The Phantom inspired New Guinea War Shields

Vincze Miklós

Lee Falk‘s hero the Phantom made his comic book debut in February 1936, but he also appears on dozens of traditional war shields made by people from the Central Highlands of Papua New Guinea between the 1960s and 1980s. Why?

The Wahgi people of Papua New Guinea have long made enormous shields from tree trunks, and have continued to make these shields as a form of ritual artwork. In the late 20th century, many of these Papua New Guinea highlanders began incorporating “new ideas” into their traditional works, so that shields bore emblems of football teams, beer brands, and, yes, the Phantom. Western comic books became widely available in the region after World War II, and the Phantom became a particularly popular character.

Art educator and dealer Michael Reid notes that two things in particular made the Phantom an ideal subject for a war shield: he is a hero who protects his home and he is known as “The Man Who Cannot Die.” Just as many comic book readers adopt the emblems of their favorite heroes, so too have these artists taken the symbolic power of the Phantom and adapted it to their own traditions.

The Phantom on some shields made by Wahgi people in the 1980s

Why Does This Comic Book Hero Appear On So Many New Guinea War Shields?

Why Does This Comic Book Hero Appear On So Many New Guinea War Shields?

Why Does This Comic Book Hero Appear On So Many New Guinea War Shields?

Why Does This Comic Book Hero Appear On So Many New Guinea War Shields?

Why Does This Comic Book Hero Appear On So Many New Guinea War Shields?

Why Does This Comic Book Hero Appear On So Many New Guinea War Shields?

Why Does This Comic Book Hero Appear On So Many New Guinea War Shields?

Why Does This Comic Book Hero Appear On So Many New Guinea War Shields?

(via Michael ReidArt Gallery NSWGalerie FlakChristopher John StoneThe Grid andArtNet)

Beware of the Man Who Never Dies

Why Does This Comic Book Hero Appear On So Many New Guinea War Shields?

(via Nathan Potts)

A Phantom Shield from the 1989 Civil War

Why Does This Comic Book Hero Appear On So Many New Guinea War Shields?

(via Mrs. Matthews)

As an aboriginal warrior

Why Does This Comic Book Hero Appear On So Many New Guinea War Shields?

(via Christopher John Stone)

The Man Who Would Not Die, painted by Kaipel Ka

Why Does This Comic Book Hero Appear On So Many New Guinea War Shields?EXPAND

Phantom vs. Evil

Why Does This Comic Book Hero Appear On So Many New Guinea War Shields?

(via Christopher John Stone)

The head of Phantom

Why Does This Comic Book Hero Appear On So Many New Guinea War Shields?

Why Does This Comic Book Hero Appear On So Many New Guinea War Shields?

 

 

 

 

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4 comments

  1. I’m not sure from all the heroes they could choose to champion, from the comic world, it’s as simple as ‘the man who cannot die’, in fact he dies a lot for an immortal. The Phantom is replaced generationally by his sons. Generationalism that would have resonated.

    Furthermore, he lived in skull mountain and used the skull as his symbol. The more sensational accounts of the Asmat tribe suggest the role of skulls to their belief system. Skulls of ancestors were revered, and enemies.

    Not to forget, that as a version of Tarzan, the Phantom is a friend and protector of the local peoples. He would be appealing compared to Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman here.

    1. thanks for the acute comment, you are wellcome!
      I will add also that in Italy, The Phantom subtitle was: The Walking Shadow, and even “we” know he is not ethernal, for the legend he is 😉

      1. His family surname is walker. Had a horse called ‘hero’; a dog called ‘devil’; lived in ‘Eden’ and had a wife called ‘Diana’ – you can see that Falk might have been influenced … A tad.

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