A Purple Phantom?

by Bryan Shedden

(with thanks to Bob Griffin for providing details on some Phantom publications that I don't have in my collection ... yet!)

Jeff Rovin's Encyclopedia of Super Heroes (Facts on File Publications, New York, 1985), states that the Phantom's official costume consists of a "purple (sometimes blue) body suit, cowl; blue trunks with diagonal stripes, black leather gun belt with death's head skull on front, black domino mark and riding boots."

Throughout the publishing history of the Phantom however, various comic book publishers have taken tremendous licence regarding the colour of his uniform. For example, the colour was red in France, Italy, Spain and Brazil, almost a bluish-silver during the early years in Scandinavia and a yellowish-brown in New Zealand. Jim Shepherd once surmised the reason for the variety in colours was that the strips were syndicated without any clear guidelines for colour! (Frew#1052 Forum)

The Phantom strip began life as a daily on 17 February 1936, and these dailies were never coloured -- at least not in the American or Australian newspapers. Little thought was given to the colour of the Phantom's costume until 28 May 1939, when the Sunday strip commenced in the American colour supplements. It is not too surprising that the Phantom publications which appeared during this interim period depicted the Phantom in a multitude of different costume colour variations - interestingly, none of them was purple!

Several Phantom publications appeared before the Sunday strip began, each with it's own costume colour-scheme.
The very first reprint of the Phantom comic strip in the USA, was in a Big Little Book (renamed The Better Little Book series in 1938) - a series of books which were novelisations with many illustrations taken from the strip. The first to feature the Phantom was entitled The Phantom (1936), and on the cover he appeared in a reddish-orange costume. The same colour-scheme was used in the next Phantom book in the series, entitled The Phantom and the Sign of the Skull (1939). However, all subsequent Phantom issues of The Better Little Book used the conventional purple or blue costume colour.
The world's first Phantom comic book to reprint the newspaper strip was L'Uomo Mascherato, published in May 1937 by Casa Editrice G.Nerbini in Italy. A multicoloured Phantom was featured on its cover; red top and cowl, plain green briefs, orange tights, and yellow gloves.
Ace Comics was the first American comic book to reprint the Phantom strip. In his first appearance, in #11 (February 1938), the Phantom was shown in a brown costume. However, in all the subsequent issues of Ace Comics (which ran until 1949), the Phantom was always clad in purple.
The first Australian Phantom comic appeared in May 1938, in an Australian Woman's Mirror Annual, and on the cover the Phantom was shown in a stunning lime-green costume!

Regardless of the fact that the daily strip has never been "officially" coloured, a close inspection of the text reveals that Lee Falk originally intended the Phantom's costume to be gray. Panels from The Singh Brotherhood (1936) and Fishers of Pearls (1938), are reproduced below to demonstrate this fact.

The Singh Brotherhood
7 May 1936

Fishers of Pearls
22 Nov 1938

These are the only two occasions in the daily strip, prior to the start of the Sunday strip, where the colour of the Phantom's costume is directly stated - and that colour is not purple! Lee Falk originally considered calling his character The Gray Ghost but settled on The Phantom, because he liked that title better (Comics Revue #27, 1988). With this in mind, it is not surprising that he stuck with the idea of a gray costume. In selecting a gray costume, Lee says he was "thinking of some kind of camouflage." (Official Phantom Movie web page)

With the commencement of the Sunday strip in the American newspapers, the Phantom's costume was inexplicably coloured purple by an anonymous King Features colorist, and has continued this way ever since. Lee Falk was surprised by this modification of his creation: "They didn't consult me. They just made it purple, much to my amazement" (The Phantom: The Official Movie Magazine, p.49). So there you have it -- there is actually ONE aspect of the Phantom that is not originally from the mind of Lee Falk.

But WHY purple? Perhaps the King Features colorist intended to make the costume gray but their ink selection was so poor that it simply looked purple! Alternatively, the colorists may have deliberately selected purple, since gray would have looked too drab on the colour Sunday pages.

Despite this inexplicable shift to a purple costume in the Sundays, the Phantom's costume in the dailies continued for many years to be described as gray. Various examples can be found in the daily strips and some of these are shown below:

The Seahorse
12 Apr 1940

The Mermaids of Melo Straits
28 Dec 1945

The Devil Road
24 Jan 1948

The Matchmaker

It was not until late 1956, in the daily story entitled The Heavyweight Champion, that the Phantom's costume was directly described in the text as anything other than gray. At his title fight with Chesty Smith, the announcer dispells all previous beliefs, and states that the Phantom wears a purple costume (see below). It would seem that sometime between 1953 and 1956, Lee Falk had a change of mind concerning the "official" colour of the Phantom's costume!

The Heavyweight Champion

In a much more recent Sunday strip story, The First Phantom (1975), Lee Falk attempted to explain the origin of the purple costume colouring. A caption states that the uniform was coloured with the juice of non-poisonous berries to match that of the Wasaka giants' demon idol.

Thus, for the first two decades of the Phantom's existence in comic strips, his "official" costume colour -- as specified by Lee Falk -- was definitely not purple but gray.

Furthermore, there was a strange situation throughout this period, where the Phantom's costume was simultaneously gray in the daily strip, and purple in the Sunday pages.

That's enough to confuse any Phantom fan! Which leads to the obvious question ...

Which do YOU prefer?


Story Date Frew Issue Page Panel
The Singh Brotherhood 7 May 1936 1128 53 4
Fishers of Pearls 22 Nov 1938 959 11 7
The Seahorse 12 Apr 1940
8 May 1940
953A 34
The Mermaids of Melo Straits 28 Dec 1945 972 132 7
The Devil Road 2 Dec 1947
24 Jan 1948
1156 7
The Matchmaker (1953) 796 25 8
The Heavyweight Champion (1956) 856 22 5
The First Phantom 13 Jul 1975 1032 65 7


Return to The Phantom Reference Guide

Bryan Shedden / guran@deepwoods.org
Last Updated 22 September 1997