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Welcome to the two-hundred and fifty-third in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous two hundred and fifty-two.
Comic Book Legends Revealed is part of the larger Legends Revealed series, where I look into legends about the worlds of entertainment and sports, which you can check out here, at legendsrevealed.com. I’d especially recommend you check out this installment of Board Game Legends Revealed for a special edition focused solely on legends related to the game of Monopoly, including the bizarre origins of the game!
COMIC LEGEND: The Phantom ended up becoming purple because Lee Falk was out of the country when it came time to decide what color to make the Phantom, so without his input they made him purple.
The “false” aspect of this legend is pretty simple, but the true parts of the story are a good deal more interesting.
Let’s get the “false” stuff out of the way right off the bat.
On Lee Falk’s IMDB trivia page, it reads:
Originally intended The Phantom’s costume to be gray. However, when Lee was traveling around the world, syndicate King Features had to find a color to the costume without his permission, and thereby The Phantom received his trademark purple outfit.
Well, as we already discussed back the last time Lee Falk came up in Comic Book Legends Revealed (this installment), this was not true as Falk never left the United States until after World War II (Phantom became purple in 1939), and until the War, he never even traveled much within the United States ITSELF (he stuck mostly to the Midwest).
So yeah, that was not why the Phantom became purple, which he has remained colored ever since…
The actual reason, to be frank, is a bit of a mystery.
According to Falk on a few occasions, it was a printing error, but I’ve never seen that confirmed. The other rumor was that it was an intentional decision because Falk’s preference, gray, would not appear consistent in the strip (this was the same basic reason why the Hulk became green). Honestly, either one makes sense.
What’s more interesting to me, though, is just the odd history of the character’s coloring period.
When the Phantom debuted in 1936, he was clearly intended to be gray. Heck, Falk originally wanted to call him The Gray Ghost, but changed his mind.
However, the Phantom appeared in black and white, so while Falk could INTEND him to be gray, there was no definitive color scheme for the character that his Syndicate would send out to other people.
And as time went by and people began to put the Phantom into collections, well, let’s just say that they all pretty much did whatever they wanted.
In a 1937 Italian collection of the strips, he was colored all different colors…
When he was first collected in America in 1938, the costume was colored red/orange…
In Australia in 1938, he was lime green!
Interestingly enough, though, Falk did not shy about the color WITHIN the comic, it was just that, well, who is going to notice a small reference here and there over a few years?
But soon after the Phantom debuted, he is described in a 1936 strip…
And in 1938…
Finally, in 1939, King Features, Falk’s syndicate, began doing the Phantom strip as a Sunday strip, which meant that they finally HAD to color the Phantom.
And they went with purple (the part about them not consulting with Falk is true – we just don’t know if they didn’t consult with Falk and just decided to go with purple or if they didn’t consult with Falk and meant to make him gray and just screwed up).
However, hilariously, Falk just ignored this during his daily strips!
He just kept having the Phantom be gray!!
all the way up until 1953!!!
Finally, in 1956, Falk relented…
Eventually, he even came up with an explanation for the coloring of the costume in the strips (something about the dye from berries).
Pretty crazy, huh? For almost twenty years, he was gray in the daily strip and purple in the Sunday strip!
Thanks to the amazing Bryan Sheddon for collecting all these panels and for having one of the greatest Phantom site the internet will likely ever see, The Deep Woods. Be sure to check it out!
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