Whenever you think of newspaper comic strips, the likely story you’ll see is The Phantom. The Phantom is a comic staple for the longest time, all thanks to its creator: Lee Falk.

Falk is quite an enigmatic figure, and he’s a product of his time. His career spans a long time, and The Phantom was among his major works.

Whilst it’s not his first comic, The Phantom outlasted Falk by decades. The comic strip not only lives on today, but is a continuing legacy, proving that his story about “The Man Who Cannot Die.”

The Humble Beginnings of Lee Falk

Lee Falk was born Leon Harrison Gross on April 28, 1911. He hid his year of birth from people for a while, keeping it to himself for the longest time. It was only when he laid to rest that his year of birth, 1911, was discovered.

Leon was born of a Jewish couple, but his father, Benjamin Gross, died when he was young. His mother, Eleanor Alina, would remarry to Albert Falk Epstein.

Leon’s pseudonym, Lee Falk, comes from his stepfather’s surname, which he changed after college. Lee was his childhood nickname, and retained the name ever since.

During the first years of his comic book career, he made up his biography globetrotter. Falk had to show that he’s qualified to talk about adventures for his Mandrake the Magician and The Phantom comic books.

The Phantom 1 Dailies
The Phantom #1 – The Singh Brotherhood, Lee Falk and Ray Moore (© Lee Falk)

Falk started sketches of Mandrake the Magician, due to his fascination with stage magicians at the time. He used himself as the reference to the character since, according to him, he was “alone in a room with a mirror” when he drew him.

The Phantom, on the other hand, came from his fascination with myths and legends. He’s an amalgamation of El Cid, Arthur, and Robin Hood, together with India’s Thugs.

Falk: A Man Of Mystery

Lee Falk is one of the most mysterious writers ever, mostly due to his private nature. His storytelling is marvelous and methodical, which was a product of his time. 

His work with Mandrake the Magician and The Phantom preceded classics like Superman and Batman. He originally planned to give The Phantom a similar backstory as Bruce Wayne: billionaire playboy with an alter-ego.

The Phantom 2 Daily Story Sky Band Lee Falk
The Phantom #2 – The Sky Band, Lee Falk and Ray Moore (© Lee Falk)

Falk decided to move away from that, putting him into the jungle with travellers, and natives. It took a while for Falk actually to like his “The Phantom” character. Even then, he relented and went forward with the name.

Lee Falk is a great writer who’s good at straightforward characterization. Unlike the stories of today, his work tends to rely on known tropes. It helps that he made the strip long before any of these tropes codified into existence.

The Phantom stayed as a staple even until today. Falk was even writing stories for the strip until the day he died.

Lee Falk: The Legend

The-Phantom-1-DC-Cover-1988
The Phantom – Volume 1, May 1988 (© DC Comics)

Lee Falk is a legendary comic writer in his own right. He came even before the big studios like Marvel and DC came to be. He became a part of the pioneers of the comic book industry of his time.

As the man who writes about an undying hero of the common man, Falk deserves the same respect as the likes of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko.

Whilst the one who looks at The Phantom dies a horrible death, he who respects Falk knows he deserves it. The man is a legend, creating one of the first superhero ever.

Reading Recommendations:

The Story of the Phantom by Lee Falk

The Phantom the Complete Series: The Gold Key Years by Bill Harris, Bill Lignante

Mandrake the Magician #1 by Lee Falk

Sources:

The Phantom FAQ by ratiosemper.com, (archived)

Lee Falk: Father of The Phantom by deepwoods.org

Lee Falk; Created ‘The Phantom,’ ‘Mandrake the Magician’ Comics, by Elaine Woo, Los Angeles Times, 16 Mar 1999

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