When talking about evil in the world, one often cites Adolph Hitler & his Nazi reign of terror in the last century, and there's a belief among many that it's hard to top that kind of pure evil. Sadly, people around the world remain exploited and violated in similar manners, such as in Uganda where children are being kidnapped for use as pawns in a barbaric war. While it may seem there's not much you, kind and caring CBR reader, can do to fight these acts of sadism, writer Mike Bullock and Moonstone Books have teamed up to show that you're wrong. Beginning in June's "The Phantom"#17, and continuing through issue #19, proceeds from the sale of each issue will be donated to the charity Invisible Children to create sanctuaries for these children, safe havens where they may live in peace and with proper nourishment. CBR News spoke with Bullock to learn about these real life villains, what his "Phantom"story is all about and the origins of the tale.
Though this tale may seem like a "ripped from the headlines"cause du jour, the tale that Bullock is telling comes from a very personal place, one that has impacted him profoundly. "My Mother-in-law went on a trip to Uganda with a small group of other women from Compassion International,"Bullock told CBR News. "All the women involved sponsor children over there and the purpose of the trip was to meet these children in person and shine some light into lives. Upon their return, my Father-in-law, wife and I met with one of the women for lunch one day.
"While we sat, ate and became acquainted, she told us of all sorts of interesting places they'd seen on their journey. She educated us on these children's everyday lives and showed us how their world differed from that of the kids here in the US.
"Towards the end of the conversation, her facial expression changed from one glowing with excitement to one darkened by some inner burden she was carrying. Within minutes she'd told us of the Warlord, Joseph Kony and his army, build on the backs of children stolen from their homes in the middle of the night. These children were physically, spiritually and psychologically tortured and made to turn from their families and embrace Kony's 'religion.'
"The tales she told us of the horrors inflicted on these innocent children froze the blood in my veins.
"To make matters worse, the UN ignored this horrific war. The 1st world nations ignored it; in fact, even the neighboring countries seemed to ignore it. It was as if no one cared about these poor kids.
"Knowing full well that Phantom creator, Lee Falk, was a heroic soul and often had The Phantom take on fictionalized versions of real world horrors; I immediately began concocting a tale whereby the Phantom would do something and make a difference in the lives of these children.
"Within moments, I was outside the restaurant on the phone to Moonstone Publisher Joe Gentile telling him what I'd heard and pleading with him to let me tell this story. Not only was the pleading unnecessary, but Joe threw himself into the cause as zestfully as I had. We contacted the good folks at Invisible Children and within a matter of days had the ball rolling."
With the spirit of Falk's mysterious hero in mind, Bullock could think of no more appropriate hero than the Phantom to champion this cause. However, there's another reason, as the scribe explained, "The Phantom is based in Africa, so geographically it makes sense. He's also one of the only true heroes left in comics. Couple that with an existing precedent from Lee Falk of the Phantom tackling such things and it seemed like the perfect move."
While Bullock is looking to raise awareness with his "Phantom"tale, he's also cooked up a genuinely compelling story for fans of action and adventure. "Following in Lee Falk's footsteps, I've created a fictional warlord known only as HIM, who is building his fanatical empire on the backs of children that he uses for slave labor until they're old enough to fight in his armies. This all comes to the Phantom attention and he then declares a one-man war on HIM and his empire. Knowing full well that HIM's hold on those he lords over is more mental than physical, the Phantom must combat the legend that is HIM, a legend that has some rather unsettling parallels to our hero's own legacy."
Joining him for this tale are a number of skilled artists, all of whom Bullock chose for a personal reason. "First off, the A covers were born at the tip of Marat Mychael's pencil. Marat lives near me and he and I seem to end up next to each other at a lot of local comic events. At last year's Phoenix Cactus Comic Con, I told Marat of the Invisible Children story and he immediately asked if he could do the cover art. Joe Gentile approved that idea, with an almost giddy zeal, and Marat whipped out the covers to issues 17 & 19 in short order.
"For the B covers, we turned to my all-time favorite inker, Terry Austin. Terry and Bret Blevins had crafted the striking B&W cover for 'Phantom' #16, and when I wanted someone to create a B cover that would grab readers and help bring awareness to the cause, I turned to Terry. He brought Darryl Banks to the table and the rest is history.
"Doing the heavy lifting between the covers is new Phantom penciller/inker, Silvestre Szilagyi. I've worked with four different artists so far on the Phantom, and while the others have all been extremely talented, Silvestre is the first to really bring that classic feel to the character. I can't wait until his first issue is on the stands, as I really think Phans, both old and new, are in for a real treat.
"Coloring the story is pixel pusher Bob Pedroza, all around good guy and one of my 'Lions, Tigers and Bears' mates."
By now you might be wondering why Bullock chose this cause over so many other equally worthy causes - such as the genocide occurring in the name of religion & patriotism in South Africa - and he was happy to explain. "Most likely as I have a soft spot for children, and combined with my love of my mother & father-in-law this instantly became a 'close to home' scenario. Add to that what I said above about The Phantom's involvement in matters such as this and it just made sense to move forward."
As we mentioned earlier, proceeds from the sale of these special issues of "The Phantom"will go to Invisible Children, a process Bullock explained, "For every 'B' cover sold, Moonstone will make a donation directly to IC. The covers were crafted by legendary artists Darryl Banks and Terry Austin, who have thrown themselves into this work, knowing their efforts will help make a difference for these children. Additionally, we'll be running a page inside each issue telling readers about IC and how they can donate directly. I'll also have a page inside each issue detailing the real world story of the children."
For those who don't know much about Invisible Children, Bullock told us they've created a film about this disturbing trend and even earned the approval of one of America's most famous philanthropists. "The aforementioned women who brought this horror to my attention told us of Invisible Children's Herculean efforts to bring this situation to the world's attention and how they'd managed to get an independent film created about this, as wel l as brought in help from folks such as Oprah Winfrey and many other high profile people in the west. They're also running on a shoestring budget, and accomplishing a great deal with what little they have, so it seemed that helping them out was the best way to proceed in doing something for these kids."
CBR's Arune Singh contributed to this story.
Now discuss this story in CBR's Indie Comics forum.