Frew Publications

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Frew Publications is an Australian publisher that has been printing "The Phantom" longer than any other publisher in the world. It's main title, The Phantom, has been published since 1948.

History

Origins

Created in 1948 by Sydney businessmen Ron Forsyth, Lawford Richardson, Jack Eisner and John Watson they created the business name Frew by combining the first letter of each surname. Not long after Eisner and Watson left but the name Frew was retained. Forsyth and Richardson approached Yaffa Syndicate in Sydney who represented King Features Syndicate in Australia about producing a Phantom comic book. Yaffa agreed but there were, as always, conditions to which Frew had to adhere. Frew was instructed that they could not print anything that was currently running in other publications, nor could they print anything too soon after it has appeared in the Australian Woman’s Mirror. Frew should have commenced with Lee Falk's first Phantom adventure "The Singh Brotherhood" but due to the conditions stated by Yaffa Frew's first Phantom edition contained the story "The Slave Traders". (The book had the message Enter the Phantom on the cover.) This first edition debuted on the 9th of September, 1948.

During 1949 to 1958 Frew also printed books containing a host of other heroes including "Popeye", "The Phantom Ranger", "The Shadow" (not the American "Shadow", this was an Australian creation) and Super Yank Comics to name but a few. However the growing popularity of television and a sudden flood of imported American titles in 1950 saw Frew reduce their output to a single title – The Phantom.

In November 1978 Frew published its first Team Fantomen Phantom adventure in issue #730 which was entitled "The Ghost". Although the Egmont stories now make up the bulk of Frew’s output a second Scandinavian created story did not see release until 1983. Since then, Frew has regularly published Team Fantomen stories and the vast majority of them have been published by Frew in Australia. Frew receives the stories from Egmont (previously Semic Press) and Frew then translates and re-letters them. The stories are sometimes edited in art or dialogue which make them slightly different from the original versions. Also, Frew's comics are in black/white while the Team Fantomen stories are originally published in color since 1991.

Jim Shepherd and The Frew Renaissance

In 1987 Jim Richardson passed away and Ron Forsyth went into semi-retirement. Enter Jim Shepherd, who became the company's new owner and publisher. Although Jim himself admits he had little knowledge of the Australian comics industry in the early days it was he that started the Frew tradition of re-printing Falk stories in their entirety. Jim discovered that, for whatever reason, Frew very rarely published an unedited Falk story. Stories had been cropped and even re-drawn and re-lettered. As for the Scandinavian stories all of the credits had been removed and the titles altered. With the help of Phantom historian Barry Stubbersfield as well as fellow enthusiasts Carl Braga, John Henderson, Garry Veage and Wally Bratasiuk, Jim was able to compile data on Lee Falk chronology, official story titles and story start and finish dates. Armed with this information Jim decided to publish Falk stories in their entirety. The biggest success story to come out of Frew's re-printing of unedited Falk tales was issue #910A, "The Phantom Goes to War", which told of the Phantom leading the Bandar in a battle against invading Japanese during World War II. The issue was a huge sell-out and is now highly sought after by collectors.

In 1990 Frew published the first ever Australian created Phantom adventure, "Rumble in the Jungle" which appeared in issue #951A. It was another sell out issue.

In 1991 Frew released its 1000th edition; however the issue number was actually #972. There was much confusion as to how issue #972 could be the 1000th edition, but the explanation was fairly simple. There had never been an issue #330 due to a printing error. Therefore issue #970 was actually the 969th issue printed. Add to that the other 29 issues that had been produced either without a number (such as the Christmas Specials published in 1953 and 1954) or as a special "A" issues (such as #848A) and issue #971 became the 999th issue actually printed which made issue #972 the 1000th. Because of the confusion the "A" issues were cancelled. The 1000th edition was also the first of the large format editions that is the format now used for the yearly Annuals. The issue was a huge success. 1992 saw the actual issue #1000 released. Again Frew used the larger format for this issue and commissioned a computer generated wraparound cover from Sydney artist Glenn Ford. This was the first Frew issues to sport a CG cover.

1996 saw the release of the big screen The Phantom movie. Although Frew did not get the rights to print a magazine detailing the making of the film (this went to another Australian publisher) Frew did celebrate the film's release by re-printing the Falk classic "The Sky Band" on which the film is partly based. The issue had a photo cover depicting Billy Zane as the Phantom and Kristy Swanson as Diana Palmer riding Hero through the jungle from a scene from the film. 1996 also saw the 60th anniversary of The Phantom character and Frew celebrated by re- printing in its entirety the story which started it all "The Singh Brotherhood".

Frew celebrated 50 years of producing The Phantom in Australia in 1998. Frew produced a very special issue to celebrate the occasion and excitement rippled through the Phan community. Issue #1209 was Frew's 50th Anniversary issue. It sported a new CG cover by Glenn Ford inspired by the 1996 film poster. With the issue was included the The First 50 Years of The Phantom, a book containing information about Frew's Phantom publishing history. The anniversary issue also saw the first, time colour was used in the interior of a Frew edition, however it was not used for the stories.

Sadly, Phantom creator Lee Falk passed away in 1999. Frew celebrated Lee's life with a special tribute edition (#1226) which re-printed four of Lee's classic Phantom stories. The cover of the issue was by Glenn Ford. The back cover featured Mandrake the Magician and Lothar, Lee’s other comic creations.

In 2007, Frew celebrated their 1500th issue, a milestone for any comics publisher.

Towards the end of Jim Shepherd's tenure, collectors were increasingly critical of the quality of work produced by Frew. Criticism included:

  • Quality of covers dipping, notably the cover of the 1500th issue, which was somewhat plain
  • The randomness of the printing of classic stories
  • The annual editions not having a "theme" – it was argued that the annuals are an opportunity to print all Falk stories from the beginning, but Shepherd resisted to do so.
  • Printing parts in a long story arc many issues apart. This was blamed on the large gaps between the publishing of the stories coming from Sweden.

In 2013, Jim Shepherd passed away after many years as Publisher of Frew's Phantom. His son, Steve Shepherd, filled the position and in so doing mirrors, in real life, the Phantom succession tale of father to son. Steve followed in the footsteps of both his father (Jim Shepherd) and his grandfather (Ron Forsyth who originally started Frew publishing back in 1948). When the Phantom dies his son replaces him and is lauded as The Ghost Who Walks, the man who cannot die – this tradition has became real over three generation of publishers.

Dudley Hogarth stepped in as editor in 2014.

The Frew Crew

At the end of 2015, Judith Shepherd announced her retirement and that she would sell Frew. The company was subsequently bought by Rene White and Glenn Ford. Their first issue as publishers was released in the beginning of 2016 and was #1745, with Dudley Hogarth remaining as editor.


Cover Artists

Frew has a tradition of using their own cover art, created specially for the publisher. Credited cover artists have included Tommy Hughes, Keith Chatto, Tessa, Glenn Ford, Antonio Lemos, Meg Coates, Terry Lee, Paul Agnew, Jason Frazer, Jeremy MacPherson, Wai-Chew Chan, and Jamie Johnson.

After the Frew Crew took over, they introduced Signature Series, Kiwi Covers (until 2017) and the Frew Pholio.

Lettering and Production

Frew often publishes stories originally published in other languages than English from publishers such as Egmont (previously Semic Press) and Fratelli Spada. These are translated and lettered in English. The main letterer for many years was Dave Collins, with some stories lettered by Keith Chatto, before digital lettering was introducted, initially provided by Phosphorescent Comics. After this, Judith Shepherd digitally lettered the stories until her retirement and lettering is now mostly done by Frank Schulze.

See also