FREW's 50th AnniversaryA report on the official celebrations
by Bryan Shedden
The 50th Anniversary of Frew Publications was celebrated in style with an invitation-only dinner at The Taronga Centre, Mosman, on the evening of 9 September 1998. Some may be aware these function rooms are located at Sydney's Taronga Park Zoo, a fitting venue to celebrate the longevity of Australia's Phantom comics. The staff of Frew Publications -- Jim Shepherd, Judith Shepherd, and Ruth Le Brun -- were joined by numerous stars from the Australian comic book scene, such as Glenn Ford, Antonio Lemos, "Tessa", Steve Panozzo, and Stuart O'Connor. Representatives from Frew's printer Southweb, and distributor Gordon & Gotch were also present. Special guest and speaker was Councillor Don Lopez, the mayor of Mosman. Dietmar Liederwasch from 99.94 Editions was there to display some of the original artwork composed for his series of Phantom art prints. Similarly, Rene White from The Phantom's Vault was on hand to discuss his new range of collectables. The night was also enriched by the attendance of a few dedicated Phantom phans who flew in from the USA, namely Bob Griffin, Pete Klaus, and Paul Whittle. The local Phantom phans were represented by Barry, Sue and David Stubbersfield, Richard and Bronwyn Fry, Tony and Cathy Di Dio, and Bill Higgins. Guran and his lovely wife Fiona were amongst the guests, thanks to the generosity of the Shepherds. In total, about 100 people were present at the celebrations ... including a young bloke dressed as The Phantom!
Upon arrival, each guest found a bag of goodies on their seat. The bag contained a complimentary copy of the 50th anniversary issue (#1209), a commemorative T-shirt with a colour print on the left-breast, a metal skull ring, a copy of The Phantom Movie on video (one per couple), and a "Friends of The Phantom" bumper-sticker (originally given away at the 1995 OZCON). What an amazingly generous gift! There were also menu-cards, name-tags and place-cards to be claimed for souvenirs. The delicious menu ran as follows:
The evening kicked off with canapes, champagne (or beer for the yobs!) and chat, before the Master of Ceremonies, Steve Panozzo, called everyone to be seated for the opening remarks. After giving a brief background to the history of Frew Publications, and introducing a few of the special guests, he handed over to Don Lopez, Mayor of Mosman. Don gave a delightful speech beginning with a description of the great attractions of The Phantom. For the benefit of those who were not in attendance, I've transcribed most of the night's speeches from a video shot by Bob Griffin (thanks Bob!). We start a little into the speech by Don Lopez:
Ocean Trout in Filo with Champagne Sauce
Wood Smoked Fillet of Beef with a Wild Mushroom Medley with Crispy Pancetta and Peppered Linguini
Oven Baked Chicken Breast with a Parmesan Crust and a Tomato, Olive and Shallot Chutney
Warm Pear Cake with Amaretto Cream
Tea, Coffee, Chocolates
Hardys Padthaway Unwooded Chardonnay
Jamieson's Run Red
"... he has a couple of kids, he loves animals, he defeats the enemy in the normal, sensible way (laughter and applause) ... no, he does that, and even in the latest Telegraph thing-oh there's a moral to the story there. He actually saved those lovely young girls from being exploited. Now, to me, I happen to read the Telegraph, I follow The Phantom, it's some of the things I read. When I read about how Norths [North Sydney Rugby League Club] lost I get back to The Phantom and I feel a lot better (laughter). I really do. Tonight's occasion has really helped me overcome that disastrous Friday night of last week, because you may not know it but my family runs the absolute best fruit shop in Mosman, which would in fact make it the best fruit shop in New South Wales, and if you want to be fair dinkum, it's the best fruit shop in Australia. But we are honoured and delighted to have Jim and Judith come there every Saturday morning and at least last season Jim and I were able to delight in Norths winning more games on Friday night than they lost. Last Saturday was very sad, but tonight more than makes up for that.
"To me comic books and humour like The Phantom is something that is much needed in the community in this day and age, because I don't know what's going to lie ahead for the future generations. This bloke sets a tremendous example for our younger generation in that you can believe in him, you know that what he fights for are the basic values. And as a member of this community, basic values are what it's all about. Our kids have got to face a tremendous future ahead of them, and I hope that in 50 years time that this very room here will be celebrating 100 years of The Phantom in Australia because you've got to be able to believe in things, and the computer might be alright but it goes a little bit further than that.
"The first Frew edition appeared in 1948 and well over 60 million Phantom book comics have been sold in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. Now that's an outstanding achievement because you don't achieve things unless there is that public demand for it, and obviously The Phantom has got to have something going for him, something that's right. And when I see John Howard on the weekend [Prime Minister of Australia], I'll say "listen John, start reading a few Phantom books and find out what life's all about" (applause).
"But I'm delighted to be here tonight, I'm delighted to be representing the community of Mosman, I'm delighted that Jim and Judith are Mosman residents. And Jim, Judith, if you'd like to come forward, because there's no way I can let this occasion pass without giving something of Mosman to you. As you may or may not know, the symbol of Mosman has been the whale, and Judith there's not too many of these, they're almost as scarce as these rings you know (displays skull ring from the goodie bag), but there's a lovely silver whale for you, and Jim I'm going to present you with the Mosman tie. Now the idea is that when you go overseas or anywhere, you wear that tie and when people ask you about it you tell them how wonderful Mosman is, and in particular what a good bloke Don Lopez is. (applause) Congratulations on 50 years, keep up the good work. Hello (to the bloke dressed as The Phantom standing behind him). My hero. Thankyou."
Steve Panozzo then continued with the following comments:
"A particular apology tonight. Sy Barry, who a lot of you I'm sure know drew The Phantom for around 25 years, it's his daughter's bah-mitzah around about this time, and he wasn't able to join us this evening. He's going to try and make up for it by coming along at the end of this month to Australia, he'll be appearing at OZCON the collectables convention at Center Point. He's also produced a limited print. Dietmar if you'd stand up? (applause) This man has got several very very good artists, including Sy, to do limited edition prints featuring The Phantom. Now he will be taking orders tonight. But off his own back he's funded ... (missed this bit) ... if you feel like having a chat to him and finding out more about that, feel free he's down at the back table there. He's doing a great job. I think it's a fantastic thing to bring him out, and I'm quite appreciative. A lot of artists have been influenced by Sy over the years, including me, and it'll be an absolute pleasure to meet him. So that's fantastic.
"Now has everyone got their Phantom rings on? (guests rummaging in goodie bags) The Phantom will show you how to wear your ring, if you don't know. Now apart from The Phantom, who's wearing purple tonight? Stand up (several people including Richard and Bronwyn Fry). Round of applause please. I see some people have gone to a bit of trouble. Now being a cartoonist, people like me wear cartoony things. I mean I've got my Phantom tie on. Glenn Ford assures me that he drew this. And I've got Phantom socks, and I've even got stripey undies but you're not going to see those tonight. But there's one man here who is wearing stripey undies. His name's Jim Shepherd and he's the publisher of Frew Publications. Please welcome him (applause)."
"Thank you Steve, and thank you Councillor Don Lopez, the cheque's in the mail mate. What a rap, incredible! Everything I meant to say tonight really has been said. People have said thank you very much to all the artists who have helped, all the letterers, all the translators, and distributors Gordon & Gotch, who have actually distributed the Phantom comic for 50 years, not bad! I'm trying to convince them to continue. And special thanks also to our printers, our long-suffering printers in Adelaide, Southweb. We really performed miracles to get our Anniversary issue out on sale today because we usually publish, that is the issue goes on sale on every Friday but we wanted to coincide with the actual date from 1948, being today September 9, and Gordon & Gotch, thank you very much for your patience.
"If I attempted to say thank you to the people who have helped me and all the other people in Frew, I'd be here for too long. I'm prone to making terribly long speeches and I promised that I won't. But I'd like to say thankyou firstly to everyone who's turned up, really you've honoured us. And a very special welcome, as distinct from thanks, to our overseas visitors. I hope I get this right, I'm trying to do this from memory, alphabetically. From a place in Michigan called Kalamazoo, believe it or not that town, perhaps a city, does exists, you know the old Andrews Sisters song "The Girl from Kalamazoo". Bob and Tina Griffin. It's a long way to come, thank you very much. And from Baltimore Maryland, where Judith and I were earlier this year, Pistol Pete Klaus. One other American here tonight, actually he's an Aussie, and he lives in Phoenix Arizona, we also went there. If you suffer from sinus as I do, I recommend Phoenix Arizona. It's so hot and so dry, your sinus disappears instantly. Paul Whittle. I can't forget our sole visitor tonight from New Zealand, from Auckland, Judith's sister. There are people from all over Australia, it's unbelievable, including, I have to say this, Sue Morris, welcome Sue from Adelaide. And they've been mentioned before but I'll say it again briefly, the Stubbersfield family from Brisbane. And Julian Lewis who flew up from Melbourne, and it goes on and on. We've got people from the Central Coast and the South Coast, and it's just fantastic.
"I'm going to say one last thing, you've noticed I haven't mentioned the ladies, they've been mentioned already, Judith and Ruth. They're mentioned in the comic book and people have already mentioned them to say thank you. They've done a fantastic job. I couldn't do without them. Special thanks though to old mate Glenn Ford. Glenn gave me a lot of help with the anniversary issue, we won't go through all the details there. But on a whim, Glenn and I decided why don't we attempt to produce a video. Nothing sort of chronological order, just a little tribute to The Phantom, which we call The Phantom: Images Through Time, which we'll show you in a moment. A lot of people would have seen some of these images. I'm stalling for time here waiting for the guy to get near the button, but I can't see him, I hope he'll get here in a second. You're going to see some stuff I'm sure a lot of you have never seen. An old animation programme. A Columbia serial from America, made in the 50s I think. The most incredible and aweful TV pilot made in the 60s. It's so bad that it never got to air and was remade and called Captain Africa. What they did was reshoot all the shots showing The Phantom with this guy called Captain Africa. They used everything else. But there's one shot, you've got to watch this very carefully, where the stuntman, I'm getting the wind-up signal already, the stuntman playing the Phantom tries to leap onto his faithful horse Hero and almost miscues. It's quite fast, you've got to watch it carefully. But there are scenes also from a weird Italian movie, which for reasons that are never clearly explained, The Phantom, Mandrake the Magician, which is Lee Falk's other creation, and Batman are all thrown in front of a firing squad. I've no idea why! But you'll see that. And there are scenes from The Phantom movie staring Billy Zane which came out two years ago. Certainly a big thanks, that reminded me, in just one moment. And also some other animated series and so on. But especially lots and lots of clips from Australian television, which I've illegally nicked off telly. So thanks to all the television networks, SBS included. I didn't ask them. And my favourite of them all, is a little scene shot by Channel Nine in the Pitt Street Mall where a very brave fellow dressed up as The Phantom appeared from nowhere and went for a walk down the Pitt Street Mall as The Phantom. Just watch the reactions of the shoppers. Quite astonishing. Because I've mentioned The Phantom movie and Billy Zane, special thanks to CIC Video who are responsible for the videos you've received tonight and the Phantom rings. Fantastic. Last thing to say is when you're watching this video, see how many famous Australian TV personalities you can identify. People who have been identified in little segments on the television to do with The Phantom. You'll be amazed how many have done it, and people you would least expect. Let's take a short stroll down through memory lane, and thank you very much."
With that the video was shown on a large projection screen. Quite a nice job by Glenn Ford! At the end of the video, Jim Shepherd found the microphone again to say:
"I was jumping in ahead of old mate Steve Panozzo here who really is the MC, because this would be the ideal opportunity to ask another particularly good friend of mine from Kalamazoo Michigan to respond on behalf of all the Americans we have tonight and we wish on behalf of all the American enthusiasts, people who love The Phantom, there are so many of them in America you wouldn't believe it. I wonder if I could ask Bob Griffin to step up please."
"Thank you Jim. Let me say first of all, I suspect the reason that Jim has asked me to speak for the Statesiders tonight is because I was born the same year as The Phantom, that is ... 400 years ago on a remote Bengali beach ... I AM the Ghost Who Walks! (laughter and applause) The fact of the matter is that The Phantom first appeared in 1936, and so did I. My earliest recollections, and warm recollections they are, are of my father holding me on his lap before I could read, and reading me the daily strip from the Newark Evening News out of Newark, New Jersey. My father loved The Phantom. I loved The Phantom. As a matter of fact, my love for The Phantom accelerated my ability to read. When I got to kindergarten I could read Lee Falk ... couldn't read much else, but I was really good at reading The Phantom. And I must say this, that I have passed it on to the next generation as I should, and our son, who is in his second week of music studies as a sophomore at Western Michigan University, is also a great fan. He would be here except for his second week of studies at Western Michigan University. I wish he could join us.
"As a boy I developed a tremendous affection for The Phantom. I loved this character who did not have superpower, but superhumour. He wasn't like Superman who was beyond the pale of any real boy. He succeeded on the basis of his agility, his mental acumen, his wit, and I could identify with that. At least, I aspired to that! Believe it or not, I still have the first scrapbook that I made of The Phantom in 1943. I cut out all the beautiful Sunday strips, which were half-page format then and, thanks be to God, saved all of them, still have them and read them to my son many times before he could say "Dad, please stop"!
"All during the 40s I continued my interest in The Phantom, cutting out the pages, rereading the stories. In the 50s when I was in high school, I continued to read The Phantom, but toward the end of the 50s when I was a college student, my interest lapsed. Then a surprising thing happened. The juices started to flow again for professional reasons, when in the early 60s I went to Europe as a young foreign language teacher. I was interested in improving my skills in romance languages so I went to Europe in 1961, and discovered that the number one superhero throughout Europe was The Phantom. In Spain he was El Hombre Enmascarado. In Italy he was L'Uomo Mascherato. In France he was Le Fantôme. I bought stacks of those comics and had a chance to reread my favourite adventures in those languages, thus improving my skills, and also being able to bring to my own students (I was teaching Spanish and Latin at the time) cartons of those Spanish comics and they loved them. Those of you who are teachers, especially foreign language teachers, know how difficult it is to get students to read any text besides the ones they are forced to read; but the Phantom comics, they loved. They would grab them, and then fight over them. They would read them. The neat part about The Phantom, or any comic, is that it's written in a conversation form, so they were improving their oral skills as they were improving their Spanish.
"So that experience got the juices flowing, and I started picking up any kind of memorabilia that I could find, any kind of realia connected with The Phantom. The result of all that is that I have a lot of comics, I have a lot of collectibles, a lot of paraphenalia, and I have a lot of stuff. But what really counts is not that stuff...it's nice to have it around ... but what really counts for me is the fact that through The Phantom I have made such wonderful friendships with some truly outstanding people. That's what counts. I would give all the material away if it meant I would lose my friends. As a matter of fact, some of the best friends are here tonight.
"For many years I thought I was wandering like a lonely cloud. I thought I was the only one in the United States who really loved The Phantom, especially The Phantom of the early years. Then, about 10 years ago, the phone rang and it was a man called Pete Klaus. Pete called then and has been calling every week, twice-a-week, three-times-a-week, ever since. Those of you who know Pete know how much he loves to use the telephone. Among his friends Pete Klaus is known as "The Phonetom." Pete is really one of the most generous and genuine people I have ever met in my life. You actually know it straight away when you talk to him. If you know the strip and can think back to the 40s, he is my concept of The Impostor. If you've seen him, you know he's a very well-built man, but doesn't look quite the way you'd expect The Phantom to look; but he is a wonderful person and I really prize his friendship, and I'm glad he could be here tonight.
"But actually before I got to know Pete, the first real fan I discovered was an Australian. It was 15 years ago, and the connection came through the man who publishes "The Burroughs Bibliofiles" -- some of you know about Edgar Rice Burroughs, he created Tarzan -- that fellow was a mutual friend of mine and Barry Stubbersfield. Barry Stubbersfield and I started to communicate 15 years ago and but it was just about a week ago we met each other, live and in person, for the first time. Tina and I flew to Brisbane where Barry and his wife, Sue, were the most wonderful hosts. We had a great time. We talked of other things besides The Phantom, but not often. Barry Stubbersfield is quite simply the most knowledgable historian in the entire world. I believe he knows more about The Phantom even than Lee Falk! I'm trying to convince him that he should write the Encyclopedia Phantomica. He can do it, it would be a wonderful work, and I'd like to buy a copy as soon as possible.
"So Barry was my first Australian contact. Then through him, we connected with Jim Shepherd. The way that happened was that Jim was looking for the proof sheets of some very early adventures which apparently King Features didn't have, but I have. So he contacted me, and we invited him to our home in Mawataan Michigan, well it's Mattawan really but Mawataan for the Phantom fans, and he and Judith came. They've been there twice and we had wonderful visits, did talk about the Phantom occasionally but not all the time. As a matter of fact, as you know, they're very intelligent, very interesting people, and I think we talked more about our travel experiences, our mutual interest in literature, movies and especially sports. Jim has tried to convince me, without a great deal of success -- let's see if I get this right -- that Australian Rules rugby is better than baseball. (applause) Well yes, this is an Australian crowd, and I would like to get to know more about your sports. Again, they are wonderful friends and we're very grateful for this invitation.
"Finally, there's one other person I'd like to mention. He is the man who has the most sensational website in the entire world on The Phantom. It's a great work of love. He's put a tremendous amount of effort into it. He's a very, very bright young man, about to finish his PhD at the University of Wollongong -- that's as neat a University name as Kalamazoo, right? -- and his name's Bryan Shedden. Now wait till you hear the rest of this story. Bryan, when he heard that I was coming, decided that he and his fiancé, Fiona, would schedule their wedding for the weekend we were going to be in town! Last Saturday we went to Wollongong and we were present for a wonderful wedding in their beautiful home. (He's taking a photo of me right now.) They are here enjoying the best moment of their honeymoon ... almost!
"Now I just want to say one final word of kudos to Jim Shepherd. I know when Jim took over the Phantom comic, it had been around for a long time, but Jim Shepherd has raised the quality of that publication to a tremendous level. One of the things that he did, besides improving the appearance of the package, is to reprint the Phantom stories in their integrity. This had not been done in the past; they had been chopped, they had been changed, they had been messed up. Those of us who really love The Phantom were sorry about that. But he has raised it to a new level. I know the circulation has improved, the quality has improved, and it all results in this: from my perspective I think it is fair to describe Jim Shepherd truly as, The Wizard of Oz!" (applause)
Bob's wonderful speech was followed by some final comments from Steve Panozzo:
"I'm here under clear instructions to wrap up. Before we finish, I'd just like to make one more mention of my mate Stuart O'Connor. He is down the back. He and I co-edited the Phantom Diary for 1997 for Trielle. It was an incredible learning experience about The Phantom for me. I thought I knew a lot until I started doing that theme and I discovered I didn't know anything. And both of us really want to thank Bryan Shedden for his help on that, because that was just the most amazing experience of my life. And of course to Jim for giving me the opportunity to front tonight. It's been an absolute pleasure, and a real honour. I thank you very much."
And with that the evening gradually drew to a close, giving people the opportunity to chat with other guests and take photos. Speaking of which, here's a few more:
"The Boys" (left to right) Bill Higgins, Bob Griffin, Bryan Shedden, Dietmar Liederwasch, Pete Klaus, Richard Fry, Jim Shepherd, David Stubbersfield, Barry Stubbersfield
"The Phantom Widows" (left to right) Cathy Di Dio, Bronwyn Fry, Sue Stubbersfield, Tina Griffin, Fiona Shedden
(left to right) Glenn Ford, Pete Klaus, Tony Di Dio
Bryan and Fiona Shedden with The Phantom
Fiona and I would like to express our sincere gratitude to Jim and Judith Shepherd for inviting us to attend this extraordinary event. It was a truly amazing evening and we are privileged to have been able to be there. We wish Frew Publications all the very best and hope to see them celebrate 100 years!
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