Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Phantom, Reimagined by Tribesmen of New Guinea

At left is a tribal shield from Papua New Guinea. It appeared in a Tribal Art Fair and in an exhibit called "Geometrics of Aggression: Shields of the New Guinea Highlands" in New York.

Art historian N.F. Karlins explained in an article on artnet last June:
"The buff-bodied Phantom appeared on shields dating from the 1960s to the 1980s at several booths. The comic books they were based on may have arrived in New Guinea as early as the 1940s during WWII, where the Japanese and the United States fought along the coast, eventually making their way to the interior.

"Though startling at first, it makes sense that a warrior (whose tribe already used masks) would adopt as his alter-ego a masked crusader who would never die."
The Phantom was created by Missouri native Lee Falk in 1936. The character, like Batman, had no superpowers. The seemingly immortal Phantom was actually 20 generations of men in the same costume, who took the Oath of the Skull: "I swear to devote my life to the destruction of piracy, greed, cruelty, and injustice, in all their forms, and my sons and their sons shall follow me." Most of the Phantom's adventures took place in Africa.

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