Gold Key #1
Probably the best known of all Phantom comics in the U.S.A., this series of 73 colour comics was published between Nov 1962 and Jan 1977, under three different publishers.
The series began under the Gold Key label, published by K.K.Publications as a quarterly 12c comic. With issue #11 in 1965, the series changed to a bi-monthly. In 1966, the release schedule returned to a quarterly basis, and only lasted two more issues before the first change of publisher occurred. In total, there were 17 Phantom comics with the Gold Key label. All sported beautiful painted covers by George Wilson. Three of these covers are reported to have been painted by another unknown artist (#5, #12, #13). Most of the stories were adaptations of original Lee Falk newspaper strip stories, with new artwork by Bill Lignante. Scans of all of the Gold Key covers and an index of the individual stories in each issue are available HERE.
King Features Syndicate became the new publisher of The Phantom comics, releasing their first issue in September 1966 under the King Comics label. They continued the numbering sequence from the Gold Key series, labelling this issue #18. It was published as a 12c bi-monthly until issue #23 in mid-1967 when it changed to a monthly schedule. Issue #28 was the last to be published under the King Comics label (cover price 15c), only 6 issues into the monthly schedule. Of the 11 Phantom comics published by King, all but one of the stories were illustrated by Bill Lignante. The first two issues contained adaptations of older Lee Falk stories, and thereafter, the stories were original. Issue #25 contained a story entitled The Cold Fire Worshippers which was reprinted from the Italian comics series American Adventures published by Fratelli Spada, and drawn by Senio Pratesi. The cover artwork on the first three of these comics were by Bill Lignante, while all others appear to have been lifted directly from panels of Sy Barry's newspaper strips. A complete index of the individual stories in each issue of King Comics is available HERE.
The reigns of The Phantom comic were picked up again over a year later (February 1969), by Charlton Press using the Charlton Comics label. They continued with the same numbering sequence but skipped #29 and began with #30. This first issue featured uncredited artwork, but the covers and all but two of the stories in the next year of bi-monthly issues were by Jim Aparo. Issue #33 was the first to contain a story by Pat Boyette, and Bill Lignante was brought back to illustrate his last Phantom story which appeared in #35. From issue #39 onwards (August 1970), the cover and story artwork was exclusively by Pat Boyette. With only a handful of exceptions, each issue then contained three 7-page stories. The art and stories during this period can best be described as woeful. Despite a considerable volume of negative feedback from readers, Charlton persisted with Pat Boyette until #59 in December 1973. The declining sales must have struck a nerve with Charlton (who'd changed their name to Charlton Publications after #56), and the comic was revived six months later in #60 as The New Phantom. In their search for new artists and writers, Charlton first relied on stories from the Italian publisher Fratelli Spada, before introducing us to the work of Don Sherwood and ... more notably ... Don Newton. In total, Don Newton contributed six beautifully illustrated 22-page stories (#67, #68, #70, #71, #73, #74) complete with painted cover artwork, plus the cover for #69. Sales improved, but not enough to save the flagging title. The last issue of The Phantom comic was #74, in January 1977. A complete index of the individual stories in each issue of Charlton Comics is available HERE.
An analysis of the circulation data and the cover price builds an interesting picture of how this series eventually failed. Cover price for the series commenced at 12c, and was raised to 15c from #34, 20c from #46, 25c from #60, and finally 30c from #70 -- this was common for all American comics at the time. At the same time, the number of comics being printed was gradually falling, but at a lesser rate than the number that were being sold. This graph shows what happened. By 1976, the paid circulation was less than 40%, compared with a peak of 65% in 1965. Not even the brilliant efforts of Don Newton were enough to save the title ... the damage had already been done. Simply put, the editors at Charlton were too slow to make the necessary corrections.
The Phantom was subsequently absent from American newsstands, at least in comic book form, for the next 10 years.
Issue Publisher Date #1 - #17 Gold Key Comics Nov 1962 - Jul 1966 #18 - #28 King Comics Sep 1966 - Dec 1967 #30 - #74 Charlton Comics Feb 1969 - Jan 1977
King also produced two issues intended as a Supplementary Reading Program with a quiz feature not found elsewhere in the series. They are numbered R-06 (1973, reprinted 1977) and R-15 (1977).
#1 - #10
At the same time that The Phantom comic was being published by King, they also ran a short-lived Mandrake series. Cross-promotion meant that some short Mandrake stories appeared in The Phantom comics. Similarly Phantom stories by Bill Lignante appeared in four issues (4 pages each) of the Mandrake comics.
Issue Date Story Title #1 Sep 1966 SOS Phantom Part I #2 Nov 1966 SOS Phantom Part II #3 Jan 1967 The Magic Ivory Cage #4 Mar 1967 The Girl Phantom
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