Cartoonists often draw heroes (i.e. principal characters) that resemble themselves.
This statement is trite, with varying degrees of accuracy, but it is doubly true in the case of “Mandrake the Magician,” drawn for King Features Syndicate by Phil Davis.
Not only can Davis put on silk topper and cloak and pass for Mandrake, but Mrs. Davis can slip into one of the fashionable frocks of Narda, the heroine, and Mandrake fans would see the resemblance.
Mrs. Davis, as a matter of fact, often draws Narda. An artist in her own right, and a fashion illustrator for a St. Louis department store until early in War II, Martha Davis got in the habit of drawing Narda—and sometimes the entire strip — when her husband was working with the Curtiss-Wright Corp., illustrating Air Force manuals.
“Without her help,” says Davis, “Mandrake probably would have folded.”
Mrs. Davis enjoyed her work on the strip so much she stayed on after the War. Now the couple produce it as a joint effort, but Phil usually does Mandrake and Martha usually does Narda. They work in a studio in downtown St. Louis, move out into the Ozarks in the Summer.
The strip was hatched when Lee Falk, a St. Louis advertising agency executive, asked Davis to draw a dozen panels on a speculative basis. Davis agreed and in 1934 Falk took the idea to New York and sold it. Falk has continued to supply the continuity. Artist and continuity writer are no longer geographically close. Falk, now a New Yorker, spends his summers in Massachusetts, where he is co-owner of Cambridge Summer Theater.
Mandrake is another strip with double-appeal—to the men for adventure action, and to the women because of the accurate modishness of Narda’s wardrobe.
Davis denies any resemblance, especially Mandrake’s lust for strenuous exercise.
“When I get the desire to exercise,” he says, “I just lie down for awhile until it passes.”