Lee Falk created the iconic hero Phantom, taking the comic world by a storm in February 1936. The cult status enjoyed by Phantom in Papua New Guinea is evinced by the depiction of the popular comic hero on war shields used by the Waghi people of Papua New Guinea.
Phantom’s innate ability to protect his home and to emerge as a symbol of undying hope is the reason that Phantom makes for the most suitable hero to be depicted on war shields.
The Waghi people are known to make war shields using tree trunks, and making such shields is essential for protecting their legacy and cultural heritage. In order to convey their beliefs by way of symbolic references, the Waghi People often choose cult figures such as football players and comic book characters.
After World War II, the Waghi People experienced an unbridled access to comic books from across the world, including western comic books.
Consequently, they started borrowing from the parallel universe of marvel comics to widen the scope of symbolic references, which could be used to depict heroes similar to Phantom on
their war shields.
What does Phantom mean to the people of Papua New Guinea?
The Phantom is often perceived as the protector of the innocent from acts of injustice inflicted upon the weak by those wielding enormous power and clout. Phantom is a hero who gives hope to the people of Papua New Guinea for his indomitable spirit and insurmountable valor.
The re-emergence of Phantom on war shields was seen between 1980s-1990s, and this period saw the renewal of inter-tribal rivalries more particularly in the Papua New Guinea Highlands.
The Phantom did the intended job of inducing fear among the opponents during the inter-tribal fights and lent enormously to the heroic struggle of the tribal people of Papua New Guinea.
A cult figure The comic strip started out by appearing in the more traditional medium of newspapers, however with the advent of technology Phantom is now seen on multiple forums such as television shows, movies and several video games. It is worth noting that during his lifetime Lee Falk also created the hugely popular Mandrake series of comic books, in addition to the Phantom series.
Since its initial publication, the Phantom comic strip has been translated to over 15 languages and has a band of fans transcending the boundaries of Papua New Guinea. Notable comic
houses such as the DC Comics and Marvel Comics have published various issues of the Phantom between 1988 and 1995.
An inspiration for millennials
At the turn of the century, in 2002 Moonstone Books published multiple graphic novels on the Phantom, and in 2009 Moonstone re-launched the original series with the first Phantom comics trip published under the title, the Phantom: the Ghost who walks. As recently as 2014,
Hermes Press released a mini-series based on the Phantom and it was an instant hit with the millennial generation. Only a classic comic series could remain popular for over 80 years, and the Phantom has been an unending source of both entertainment and hope for the tribal people of Papua New Guinea