Memoir on Phantom
I recently received a copy of Indrajal Comics published in September 1984. It carries one Phantom story – The Greedy Tyrant. My son picked up this book from the Blossom book store, Church street, Bangalore. It brought childhood memories… and this is a small personal memoir on the most famous and loved character – the Phantom or Betal or Mr. Walker or the Ghost Who Walks…
Lee Falk… does it ring a bell? I’m not surprised if not… he was hardly a household name anywhere in the world. When he died in 1999 at age of 87 there was hardly any newspaper in India that published an obituary. But if you were born in Sixties then you would have heard two of his famous creations – Mandrake the Magician and the Phantom, the Ghost Who Walks.
Mandrake was the stage magician… he would always appear dressed for a performance at the Palladium, complete with cape, top hat with his faithful strongman companion named Lothar. Mandrake’s power was mass hypnosis. Falk conceived that hypnosis could be used by the forces of good to fight crime. So Mandrake would waive his magic wand and the crook would see his gun turned into a snake or some other trick and Lothar would overpower them.
However, the blockbuster comic book hero was the Phantom… a millionaire donned a mask to fight crime and then retreated to a cave in a fictitious country somewhere in Africa. Nobody knew his true identity. He was called the Phantom and as the title was passed from father to son. Everyone believed that the original Phantom was immortal; hence the name, The Ghost Who Walks. His hide-out, the cave, was shaped like a skull (Bat cave of Batman is so similar!), his ring had a skull embossed and when he would hit someone that skull mark on the crook’s chin would never go away! He lived in a fictitious place named Denkali in a country named Bengala. We always thought he lived in Africa. He was surrounded by faithful pygmies and chief named Guran who wore a grass hat. Phantom’s love interest was Diana and they got married while the comic books were still being published.
Times of India started publishing Indrajal Comics in 1964. Initially, it was monthly… then switched to fortnightly… it became weekly in the beginning of Eighties… then went back to fortnightly by end of Eighties before coming to an end in 1989. The magazines were typically 16-32 pages… all color and the graphics were top class of that time… the drawings were highly regarded among the fans that time. I remember the initial price was 75 paisa and if you look carefully the image below this copy was priced Rs 2 in 1984 (my family bought at Rs 200!). Indrajal Comics were also published in Marathi, Hindi, English, Bengali, Malayalam, Kannada, Gujrati and Tamil. In Bengali he was referred as ‘অরণ্যদেব’… my friend Santu reminded me.
My generation – well, most of us boys – devoured Phantom… it meant so much to people of my generation. We would eagerly wait for the new book every week and finish up reading within half hour of its arrival! Then we would start waiting for the newspaperman when he would again bring a new book. I had a whole bunch of these books which I got it bound in few volumes. These books traveled and circulated among friends circles – and never returned to me! I happen to contact one of my childhood friends two years back and the first question he asked whether I still have those books! Such was the craze! But one of my friends, Pradyut, still has most of those prized copies… and I have told him to preserve those and never sell off. He confirmed later that he still has about 70-80 of those comic books.
Times of India stopped publishing Indrajal Comics in 1989… Lee Falk died in 1999 and with that… the Phantom… the Betal… the Ghost who Walks… Mr. Walker walked his last mile.