Over the years, Frew have published several unnumbered Phantom comics. The most famous were to eventually be known as #1 and #2. Others were to spawn a sub-series of special editions that formed part of the normal series, but were identified with the letter "A" after the issue number. This article reviews the history of these unusual Frew Phantom comics, and provides a means of matching the unnumbered editions with their official issue number.
The first Frew Phantom comic went on sale on 9th September 1948 with a cover price of sixpence. It contained the story The Slave Traders, but Frew retitled it Enter the Phantom. The binding on the first Frew Phantom comic defied all modern rules. The cover design was in landscape format (horizontal) and the staples were on the short edge of the cover. With the release of their first comic book, Frew kept their fingers crossed because the Australian newspapers were running huge comic supplements and the comic book market was in danger of being swamped as publishers pumped out everything they could find.
Frew's second issue released on 1 October 1948, was also unnumbered and came with the same odd binding configuration. The editors again played with the actual story title, preferring to rename Queen Asta of Trondelay, with the more racy In the Tiger's Lair. By the time the third issue was ready for the presses, some sales figures for the first issue were available. And they were quite astonishing! Frew co-founder Ron Forsyth once recalled that the first issue was a sell-out of "at least 50,000", which was impressive by Australian standards. Obviously Frew were reassured that they were onto a good thing and the third issue was promptly assigned as #3 of a continuing series still with no end in sight, over 50 years later.
From #3 onwards, all issues in the series were numbered. Then on 23 December 1953, Frew issued an unnumbered special edition in time for Christmas. A year later, there were two more unnumbered specials on 8 December 1954 and 5 January 1955, marking Christmas and New Year respectively. No issue number was shown on the covers. Each was simply identified as Giant Issue - Double Size, and contained two Phantom stories. With 48 pages, they had twice the standard pagecount, and the cover price was one shilling (ie. twelve pence) compared with the regular price of ninepence. They also featured wrap-around cover artwork (see below), which was very unusual for the time. All three editions were obviously intended to capitalise on the school holiday period. These unnumbered went on to become a source of great confusion with modern-day collectors, and for many years were considered an add-on to the normal published series.
In 1986, Phantom historian Carl Braga was permitted to pour through the Frew archives, in search of release dates, and came across the company accounting ledgers with many exact dates, and accurate circulation figures. In it was detailed the published series and much to Carl's surprise, the three unnumbered specials were released sequentially with all the other number series and were not parallel "specials" at all. Then he noticed the Christmas 1953 issue was listed in the ledger as "65A", but the other two specials did not have a suffix letter. After much rumination Carl decided to treat these as part of the normal series and with hesitation and some justification he adopted #76A for Christmas 1954 and #76B for New Year 1955 issues. This was first published in a set of Phantom Reference Lists that Frew have since been using as a "history bible". The usage of the "A Series" terminology has spread from there.
New Year 1955
About a year prior to this finding, Frew had relaunched the production of "double size" editions for New Year 1985. Like their predecessors, the first three issues in the revisited A Series were unnumbered, but following Carl's discovery in the Frew archives, they were identified as #817A, #825A and #840A (see below). #848A was the first Frew Phantom comic to feature the "A" suffix on the cover number. It was also the first cover printed on stiff cardboard. The A Series comics were issued 4 or 5 times per year and typically contained 68 or 100 pages, with a few exceptions; the smallest had 36 pages (#951A) and the largest had 116 pages (#910A). The last A Series issue (#965A) was published in 1990. In January 1991, Frew published their 1000th Phantom comic. The "double-size" A Series issues had paved the way for something special -- a 292 page MONSTER of a comic book which included a bonus replica edition of Frew's first Phantom comic, and a pull-out colour poster illustrated by Sy Barry and George Olesen. Although this issue was numbered #972, it was the 1000th actually produced. This is because #330 was never published, and there were a total of 29 A Series issues. So #972 plus 29 minus 1 leaves 1000 -- the 1000th issue actually printed and published. To eliminate further confusion in future publications, Frew dispensed with the use of the A Series for special issues. As from the 1000th edition, the issue numbers continued in strict numerical order.
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