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

(via Michael Reid, Art Gallery NSW, Galerie Flak, Christopher John Stone, The Grid and ArtNet)

Beware of the Man Who Never Dies

(via Nathan Potts)

A Phantom Shield from the 1989 Civil War

(via Mrs. Matthews)

As an aboriginal warrior

(via Christopher John Stone)

The Man Who Would Not Die, painted by Kaipel Ka

Phantom vs. Evil

(via Christopher John Stone)

The head of Phantom

Six 2 Six, a phrase used by the Gilgalkup sub-group of the Senglap people, normally refers to an all-night party, but in this case it means that its owner could fight from 6am to 6pm.

(via British Museum)

Bonus: A Beer shield

(via Siebren Kwekkeboom)