Before Superman, Batman and Spider-Man came The Phantom.
He was the first costumed superhero,” said Gary Sohmers yesterday at New York Comic Con at the Javits Center, where he and Elizabeth Falk were selling original Phantom and Mandrake The Magician comic art in the vast, jam-packed Artist Alley section.
Falk’s late husband Lee Falk was the creator and writer of both Mandrake, which originated in 1934, and The Phantom (1936).
“I have original comic strip art done for newspapers from the 1950s through the ‘90s,” said Falk, whose husband died in 1999. “It’s all old-fashioned hand-drawn original artwork–no computer science of any kind—and includes artwork for the daily strips and the Sunday pages.”
She held up a representative strip.
“This one has Ben-Day dots, that were cut out and glued on to the strip as part of the printing process, to emphasize richness of color,” she said.
Sohmers, who represents Falk as the curator of the Lee Falk Collection of Original Comic Strip Art, noted that the dailies comic strip stories differed from the Sundays.
“Some papers only carried the Sundays,” he explained. “But one time they merged.”
The dailies and Sundays stories came together that one time to mirror the real-life story of the Falks.
“It was the ‘wedding story,’ and came about when Lee and I got married on December 31, 1976,” she recalled. “People [magazine] called in November and wanted to do a feature on us, and Lee was amazed anybody cared that he was getting married and decided it was a good time for The Phantom to marry [longtime girlfriend] Diana Palmer. After all, they’d been together 30 years!”
Falk and Sohmers were displaying dailies and Sundays strips from the 1950s to the ‘80s, some covering entire months and story lines. Artwork from the two strips’ early decades was discarded or destroyed by its publishers, said Falk.
“Lee thought they were storing it, and sometime in the ‘60s he asked about it and found they were destroying it,” she said. “So he asked them to send him what they had. They did—but he had to pay the postage!”
Prices for dailies strips, Falk said, range from $100 to $400 depending on decade of issue, condition, and how many iconic figures appear in the strip; Sundays are bigger in size (half a newspaper page, or even an entire page for older dates) and go for $300 to $1,500, based on the same criteria.
At Comic Con, Falk and Sohmers also had Big Little Book editions of the Falk strips, including the first full year of Mandrake The Magician, on hand. These were prose versions of entire newspaper strip story lines, featuring the strip’s artwork and published in small book form.
Sohmers, an appraiser of collectibles, comic art and memorabilia who appeared for many years on the hit PBS series Antiques Roadshow, noted that Mandrake relied on the power of suggestion.
“He was an illusionist, as well as a crime fighter: A mystery solver,” said Sohmers. Mandrake also markedly resembled Falk in appearance.
“He drew himself!” revealed Elizabeth. “He was alone in a room with a mirror and drew himself.”
But the main artist for Mandrake The Magician was Phil Davis, whose assistant Ray Moore became the first artist for The Phantom.
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