The Phantom and I

Twenty years ago, my phone rang and a nice American lady at the other end informed me that she had a job offer for me. I accepted it on the spot, obviously, having been through several rounds of interviews and a visit to the company’s offices in the Stockholm Old Town.

I hung up, and got back to work without telling anyone. In fact, I kept the secret for another week, waiting for my frustrating boss to say something idiotic so that I could just quit my job right there, in a Hollywood movie kind of way. (He didn’t, so I gave my notice that Friday).

But that evening, I drove to the local pizza place and while waiting for the pizza to be ready, I went to the video store next door, and rented a movie to celebrate my new job.

The pizza? Pizza Bolognese.

The movie? The Phantom.

I have been a big fan of the Phantom since I was a kid. I was a member of the Phantom club (number 6114), and I had piles and piles of comics everywhere. I knew the Phantom’s lineage from the day when a young Christopher Walker washed ashore as the only survivor of a Singh pirates’ attack to the father of Kit and Heloise, the current Phantom.

I was rooting for him to get married to Diana and at home, I knew the old jungle sayings by heart and used them in everyday speech as if they were old Finnish proverbs, and our German shepherd was type cast in the role of Devil, somewhat paradoxically, since in the comics, The Ghost Who Walks always has to tell people that Devil is not a dog, but a wolf.

Dad and I would discuss storylines in the comics to Mom’s amusement and when we moved from Helsinki to Joensuu, the one thing cushioning the blow was the fact that unlike Helsingin Sanomat that ran a Rip Kirby comic, the Joensuu local paper ran Phantom strips.

In high school, I used to draw the Phantom’s Good Mark on the blackboard every once in a while, before the teacher got into the classroom.

Naturally then, when I graduated from high school, and it was time for penkkarit, our last day of school full of all kinds of hilarities, I dressed up as the Phantom. It seems such an obvious choice today, but it was a last-minute fix that consisted of Dad’s hockey underwear one-piece, his boots, a pair of red swimming trunks that I drew black lines on, two water pistols, a mask, plastic belt and holsters that Dad made, Mom’s hood and hat, and Dad’s overcoat.

Unfortunately, no Devil, as my trusted sidekick had passed away a few weeks earlier.

The next day, the Ghost Who Walks was both on the first page of the paper and the comics page.

If the Phantom had been big in Finland, it was an ever bigger thing in Sweden. Papers regularly made Phantom references in their headlines, the comic book’s circulation was bigger, there’s a huge Mr Walker statue in downtown Stockholm, and there was even a Phantom theme park in Eskilstuna – that I once dragged Son and Wife to.

Although, Wife was and remains just as much a Phantom fan as I was. In fact, one of our first deep conversations was about the Phantom. We sat at the Bologna airport, waiting for our plane, talking about our favorite stories, about Diana’s and Kit’s relationship, Guran, Rex, Tom-Tom, the Jungle Patrol, everything, with a colleague every once in a while sitting down next to us and then, having heard the conversation, quietly getting up and walking away.

One of the first things I did after moving to my little apartment on the southside of town was to subscribe to the Phantom. Then I joined the Swedish Phantom club. I got a Phantom watch, and I started to work on the badges to get to Grandmaster level. I got the Skull ring, and the Good mark rings, and sometimes I even wore them.

On our cooker hood, there are two magnetic strips, with old jungle sayings on them. On my desk, there’s a tiny metal Phantom figurine that used to be a key ring but now just stands there and watches over me. Next to it, sitting on a piece of concrete Son got for me as they demolished the local trade center, there’s the Good Mark Ring.

Today is the 20th anniversary of my move to Sweden so last night, I watched the Phantom.

You never find the Phantom, he finds you.

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