The Phantom lives on – ghost who walks’ purple reign unmasked in Bundaberg

The Phantom comic strip that created the pop culture superhero immortalised as The Ghost Who Walks is being celebrated at a fascinating exhibition at Bundaberg Regional Art Gallery. Phil Brown reports

Jan 09, 2024, updated Jan 09, 2024
Shane Foley's artwork Skull Ring pays tribute to The Ghost Who Walks and is part of a Phantom exhibition now on at Bundaberg Regional Art Gallery.

Shane Foley's artwork Skull Ring pays tribute to The Ghost Who Walks and is part of a Phantom exhibition now on at Bundaberg Regional Art Gallery.

I experienced serious t-shirt envy over the Christmas period when I saw my next-door neighbour walking around in a rather cool one emblazoned with The Phantom.

I complimented him on it and he explained that he had bought it online late one night after a few sherbets, but accidentally ordered several.

He asked me if I would like one. As a Phantom fan I smiled and nodded and as I sit here writing this, I am wearing it.

Why am I telling you this? Because if you are also a Phantom fan you may want to order a t-shirt too or, better still, rush to the Bundaberg Regional Art Gallery where they have an amazing exhibition, Phantom: Off the Drawing Board.

The exhibition is supported by the Australian publisher of The Phantom, Frew Publications, and curated by gallery staff. It is accompanied by Phantom Response, featuring artwork responding to The Phantom’s iconic persona, and there is also Kid Phantom, an interactive exhibition for young art lovers.

The legendary comic book character has taken over the gallery until February 4 with all exhibition spaces filled with original artwork, rare memorabilia and interactive activities for fans of The Ghost Who Walks, who is also known as The Man Who Cannot Die and Guardian of the Eastern Dark.

He’s 90 years old now, although he doesn’t look it. This exhibition celebrates the 90-year history of Lee Falk’s iconic creation and the 75th anniversary of The Phantom in Australia. It also showcases Australian illustrators who have helped keep the character so popular, including Queensland artist Shane Foley.

One wouldn’t want to underestimate the popularity of The Phantom. For example, when the strip disappeared from a certain newspaper, someone I know who holds quite a lofty position in the arts world in Australia was bereft. He read The Phantom every day apparently. Who knew?

I was lucky enough in the early ’80s to visit the famous Skull Cave. Well, it was Brisbane’s version established by The Phantom Club, which for 14 years was run from Coorparoo by Phantom fan John Henderson.

The biggest Phantom fan – and I interviewed him about this back in the ’80s – was none other than Wally Lewis, the Emperor of Lang Park.

Fans of The Phantom are everywhere, at all levels of society and this exhibition in Bundaberg will draw them like moths to a flame.

It offers art lovers and Phantom fans a unique opportunity to see original illustrations, vintage comic covers and rare collectibles including five original artworks from the personal collection of illustrator Sy Barry, who was the third artist to work on The Phantom comic strip. These have never before been seen in Australia.

Barry says he is thrilled to be on display in Bundaberg: “After 33 years behind the drawing board with The Phantom I couldn’t ask for a better tribute.”

Bundaberg Regional Council arts, culture and events portfolio spokesperson, Cr John Learmonth, says the exhibition is a coup for the city and the region. He says the exhibition will give visitors exclusive behind-the-scenes insights into the creative minds that bring The Phantom to life.

There are also original artworks by Wilson McCoy, Keith Chatto, Glenn Ford, Peter Chapman, Shane Foley and Paul Mason. You will see original strips and comics, Skull and Good Mark rings and some very cool Papua New Guinea warrior shields that feature The Phantom.

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Exhibition visitors will enter the exhibition through a Skull Cave entrance created and painted onsite by Bundaberg local Shane Foley, who has been a fan of The Phantom since childhood. Foley says he likes The Phantom comic strip because of his wholesome, good guy persona.

The Phantom’s like the transition between Zorro and Scarlet Pimpernel-like characters and costumed superheroes,” Foley says. “The idea of the good guy being a really wholesome sort of person has gone, but The Phantom is one of the few that has kept that.”

The Phantom himself is a costumed crime-fighter who operates from the fictional African country of Bangalla. Unlike many superheroes The Phantom has no superpowers; he relies on his strength, intelligence, skill at arms (he carries two holstered handguns) and the myth of his immortality to fight against the forces of evil.

His sidekick is a trained wolf named Devil and The Phantom, in all his incarnations, lives in the Skull Cave.

He set the pace for other superheroes by being the first to wear a skin-tight costume, which eventually became a hallmark of others.

The Phantom began as a daily strip on February 17, 1936, created by Lee Falk. Falk remained involved until his death in 1999 but many artists have worked on The Phantom over the decades, and he’s still going. Well, he is, after all, The Man Who Cannot Die.

Phantom: Off The Drawing Board, Bundaberg Regional Art Gallery, until February 4

This article is republished from InReview under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

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