First of all, I should thank each and every one you who have visited and recorded your wishes on the Second year anniversary of our blog. Needless to say every message of it goes a long way in strengthening my commitment towards our unique hobby. Once again Thanks a Ton and let the Show roll on.
What we have for our current blog post, is the Second issue of Muthu Comics for the year 2009, which has finally been published this month, closely following the Lion #206, released last month. Editor S Vijayan of Prakash Publishers, continues to amaze with his continuous release of classic titles, which I believe he would have long made ready, just waiting to see the daylight.
As advertised in Muthu #311, it features legendary American comics creator Lee Falk’s creation Mandrake the Magician, in a classic story from the 1940’s, where Mandrake goes toe-to-toe with one his fearsome foes, Ekardnam, from the world of Mirror People.
The cover-art once again is a stunning piece of work, which is following the footsteps laid by the recent Lion Comics edition, by utilising the same layout and colour choices. Good to see that the well adorned format, is being retained, adding all the more oomph for the classic stories being featured offlate.
Read on to have a preview of the original cover which inspired our Muthu edition, which will highlight the artistic talent of our locals.
Editor in his Comics Time, highlights the fact that this Mandrake Story was in their plans right from 1990. There was a widespread fan reaction, which was pretty mixed about the Mandrake stories, with some liking it and others despising its fantasy filled storylines. So, Editor’s apprehension about the future of the Mandrake in Muthu Comics, is understandable. Nevertheless, the story has finally been published after 19 long years, from the date it was originally advertised.
Mandrake was portrayed as a hypnotist, who used his powers to fight the criminals and enemies of his country, to mend the Wrongs to Rights. Mandrake is often touted as the first costumed superhero, even before Falk invented Phantom a couple of years later. The only reason why he wasn’t given that due credit, is because he wore a Magicians suite in his adventures, unlike other Superheroes who had a costume of their own.
Lee Falk (1911-1999) had a childhood fascination towards Stage Magicians, and it wasn’t a surprise that he chose his first Comic character to be based out on one of them, in the form of Mandrake. It is said that Falk conceived the idea of Mandrake in his early age of 19; But only in 1934, he managed to appear for an audition with New York’s King Feature Syndicates, which eventually was his first trip out of his hometown, St.Louis.
His theatrical passion, and good looks (doesn’t he look like the Classic American movie hero of that time?) was instrumental in getting him an audition with the Editors, even though he went there without a prior-appointment, and he successfully brokered a deal to syndicate his first comic strip by the name of Mandrake the Magician, at the the tender age of 21. But at that age he had 2 more years to complete his college education, so he offloaded the artistic work to Phil Davis, an established artist who also lived in St.Louis.
Thus Mandrake the Magician arrived in 1934, the same year which also saw the debut of classic comic strip heroes, in the form of Flash Gordon and Secret Agent X-9 (aka Phil Corrigan). It took 2 more years before The Phantom joined them on the top list.
Philip ‘Phil’ Davis (1906-1964), had a fascination towards drawing right since he was 6 year old, and it went a long way in him joining Washington University Art School. Along with his studies, he also worked as part-time artist for a telephone company, where he had his first tryst with commercialising his work. By 1928, he had a full-time artist job, while he also started illustrating covers for some magazines.
He eventually met Lee Falk in 1933, and their friendship was instrumental in Falk handing over the art work of Mandrake in 1934 to him, when he was looking out for a replacement for himself. It should be noted that one of Davis’s assistant was Ray Moore, who later became the official artist for Falk’s another creation, The Phantom.
Together, Davis and Falk then started to build a whole new fantasy world filled with incredible characters for Mandrake.
Mandrake was pictured as a Magician who learned his art from the College of Magic. He got a hi-fi home by the name of Xanadu, which was sophisticated with all the hi-tec gadgets and securities you can find in the world, with fortified gates, and video cameras all along.
He got a trusted ally, in the form of powerful Lothar, who was an African Prince who befriended Mandrake and decided to follow him in his crime fighting adventures. Lothar is often touted as the Strongest man in the world, with the only exception being Mandrake’s Chef and Secret head of International Crime fighting organization, Hojo, who is a renowned Martial fighter of his own.
It is said that Falk initially envisioned Lothar as the slave (or a little over slave) of Mandrake, but later changed that into friendship, due to the increased awareness being generated worldwide on Black welfare. Lothar can be safely considered as the first Afro-American to have got featured in a lengthy comic series so consistently.
Mandrake got a girlfriend, and later wife in the form of Narda, who is a Princess of her own for an European nation. Lothar’s girlfriend, Karma was also an African Princess, thus making Mandrake’s extended family a Royal one :).
Resemblance with Real-life Celebrity: It is often touted that Falk initially envisioned Mandrake’s appearance, keeping him as a role model, which Falk himself did admit in few interviews. But, it should be noted that he had lot in resemblance to then then famous Stage Magician, Leon Mandrake, who was often referred in full as Leon Mandrake the Magician.
He also was known for his top hat, scarlet lined cape, and boasted a pencil line moustache, which you can prominently find in the comics form Mandrake too. The real Mandrake was performing over 10 years before Falk envisioned his comic character. So, it is all likely that he would have taken some inspiration from him for his creation.
Though Falk never admitted this resemblance, the comic strip lead to a strong friendship between Phil Davis and Leon Mandrake, when they eventually met during one of Mandrake’s Magic show tours. They remained good friends throughout their entire life, ever since.
The partnership was broken in 1964, when Davis died of a heart attack.
Falk then recruited Fred Fredericks, to don the artistic role, who continues even today, for the longest tenure spanning more than 45 years. When Lee Falk passed away in 1999, he also took over the writing for the Mandrake script.
Fredericks brought the modernization to Mandrake script, to base him more on the Science Fiction fantasy stories. It was during Fredericks tenure that Narda & Mandrake finally got married in 1997, during one the stories. Frederick also modernized the look of Lothar, into the modern day dress code, which even though retained the Panther texture, this time on a close fit shirt. Lothar was also shown to have got well-versed with the American lifestyle and command over English language.
If you want to follow the daily strip which Fredericks works on, follow this link to King Feature Syndicates, which is updated on a weekly basis with an archive from last month.
Here is a Preview of it, where Mandrake campaigns for Save Earth.
Fellow comic enthusiast, and one of Mandrake’s greatest fan, Sagnik, provided this TimesUnion website, where you could enjoy a month load of Mandrake archives, until today. Enjoy, and thanks to the Mandrake Dude.
Overall, while Falk-Davis Mandrake stories were classic art of work, Falk-Fredericks duo made the series contemporary in style, making Mandrake fans to accept both forms of work as the true tribute to Falk’s legendary creations.
In India, Mandrake was published in multiple languages by erstwhile Indrajal Comics. In South India, it was published regularly by erstwhile Tamil Comics magazine Rani Comics in their line-up, and has been occasionally featured in the long running Tamil Comics magazine, Muthu Comics, one of which is the current month release.
Have you ever wondered, what if everything we known all along as the Rights and Wrongs, were all false, and it is the other way around? No one would like to imagine that weird situation. But, Lee Falk dared to dream of a world mixed with different set down, in this Mandrake adventure.
The story starts with Narda having a strange incidence of seeing her mirror image behaving differently and talking to her in a strangely scripted language. The mirror image of her, named Adran (reverse of Narda) claims that they are the real people, and gets into a confrontation with her. The mirror image strangely seem to have powers to enter our world, and along with Erkandam (reverse of Mandrake), and Rathol (Lothar), they abduct Narda into their Mirror world.
What Narda witnesses there is a whole new world, where policemen do day-time robbery, dacoits help people, Army generals serve as Security Guard, and Lift Operators, and the military is run by Privates at the Office. Narda comes to know of a threatening plot in which the Mirror world is staging a plan to capture the real word across the mirror, with the help of a new discovery made by Erkandam.
How does Narda get saved in the end, and manage to save her world makes up the rest of the story, where more than Mandrake, Narda plays a huge roll. There are some interesting pieces where Erkandam and Adran always tries to run down the people they see on the road, and Narda intervening in their hideous stuff to save the passerby's.
We would have hoped to see a real showdown between Mandrake vs Erkandam, who is touted to have the same powers of Mandrake, only differing from the cause they use it for. But, the confrontation is cut short, in this episode prematurely, leading the readers to expect more on the Mirror People saga.
Editor S.Vijayan has tried his hands on a new model of utilising reverse texting, exactly as it appears in a mirror image, which is pretty different method from what was adopted in the original, which simple change the order of text. There was some difficulty in the method, where the names didn’t have a meaningful reverse order, where Editor chose to rename it to suit the language in which it has been translated to. For eg., Narda’s (நார்தா) mirror image is called Daarna (தார்நா) and Mandrake’s (மாண்ட்ரேக்) mirror image called as Greatnaam (க்ரேட்ணாம்). A great work, indeed.
Original of Mirror Mystery: The weird world of Mirror People was originally published first in the 33rd episode of Mandrake strip, which ran from Oct 1944 to Dec 1944 for 10 weeks, under the partnership of Davis and Falk. It was later reprinted in full colour by Magic Comics (which is an imprint of King Features Syndicates, collecting their famous comic strips like Secret Agent X-9, Blondie, along with Mandrake), in a sequence of their titles. A soft copy of which you could obtain from a Mandrake fan’s comics blog, here.
It took another 2 decades, before the second episode of Mirror People appeared in the 126th episode of Mandrake Dailies, titled ‘The Return of Mirror People’, from Aug 1964 to Jan 1965, spreading over a lengthy 19 weeks. There was no further episodes of Mirror People then in the Davis-Falk partnership.
Our Muthu Comics (#312) edition of this current month, features this second story of Mirror People.
When Fredericks took over the mantle of Mandrake strip, he along with Falk brought back the Mirror People one final time, as the 210th Mandrake Daily strip, titled The Mirror Mystery, which ran for 22 long weeks between Nov 1991 to Apr 1992. Mandrake fans consider this as the best story of Mirror People so far, where Fredericks brought in a lot of change and innovation into the storyline envisioned by the former duo. Sadly, further episodes featuring Mirror People was never published.
Indrajal Comics, the most loyal publisher of Mandrake stories never managed to print any of Mirror People episodes. By the time the 3rd album was released in 1991, IJC had went out of business. (Thanks to Sagnik for the IJC info)
Diamond Comics of India, who had published most of the 1960-1992 Mandrake Daily strips in full colour, then published the 2nd and 3rd episodes of Mirror People during their run-up.
So, at present, Muthu Comics is the only publisher in India (and probably in the world) to have published a full fledged Mandrake story. Good to see the legend of Lee Falk’s living on.
Muthu #312: Extra Features: This edition of Muthu Comics was not only a treat for Mandrake fans, but it also features a short story one of Lion Comics' evergreen superhero, Robot Archie.
It’s one of those short stories where Archie plays his typical saviour role, this time in the cause of Pearl divers, by diffusing the mystery of a strange sea animal, which is causing a havoc among the sailing community. It was originally featured in one of the Annual Specials of erstwhile UK based Lion Comics, from the Fleetway Company.
As per the tradition, the Issue also contains an advertisement about the next two forthcoming Muthu Comics editions, which features:
- Yet another American classic comics hero from the stable of King Feature Syndicates, Johnny Hazard (who is christened in Tamil Comics as “Wing Commandar George”) in an issue titled ‘Vinnil Oru Kullanari’ (விண்ணில் ஒரு குள்ளநரி), meaning “A Fox in the Sky”; and
- Franco-Belgian comic star Ric Hochet (who is christened in Tamil Comics as “Super Reporter Johnny”), in a issue titled ‘Maranathin Nisaptham’ (மரணத்தின் நிசப்தம்), meaning “Silence of Death”
So, it’s going to be two more classic issues from the stable of Muthu Comics, which brings back the fan-favourites Hazard & Hochet from two different genres of comics world. I am eagerly looking forward for them.
The other advertisement is about the XIII Collector Special, which has become a prominent one to be featured in recent times. If you would have noticed these XIII advertisements in the past and present, you would see that Editor hasn’t used any of the images from the previous 10 albums of XIII, which were printed by them. Doesn’t it make for an interesting wait?
More than the other advertisements, I am more interested about the announcement of a Martin Mystery 2 part story which has been hinted in the Comics Time of Editor. When Muthu Comics #310 carrying Martin Mystery story was published, we had discussed the situation where Editor Vijayan had utilised all of the Martin stories which were released in English so far. So, we had even wondered whether he would now touch the Italian version of the same.
Even, during the Comics Time of Muthu Comics #311, Editor had hinted of the improbability of Martin appearing again in his future plans. But finally, he has decided to continue the much famous Italian comic hero, which is only good for all fans of Martin Mystery, including myself :)
The back cover of the Muthu Comics issue talks about the next Comics Classics edition, which once again features a golden oldie of Steel Claw, in his Superhero avatar. If you want to experience a dose of it, have a read on our last Comics Classics edition which featured him in his superhero form.
And as promised at the start of the post, here is the original cover upon which our present edition Muthu Comics cover was made-out. It was one of the covers from the 10 issue Mandrake series published by King Comics in United States.
Look at how the colour choices have been improved, even to the last minute detail of removing the sweat on the face of Mandrake from the original, which couldn’t go well with the Rose power makeup style of our Comics artists :). Also note the transformation of Lothar from a worried sober looking man, to a Bollywood sidekick, which comes with an added bonus of eye-brow makeover . Creativity on show. :)
For buying this comic, contact Lion/Muthu Comics Office @ +91 (04562) 272649. or mail them on email@example.com
Mandrake in other Media: It will be good that we end this Mandrake post, by looking at the other Media appearances of Mandrake.
Movie Serial: Flash Gordon and Secret Agent X-9 Comics strips, who debuted along with Mandrake in 1934, rose to immediate fame, and they had the Movie Serials made on them in 1936 and 1937 respectively. So Mandrake didn’t lag much, as he joined that elite list, when Columbia Pictures made a 12 chapter movie serial in 1939, which was aired in consecutive weeks, made famous in first half of 20th century.
TV Series: In 1954, NBC made a TV series Mandrake, without further episodes. It was followed then by another TV movie in 1979.
Mandrake then had a major role in the newly formed Defenders of the Earth team, which was portrayed in animated series, which saw King Features prominent comic strip heroes, forming a group to defend earth from the mischief makers. The series was aired from 1986-87, and is still very popular on DVDs, among comics fans.
MandrakeSoft: In 1998, when I had started my career in the Information Technology, there was a huge euphoria around Linux based Operating Systems. Many a companies were formed, among which one company attracted my attention, due to its name.
It was a French company called MandrakeSoft, who had named their Linux version as Mandrake Linux. I used to wonder, whether they had sought necessary permission to use the comic character name, because their logo was clearly resembling the comic version. But I never bothered to check further details.
While working on this post, I came to know that in 2003, there was a legal suit launched by King Feature Syndicates on MandrakeSoft, alleging copyright infringement, which the later ultimately lost. The company then changed their name as as Mandriva, after the court ruling. Seems publishers aren’t budging even a bit on aspects, which may demean their command over the world famous comic brand names.
Feature Film: In 2007, it was announced that Omega Entertainment, had acquired the rights to make a new move on Mandrake the Magician, and it was touted to be a 2009 release. Jonathan Meyers was drafted in as the lead actor, while Chuck Russell has been given the directorial duties. The movie is currently on hold, and the reasons for them are unknown, but it might be linked to Meyers history of addiction to alcohol and his legal run-downs. Hopefully, the movie would come out as planned, and honour the legendary creation of Lee Falk, which has long been pending for a reasonable movie credits. Does anyone remember that pathetic Phantom movie?
And that brings us to the close of our lengthy Mandrake post. And before we close, I hope there are many of us who would have thought what would happen to our dear old comic characters, when they reach the old age (even though it would never happen as far as the fantasy world is considered)?
Well, here is a humorous take on our very own Mandrake & Lothar, by the cartoonist Donald Soffiritti. He has quite a few of those funnies on other comic characters on his weblog. Have a look, and laugh your guts out . Adios Amigos !