Bill Lignante (20 March 1925 – 27 February 2018) was a longtime artist of Phantom comic books.
After a three-year-stint in the US Navy, he enrolled at the Pratt Institute in New York. Upon graduation, he began his career as a cartoonist, starting with ‘Ozark Ike’ and later ‘Let’s Explore Your Mind’.
Lignante’s first involvement with Lee Falk’s ‘The Phantom’ was finishing a daily strip after Wilson McCoy’s death in 1961. He then did the Sunday comic for a while, before becoming the main artist of the Gold Key and King comic books featuring the character. Lignante had also worked on animated cartoons for Hanna-Barbera.
In 1968, he settled in California and began a career as a courtroom artist for ABC Network News.
By Jim Shepherd – 1993
American artist Bill Lignante has only occasionally graced the pages of Frew editions of the Phantom comic book despite the fact that he was prolific illustrator of American comic books featuring The Ghost Who Walks.
His total Frew appearances are a sparse six. Check out Lignante’s work in Frew #909 (The Limper), #904 (Queen Samaris XII), #1000 (Treasure of the Skull Cave and Delilah), #1026 (The Secret of Magic Mountain) and #1035 (The Ghost Tribe).
Lignante was the artist who achieved fame of a sort by showing the Phantom’s eyes in the Queen Samaris XII story.
To this day, nobody knows how it slipped through the system or more importantly, why Bill deliberately did the unthinkable. Until near the very end of the Samaris saga, he had studiously stuck to tradition and drew the Phantom with his famous blank mask and it must be assumed he had been thoroughly briefed about Phantom lore. To my knowledge he never drew the eyes behind the mask on any other occasion!
Despite Lignante’s acknowledged talent, a parting of the ways was inevitable. Already at work on Treasure of the Skull Cave which immediately followed Samaris, he was replaced by Sy Barry, who performed a miracle by copying the Lignante art to avoid a sudden transformation. Picking the exact spot where Barry took over is next to impossible, but if you study the story carefully, the unique Barry style is very evident in the second half of the story.
Lignante was already an old hand with the Phantom when he helped out Wilsom McCoy in 1961 and created the Samaris epic the same year. He drew his first complete Phantom comic book for Gold Key in 1962, The Game, based on Lee Falk’s story, Ragon’s Game and went on to draw 17 full-length stories for that company, 1962-1966. In following years, he drew Phantom adventures for the old King range.
By our count, Lignante drew 30 stories (mainly short) for Gold Key, 16 for King Comics with backup Phantom features in a range of Mandrake the Magician stories published from 1966 (four Phantom stories appeared in a run of ten Mandrake editions).
Lignante’s first love was oil paintings and teaching art and until at least recent times, he was still active on the teaching front. While nothing is on file about his output of comic book and magazine covers, it seems evident he was highly prolific in this area.
Lignante ranks as a standout Phantom artist not only because he once showed the Phantom’s eyes behind the mask, but because he demanded, and usually got away with, showing the bulge of the Phantom’s ears beneath his cowl! He was also unusual with his liberal use of cross-hatching and accent on muscle formation (very much, incidentally, in the style of the late Keith Chatto).
One legend persists that Phantom creator Lee Falk was so upset at Lignante showing the Phantom’s eyes in Samaris that he insisted on his dismissal from the strip. Not so! When Lignante became involved with Lee’s stories in the early 1960’s, it was known he was filling in while Sy Barry completed various commitments to make himself available full-time for both the daily and Sunday Phantom strips. Lee and Lignante remained firm friends.
Virtually from the beginning of the Phantom, Lee trusted his artists implicitly. While it is correct that in the early days of the strip, he would add rough sketches to his script when Ray Moore drew the action, he soon settled down into the dialogue, captions and continuity panels, but described every panel as he imagined the image, to help the artist’s creativity. Such descriptions would include the positioning of the characters, lighting effect, backgrounds, facial expressions and any special movement requirements.
Lignante, like all Phantom artists, followed the Master’s directions to the letter, with exception, of course, of the infamous Samaris blunder! Such was the impact of that episode it can only be compared with the creators of Superman revealing early to the support characters that The Man of Steel, was in fact, the meek and mild Clark Kent and thus throwing away the potential for decades of mystery and suspense!
Bill Lignante, like the late Don Newton, still has a cult following among Phantom enthusiasts. That he worked as a Phantom newspaper strip artist for such a brief time, does not take away the importance of his contribution to the overall history of The Ghost Who Walks.
The same comment applies to Newton, Jim Aparo, Paul Boyette and Don Sherwood, who created such a wealth of stories in old American comic books which are little known to the vast bulk of Phantom followers in Australia.