With its first issue release in October 1950, Fantomen is one of the earliest Swedish regularly published comics books, with over 1,600 issues having been published since then, second only to Frew Publications in Australia.
Fantomen has been the template for many similar publications in other countries within that region, for example in counties such Norway, Finland, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Estonia and Russia, with the Norweigan edition, Fantomet, being the most enduring.
The 36 pages in the first issue were not exclusively a Phantom comics strip, but also contained stories featuring Louie (by Harry Hanan), Nancy (by Ernie Bushmiller), Curly Kayoe (by Sam Leff) and Hopalong Cassidy. For the first eight years of Fantomen, daily newspaper strip stories were published in strict chronological order, serialized across several consecutive issues. The Phantom also didn’t appear on all Fantomen covers until 1959, where the comic book content shifted to solely featured the Phantom.
Fantomen was initially printed on a fortnightly basis, in full color. To save on costs, the comic book commenced being printed in black and white from 1955, starting with issue number 22 (as seen on the right).
It should also be noted, Fantomen comics carry a unique numbering system, in that at the commencement of each year, the comic number resets back to 1. Each comic can easily be identified in the year it was printed, as it forms part of the comic number.
In 1958, Fantomen went from being published fortnightly to weekly with 38 issues printed that year. This was changed back to a fortnightly print the following year due to poor sales and the need to save on costs.
The first story created originally for Fantomen was published in 1963, issue number 8 (as seen on the left), “Skatten i Dödskallegrottan” (translated to The Treasure in the Skull Cave) by Bertil Wilhelmsson with well over 900 original Fantomen stories printed to date. The average Fantomen story is over 30 pages, many pages longer when compared to American comics, which tend to be 20–24 pages in length. “Team Fantomen” was born at this point, a nickname penned to refer to artists and writers who have created stories exclusively for Fantomen. Team Fantomen has grown over time, to include people such as, but not limited to Dick Giordano, Donne Avenell, Heiner Bade, David Bishop, Georges Bess, Jaime Vallvé, Joan Boix, Tony DePaul, Ulf Granberg, Ben Raab, Rolf Gohs, Scott Goodall, Eirik Ildahl, Kari Leppänen, Hans Lindahl, Janne Lundström, Cesar Spadari, Bob McLeod, Jean-Yves Mitton, Lennart Moberg, Claes Reimerthi, Paul Ryan, Alex Saviuk, Graham Nolan, Romano Felmang and Norman Worker.
In 1964, the comic publishing department of Bonnier Press adopted the name ‘Semic’, which is a combination of the word ‘comic’ and its Swedish equivalent ‘serier’.
As the need to source new Phantom stories increased, an idea was hatched to import stories from the American Adventures comics created by Fratelli Spada in Italy (which were also printed in France at the time). These stories were edited by Semic to fit Fantomen’s format (the Italian Phantom comic had a smaller page size) and were often partially redrawn, both to lengthen the stories and to improve the often weak story lines. The first Italian Phantom adventure was published in 1968, issue number 2 (as seen on the left). A total of 79 Italian stories were published in Fantomen from 1968 to 1974.
The highest of Fantomen’s success was seen in the seventies, where average sales were over 160,000 copies per issue, with the two best selling issues in the history of the magazine selling well over 200,000 copies each. These issues were ‘The Wedding’ (printed in 1978, issue number 6) and ‘The Birth of the Twins’ (printed in 1979, issue number 20), both seen below.
The 1980’s saw sales of Fantomen start to drop. To solve this problem, color was again introduced to the comic books, commencing with issue number 1, printed in 1991 (as seen on the right). The move to color arrived just in time for the 1000th edition of Fantomen which was published in August 1991 (issue number 17), only 7 months after Frew Publications had passed the same milestone in Australia.
1996 saw the 60th anniversary of The Phantom, with the first five Lee Falk / RayMoore Sunday stories from 1939-41 being reprinted in Fantomen.
A separate comic called Fantomen – Den Vandrande Vålnaden (The Phantom – The Ghost Who Walks) was launched the same year, and it contained chronological reprints of Lee Falk / Sy Barry daily stories starting with The Slave Market of Mucar. It ran for 9 issues, as shown below.
Semic was sold by the Bonnier family in 1997, to the Danish company Egmont, best known for their involvement in producing and publishing Disney comics at the time.
In 1999, following the death of Lee Falk, Egmont provided Phantom stories to fill the gap in the daily and Sunday comic strips (which Lee Falk was still writing up to his death). An agreement was entered into with King Features Syndicate, where Egmont would continue to provide new Phantom stories, such as those we see today in our local newspapers or on Comics Kingdom.
Fantomen celebrated its 50th anniversary in October 2000, releasing a 204 page (in color and black and white) special (the largest Fantomen issue ever published), issue number 21 (as seen on the left). This issue contained, amongst other stories, Fantomen’s first published story in 1950, ‘The Maharajah’s Daughter’. This issue also contained a “what if” story, set in the future, in the year 2050.
In 2007, Egmont introduced some Fantomen comics (not all) as “double issues”. So instead of an issue being number 1 for example, at the commencement of a new year, the first issue carried the comic number 1-2. The idea was to have these comics for sale longer in stores, from 2 weeks to 1 month, and carry twice as many pages. This saw the amount of issued printed per year by Egmont decrease over the coming years. The first issue printed containing a double number is issue number 10-11 (as seen on the right).
Double issue comics continue to be printed up to now, with 19 issues being printed on a yearly basis, down from 26 as was the normal yearly print run seen from 1968 to 2006.
Fantomen’s first issue was printed in 1950 and is the longest running comic book still being published in Sweden today.