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Jim Shepherd and the man in the purple suit

18 April, 2013

I first met Jim Shepherd in 2003. I had made a prototype comic book storage device that I was looking to bring to market and I needed an avenue to advertise it. Frew Publications’ ‘The Phantom’ comic (published in Australia since 1948) seemed to be the perfect place for me to reach my target audience and Jim had agreed to meet me to sell me some advertising space.

I remember thinking he was quite a reserved man – giving away nothing (and why would he? He didn’t know this nerdy looking guy sitting in his office from anyone) and chain smoking like nothing else I had seen outside of my time in the old offices at British American Tobacco. Slowly, but surely the walls began to break down as I spoke to him of how three generations of Frazers had read ‘The Phantom” and it was my grandfather who had introduced the purple-clad hero to me. We talked about advertising rates as Jim moved papers and comics around a very cluttered desk, before asking me to bring in a sample of the ad within two weeks. It was then I summoned up the courage to ask if Frew took cover submissions. “Why, bit of an artist are you?” Jim responded whilst putting out a ciggie and lighting another. Sheepishly I responded,

“Well… Yeah I’ve done a bit of drawing and cartooning in my time.”

Jim leaned forward whilst checking his schedule again, “Well why don’t you bring something in for me to have a look at when you come in next.” I thanked him and raced home to work on a range of redesigned cover sketches, pulling out old covers and rereading stories (I didn’t need an excuse) so I could feel the action and present something on the faint chance Jim like my work.

Two weeks passed and I returned to the office to present my ad. Jim told me the edition it would appear in and I paid the rate. After what felt like an eternity, I self-consciously presented the three layouts I had finished. Jim had a look, cleared some space on his cluttered desk to examine his hand written schedule and said, “There’s a spot in six weeks time that needs a front and back cover, think you can make that deadline?” Make it?? Are you kidding?? Once again I raced home and began work. Needless to say, I was done in a week and for the third time returned to Jim’s office with the final pieces. And just like that, within five weeks, edition number #1368 – The Boy from San Diablo appeared on newsstands all around Australian and New Zealand and not long after that (for would be the final time) I entered Frew Publications’ office, when Jim’s secretary Ruth presented me with a pile of #1368s (“to give out to your friends and family.”).

Now I’m sure Jim didn’t need to give me the pleasure of drawing the front and back cover of a comic book I had read since I was eight, nor pay me for the gig, but he did and I will be forever grateful for the opportunity. To this day, that graphic design job is both my first and (by far) the most recognisable job I have done.

Jim passed away on Tuesday at the age of 80. His influence and impact will be sorely missed. Thank you Jim for your work, the chance you gave me, and the legacy you leave behind. May you rest in peace sir.

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