The Girl Phantom . . . Unmasked!

Apr 22

Long ago and far away, in a galaxy known as The Silver Age of Comics, I was young and broke, and talked my way into writing a comic for King Features.

I had gone to the editor, the esteemed Bill Harris, looking for freelance work. He was very nice and extremely encouraging, except for one thing. “Women,” he said, “don’t write comics.”

Harrumph. I left his office armed with leads for other work, but also with a little seed of anger growing inside me. What did he mean by that? Why couldn’t women write comics?

Are we not members of the human race? If you poison us, do we not die? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you prick us, oh never mind. Besides, I loved comics!

So I marched back into his office, and said, “The hell they don’t!”

He backed down, partly because “Pat” could be a guy, so he wouldn’t have no ‘splainin’ to do. (He wasn’t the only one in the industry who didn’t think that “girls didn’t write comics.”) Besides, there had been a short story about the Phantom’s “jungle trained” sister in a King Features comic, Mandrake The Magician,#4, that had gotten a good response and so he was thinking of doing an entire book about The Girl Phantom. And there I was: a girl. Holy Skull Cave! I was going to write a comic (the whole book!) about the secret sibling of The Ghost Who Walks.

And they were paying me for this! Almost 200 smackeroos! I was over the moon about this job, and had something to prove: women could too write comics.

It took me weeks, endlessly writing and rewriting. A pro would have knocked it out in days, but hey, I was a beginner and besides, I was striking a blow for feminism.

Well, sorta. My heroine did climb mountains, swim rivers and solve riddles with the best of them. But reading it now, I see some cringe-worthy touches: like when the chief tells a young woman to stop worrying about her missing sister and go home and make dinner. I wrote that. Whoops.

 

As for the art: The Girl Phantom dressed up like her brother — hell, girl, she didn’t even get her own get-up. Although it does look different on her than on her more famous brother. And notice that Julie, that’s her name, looks like an afterthought on the cover: the witch gets way more coverage. But inside, Julie does get to have a pin-up girl figure with what looks like a size 34 DDDD bra size. But then, all the women look like that except for the witch: your standard hag-like horrible old female creature.

When I finally finished writing and turned in the copy . . .

Phantom_1Bill loved it and gave me more assignments. Even the “real” Phantom (sigh), although I didn’t write the #1 which I pictured here because I’ve lost the copies of the ones I actually wrote. I ended up doing quite a few other comics, including Boris-Karloff’s Tales of Mystery, Grimm’s Ghost Stories, UFO Flying Saucers, The Twilight Zone. And my personal favorites: Little Lulu and Uncle Scrooge.

But The Riddle of the Witch was that first one that I really remember.

Especially the ridiculous amount of time I spent laboring over details, which actually resulted in an error: The story revolves around a riddle, The Riddle of The Witch, which I changed so many times that I ended up handing in copy with two versions — both of which appear in the book. No one seemed to notice. And they sent me a check for $189, the stub of which I have to this day. It’s good to get paid.

Recently, I was asked by someone creating a comic database for info about my career in comics and I had to dig up all kinds of material, which brought back terrific memories — especially that for one shining moment I was a superhero: The Girl Phantom!

WonderWoman

My only regret is that some years later I let my feelings (how girlie of me) get in the way of writing Wonder Woman. I was appalled by the attitude of the male editors, who seemed to be far more interested in the length of my skirt than my skill as a writer. Besides, the pay stank and I wasn’t as broke anymore.

It would have been fun to be Wonder Woman, at least once. I tried to compensate by going to a Halloween party dressed in a bustier, gold bracelets, and metallic boots, but it wasn’t the same.

Tiger006Oh well. You can’t always get what you want, no matter how many ceilings you break or doors you storm through. But I’ll always have The Phantom.

The GIRL Phantom!

Complete with BAMS! ! BOOMS! ! AIEEES!! TWACKS!! TWANNNGS!!! R-R-ROARS!!! R-R-RUMBLES!! and even a couple of GRRRs!!!

Where else do you get to write copy like this????

I also got to name characters: King Lliwami was an anagram of William in honor of Bill, which probably was the inspiration for Will. I. Am. Or Not. The other chief was King Tumuchi. Please!

And to write deathless prose:  I MUST STOP HER!! I HOPE I’M NOT TOO LATE! ! WHAT CAN IT MEAN???

Hey, I was young and I needed to write a comic.

Postscript: So all these years later, I find out that there’s an international interest in The Phantom, who was, in case you didn’t know, the first superhero in costume. Before Superman even! Devotees are called “phans,” which, unlike most things in life, makes perfect sense.

And! On April 24th there’s an event at Parsons, a division of the New School where I’m taking courses, about a new book by Kevin Patrick:

THE PHANTOM UNMASKED: America’s First Superhero

Available on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2K5wGUU

I am so going to the symposium. (It’s part  of the NY Comics & Picture Story Symposium and should be interesting.) I wonder if  I’ll be the only person there who actually wrote a Phantom comic. Let you know.

The Girl Phantom Comic, “The Riddle of The Witch,” #24, can be found at:  http://www.mycomicshop.com but they credit  Bill Harris as the writer. So much for striking a blow for feminism. It’s also on other comic sites and on Ebay.

11 comments

  1. Louise /

    You had Girl Power!

  2. The symposium was very good, and yes, although many of those attending seemed to know far more about comics than I do, I was the only there to have actually written one – and the Girl Phantom at that. Now I have a few more phans, and someone, who shall remain nameless, actually shouted, “Author! Author!” All great fun.

  3. Sharon /

    You’ll always be a super woman to me!!!

    • No, YOU’RE The Wonder Woman!

      This could develop into a Woody Allen-type dialogue, “No, YOU’RE the Wonder Woman,” “No, YOU’RE the Wonder Woman,” ad nauseum.
      And speaking of Woody . . . Are we boycotting him, or can we separate the art from the artist?
      Annie Hall still is my favorite go-to movie.

  4. I know very little about how this all worked. I assume you didn’t illustrate. Did you have input on the illustrations? I guess this world of digital comics and self publishing now works differently.

  5. Jennifer /

    That’s so cool!

    Always look forward to your posts. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Thank you for sharing this text about your time as a Phantom writer!

    Best,
    Mikael Sol
    Editor Fantomen (The Phantom)
    Sweden

    • Pat /

      I had no idea the Phantom was so popular outside the United States. And I see you’re active with Fantomen in Sweden. Continued good luck with the publication and thanks for your comment.

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