Using this translation turn the pages a bit odd - sorry

Phil Davis and Martha Davis

by P Davis

by M Davis

Phil Davis and Lee Falk

When Phil Davis started to draw Mandrake he used a style very close to what Alex Raymond did on his Secret Agent X-9. Alex Raymond started 3 (!) comic strips for the newspapers in january 1934.

The first was the daily strip with Secret Agent X-9 and the other was a sunday page with Jungle Jim on top and Flash Gordon on the rest of the page.

I have read that Phil Davis did assist (1*) Alex Raymond on his Flash Gordon strip, and this must have been a time before the first Mandrake strip in the 11th of June 1934. If so, let's say that the artist (s?) had been working some times with the three strips (they have to draw some samples, sell them to KFS, KFS have to sell the strips to newspapers and so on....) and that the first strips was drawn during the summer, early autumn 1933.

Phil Davis was trying to find himself a job as an illustrator (he sold a cover to the US Liberty Magazine for their 1934 january or february issue) and might well have been in touch as assistant on some of Raymond's strips during the winter 1933-34. Maybe he did the lettering work on some of the strips (it is not on Flash Gordon ! :-), because Phil Davis was a educated lettering worker at this time.

Maybe this comic experience was the reason why Lee Falk and he did start talking with each other during the winter 1933 - 1934 at the St. Louis advertising agency, - talking about a new strip and how this could be a way of getting them both a nice income ? Lee Falk did read comic strips in the newspapers and if we have a look at his plots for his first adventures of Mandrake the Magician and the Phantom we can see that he also had seen a lot of movies and read lots newspapers, pulp magazines and more classic literature. And he had this dream ............ about being a writer.

It is also possible that Lee Falk found the new strips by Alex Raymond in a local newspaper and start reading it and got this idea about a magician and start talking about his idea with the only artist he know about, his new fellow worker - Phil Davis. Lee Falk made up a start on a plot and Phil Davis draw 12 strips (two weeks), and it was these strips and Lee Falk's strange meeting (deepwods) with the KFS boss and their talk during a late dinner with a theater visit that they manage to sell to KSF.

The first two weeks of Mandrake the Magician

Lee Falk did (2*) tell that he himself draw the two first weeks of the strip, with himself as a model for the figure (there was nobody else in the room) and the hired Phil Davis for the artwork, and that he worked together with Phil Davis and Ray Moore (from early 1935) with the pencil layouts - must have been june 1934 in to 1936 when the Phantom was created.

I do have two interviews with Phil Davis, one from 1939 and the other one from 1948, and there Phil Davis said that he did the first two weeks of Mandrake and he does not mention anything about artistic help from Lee Falk or Ray Moore.

He did all the work himself, the layouts, the lettering and inking - it was just before the 1939 interview that he had hired some assistants, one for the lettering and one for some help with the inking.

He didn't mention anything about Alex Raymond either. Many years later Lee Falk said (2*) that Phil Davis once use a sunday page from Flash Gordon as a model for some rearing horses on a Mandrake page.

The artwork in 1934

One way or an other, Phil Davis style was close up to Alex Raymond on his Secret Agent X-9.

stage camera angle, and a "P Davis horse"

A kind of stage panorama with one camera angle that shows the characters small and in whole figures. The background in most of the panels, both in Secret Agent X-9 and Mandrake, are full of details - and this must have taken some time to fill in.

Phil Davis used the same dry brush style that Alex Raymond used - this would also make it easy for an assistant to ink the strips - they just have to follow his pencil layout.

There is a small change in the drawing style from the third week of Mandrake the Magician. In the first two unsigned weeks (Lee Falk as assistant ?) for the dailies there is an unique inking, where small horizontal lines was used to illustrate the night time and a mysterious dark room.

early Mandrake

early ink

When Phil Davis next start working (late spring 1934 with week 3 of Mandrake) on the strip he did not use the horizontal lines anymore.

Phil Davis had started to draw in a realistic style, although the characters was a bit stiff and naive light cartoon like (touch from Dick Tracy). He did not use any light effects in his pictures, the shadows are covered with black ink, also on Mandrake's suit. A new inking technique can been seen starting from the panels of the 16th of july in 1934, where the suit of Mandrake (and other dark parts in the pictures) now have gray light reflections - made by a raster technique.

At this early point in the creation for the strip the artwork was a bit unstable. The figures in some of the panels have a strange anatomy, the heads sometime was a bit to large (or small) compared with the bodies. Mandrake's face changes a bit from strip to strip but keep the early rough naive look, while the other figures slowly change away from the naive to a more photo realistic style.

early rear image

So in the middle of winter 1934-35 the panels look a bit strange, with figures in a realistic style while Mandrake and Lothar were in a more rough naive style. We can see some panels with Mandrake where Phil Davis tried to draw him more realistic, but in the next panel he has the rough look again.

Most of the panels shows Mandrake very small in whole figure or from the back so Phil Davis did not have to draw his face. Maybe this also was a technique for a faster way to draw the strips ?

During the summer 1934 Lee Falk and Phil Davis made two pages for a Mandrake sunday strip, and they manage to sell it to KFS, and the first sunday page was published at the 3th of february in 1935.

We can feel the shadows of Phil Davis workload at this time when we read the interviews from 1939 and 1948. He complain about that he worked "day and night - 7 days a week" with the strip (s) in the early days, but that KFS wanted the visual image of the Mandrake strip they had bought. Did Phil Davis have new ideas about how to draw Mandrake ? A more simple way of drawing the characters and backgrounds, or ?

A dramatic change in the artwork in 1935

the new look

In january / february 1935 one can see that Mandrake changes from the stiff naive look and the anatomy is much better drawn. Mandrake's head now are better looking, the shoulders larger and his cape longer with a bit of life (like the cape of Batman).

the new look

At the end of february also Lothar changes, he become taller and got himself large muscles.

The backgrounds also look a bit more different, the landscape now playing a bigger part in the picture and all the small details have disappeared.

Summing up the lines are longer and more elegant and the artist focus on the characters, with a more open landscape background.

What was it that make this quite dramatic change in the artwork ?

First it have to do with the large format of the sunday pages, where Phil Davis find that he could use his talent as an illustrator to make nice and large realistic and more anatomic correct pictures in his work.

And second, Ray Moore become a part of the creation team, mostly with the inking. This gave Phil Davis more time to work with the pencil layouts, so that he didn't have to struggle so much against the deadline for each strip.

If we have a small look at the timeline we find that the two first sunday pages must been drawn before the 16th of july 1934 (due to the style and the inking on Mandrake's suit). Then there was tree sunday pages with style between the large change of style before we can see the same changes as in the artwork on the dailies at the end of february in 1935.

How much did Ray Moore influence on the art style and the look of the figures from now on ?

The style had followed what Alex Raymond have done with his Flash Gordon's and Jungle Jim's page (s) during the same time, but in addition Phil Davis uses his skill as an illustrator in drawing his strips.

If we have a closer look at the changes in the artwork on the Mandrake strips, we also can see something new in the inking and how this was used to make shadows in the panels. The inking is more heavy and darker then before - the hand of Ray Moore - , as can been seen in the beginning of the first adventure with the Phantom, which started at the 27th of february in 1936.

The "spare" time that Phil Davis found when Ray Moore assisted him was used to develop the look of Mandrake and Lothar and to experiment with the sunday page format. Phil Davis draw several close up pictures of Mandrake, he experiment with the camera angle in pictures, the format of the panels on the sunday page and so on.

Once more I read through the Mandrake dailies and sundays from 1934 and 1935, comparing them with the first Phantom adventure drawn by Ray Moore. Except form the inking I could not find any similarity between their way of drawing. All new elements in the new style of Phil Davis I found echo's of in his previous strips.

It is only in the inking of some panels in the Mandrake strips from 1935 one can find similarity, comparing with the first adventure of the Phantom by Ray Moore

The use of models

from a western magazine ?

One do not find many pictures from Phil Davis that shows that he did use various photos as models for his art. But I see that he had one small problem, he could not draw animals.

Mostly the animals (up to 1964 !) looks like cuddles, something children could have played with. One can find the horses Lee Falk (2*) told about, and one other horse taken from a photo, but mostly I don't think he used any photos as models - except maybe for some of the buildings ?

If Phil Davis used any real people to inspire him making the look of the people Mandrake meet in his adventures is a bit hard to say. I don't have any pictures or information about the people around Phil Davis, or any idea about who the US celebrity's from that time were. But I will guess that one could find various real people in the characters around Mandrake.

Phil Davis continue to develop his style

Reading the duel scenes with Prince Paulo the Tyrant (ms-370314-370829) each panel are works of art. The figures are gracefully appealing and beautifully rendered, the castle is beautifully, Mandrake noble and Lothar powerful. The art of Phil Davis was at its peak. One do not se exactly the same in the smaller strips for the dailies, but it is mostly caused by the format of the strip I believe.

During the autumn 1937 the drawing style loose this "art-feeling", althought the images still is very fine and not bad at all. But one get an impression that the artwork beginning to be more routine.

From the 1939 interview we learn that Phil Davis had hired some assistants helping with the lettering and inking last year and that Phil Davis manage to take some days of from his work i 1938. - And that he was married with the head fashion artist in Vandervoort's art department.

Mandrake was a big hit and I will believe that the income for the Davis family in 1938 was large. Phil Davis hired assistant and was able to have a more normal working day and also find time to spend together with his wife.

The One Pages

Something is a strange in the years of 1939 and 1940. There are several "fun" pages with Mandrake, witch is not a part of any of the Mandrake adventures. These are stand alone pages, often with a kind of joke at the end.

There had been tree daily strips (1934, 1935 and 1937) "off" the adventures before, but these was made for the x-mas day. The one pagers was something new.

Working on this part !
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Mandrake the Magican and the Phantom is copyright 2018 King Features Syndicate Inc., The Hearst Corporation