Leppington comic book writer becomes first Australian woman to pen The Phantom

Big deal: Leppington's Julie Ditrich has become the first official Australian female comic book writer to write for The Phantom. Picture: Simon Bennett

Big deal: Leppington's Julie Ditrich has become the first official Australian female comic book writer to write for The Phantom. Picture: Simon Bennett

The Phantom is one of the longest-running comic titles in the world, and Leppington's Julie Ditrich has just become the first Australian woman to write for the beloved title.

Her 44-page comic book story The Adventure of the Dragon's Leg - published in The Treasures of Drakan: The Red Dragon Saga by Frew Publications - makes her just the sixth female comic book writer credited with writing for ThePhantom globally.

The writer said it was a "privilege and a blessing" to hold the mantle.

"It is also scary because I want to ensure that I not only serve such an iconic character to the best of my ability, but also to honour [creator] Lee Falk's legacy and The Phantom universe," Ms Ditrich said. "If other women comic book writers are inspired by the publication of this story to start pitching their own Phantom stories, then that is added value for me and absolutely terrific."

Ms Ditrich said fans of "danger and excitement and strong heroes and evil villains" would find a lot to like in The Adventure of the Dragon's Leg - which is actually a sequel to three comic stories originally published in the 1970s.

The Phantom was created in 1936, predating even Superman, as a daily newspaper comic strip series, and is still being published in that format today.

Ms Ditrich said comics were a big part of her life growing up.

"I have always loved comics and was exposed to them from an early age," she said.

"My father used to buy us comics from the local service station when I was growing up (there were no comic shops in the Macarthur area). I used to read Disney comics back then - many of which were in the action adventure genre.

"I also grew up reading adventure books from the Victorian era like King Solomon's Mines by Sir H Rider Haggard and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World."

Ms Ditrich always knew she wanted to be a writer, studying professional writing at the University of Canberra, but "fell into comics by accident about 25 years ago".

"[I] discovered that the comics medium absolutely suited my storytelling style and the epic genre stories I wanted to tell," she said.

"Australians and Scandinavians are the biggest consumers of The Phantom and I am no exception.

"The Phantom is popular because he is a complex masculine character with a great backstory going back nearly 500 years (there are 21 generations of Phantoms in the Walker family), so the scope of storytelling is enormous."

Ms Ditrich said the Australian comics community, which is only 20 per cent women, had been "very accepting" of her work, and her biggest obstacles came from the lack of opportunities for advancement in the early days of her comics career.

Luckily, the industry has grown significantly in Australia, and there are far more opportunities for professional development available now.

Ms Ditrich has founded her own small business, Comics Mastermind, to aid professional development for comics creators.

"Comics Mastermind offers two online comics writing courses and will shortly be introducing a course on the business of comics," she said.

"These courses provide new people with the foundations for getting started in the industry.

"Comics creators can also get creativity coaching, mentoring, and access various assessment services."

Buy The Treasures of Drakan: The Red Dragon Saga now at: phantomcomic.com.au.