."
I'm not sure if that makes sense.
Basically, any time you work with an established property, it's a challenge. And the bigger and more established it is, the more challenging it's going to be. And The Phantom is about as big as it gets. Everyone knows this guy, even the people who never read a Phantom strip in their lives. You know? So, anyone who looks at this comic is coming into it with preconceived notions. It's a juggling act to appease those notions but also to thwart them, and bring something new to the project while staying true to its essence.
BB: Were you a fan of the pulp character The Phantom before this event?
BC: I wasn't! So that made me one of those outsiders with preconceived notions I mentioned earlier. But that's a stroke of luck if you think about it. We were given Lothar as a brand new Phantom back in Kings Watch, a Phantom with no connection to the Walker family legacy. Lothar only knows about the Phantom from what he's heard. Legends and hearsay. So, Lothar has to discover what The Phantom is first hand, and then to define what it means for him. It's been a fun way to discover both The Phantom and Lothar for myself.
BB: Tell us about your perception of the Phantom character.
BC: Lothar has this great outsider's perspective throughout Kings Watch. He's the only one on the ground willing to admit how crazy everything is – from the threat itself to his comrades and their plans.
But you get to have a wry perspective on things when your best friend is Mandrake, the ageless super wizard. And then Lothar's maybe the strongest man in the world too. What's the story behind that? I don't know, but I bet it was something Mandrake screwed up.
Here's my pitch for the next wave of books. Mandrake and Lothar buddy comedy. They road trip through the American Southwest and solve mysteries.
Okay, where was I? Right, so Lothar. I'm always drawn to those characters who have to call it out when the story starts getting absolutely bonkers. It's easy to turn that kind of role into a way to make fun of the material. I'm not into that. When it's done right, it's a way to reassure the audience that, yes, this stuff is crazy, and we know it is, but trust us, you're gonna have a fun time with it.
Ernie Hudson's Winston does that in Ghostbusters. Sam Rockwell's Guy does that in Galaxy Quest. Who doesn't love those guys? They steal every scene they're in! That's Lothar, for me, in Kings Watch. And I tried to bring some of that into his take on The Phantom.
BB: Tell us about the storyline for this 4-issue mini-series.
BC: The world is a dangerous and messed up place in the wake of Kings Watch. It's a new age of cruelty and greed, and Lothar figures someone's got to make a stand against it. Interestingly, he doesn't consider himself to be the "true" Phantom. Of course, everyone else does because you can't argue with the mask, the suit, and those guns. It's a little early to drop any hints about who turns out to be right about what "makes" The Phantom, but I think you guys will like what we came up with.
But, to Lothar, he's just making sure that The Phantom's job is done until he finds the last living Walker to take over. It's a search that's been made all but impossible by the events of Kings Watch.
BB: What sort of challenges will our hero face?
BC: Well, let's see. There's some foes familiar to The Phantom, but not to Lothar. You can't keep good villains down, and these guys are no exception. They've adapted to the new post-catastrophe status quo. I'll just say that total global disruption is good for business if your business is exploitation.
BB: How does it feel to have an artist like Brent Schoonover interpreting your script?
BC: Oh, it's great! Brent's been turning in some stellar pages. I love the retro-pulp energy of his work and it's a great match for the tone I'm going for in the script.