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the Magician

August 30, 2009

Of all the mystics and magicians of comics lore, Mandrake the Magician is king. He first appeared in 1934 as a King Features comic strip by Lee Falk, who also created The Phantom.

Traditionally top-hatted and tuxedoed, Mandrake used his powers of hypnotism and illusion to fight mortal enemies and supernatural ones.

Interestingly, the came of Falk's childhood fascination with magic. Falk first dreamed up Mandrake at the age of 19 and drew a small cache of strips, just in case any syndicate would show immediate interest. It took ten years to sell his idea, but from the moment Mandrake materialized on the comics page, he was a mainstay.

His companions were two members of royal families: Lothar, an exceptionally strong African king and Narda, the princess of a little-known European kingdom. With interesting fringe characters (he would eventually enjoy a very lengthy engagement to Narda) and the quintessential arch enemy--the Tibetan mystic who originally trained him,-Mandrake was armed with all the elements needed for comic strip longevity.

But he wouldn't stop at newspapers. He made his comic book debut in 1936's King Comics #1, then appeared in a 12-episode Columbia Pictures chapter play three years later. Mutual Network gave him his own radio show from 1940 to 1942. And decades later, in 1979, he appeared in a made-for-TV movie.

Lee Falk authored every strip until his death in 1999. The Sunday Mandrake strip survived him by four years, finally ending its 60+ year run in 2002.

You can still find Mandrake the Magician in contemporary fare, of course, and you should never bet against him making a comeback.

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