Lee Falk, Comedian

By | Tuesday, June 26, 2012 1 comment
Lee Falk is, of course, known for some of the most famous adventure comic strips from the early part of the 20th century. The Phantom is probably his best-known creation, but Mandrake the Magician runs a close second. It's Mandrake who really set the stage (if you'll excuse the pun) for so many magician characters, from Ibis to Zatara and, by extension, Zatanna. But Mandrake was first, appearing in 1934. Some comic historians consider him comics' first superhero. (I don't want to get into that debate, though!)

In both his Phantom and Mandrake stories, Falk largely focused on adventure. The stories had a very pulp feel to them, and concentrated more on the propelling the story forward with action, moreso than characterization or drama. In Mandrake, Falk was assisted by artist Phil Davis essentially from the start

So I was surprised to stumble across this Mandrake comic strip from 1939...
Let's set aside the ugly racial stereotypes in the dialogue and art for a moment, and just look at the basic structure of this particular comic. A barker encourages Lothar to pay ten cents for a half-hour of entertainment in his arcade. Lothar promptly tries several machines geared to test one's strength in various ways, and he turns out to be so strong that he inadvertently wrecks each machine, seemingly oblivious to both his own strength and the intent of the barker. It's... a gag. From Lee Falk.

Lee Falk, action/adventure writer, did a gag strip. In a five-year old comic that had been firmly established as not-a-gag-strip. I'm just left scratching my head on what prompted the sudden change for this one strip. Anyone else ever see examples of Falk's attempts at gag strips like this?
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Richard said...

This is very much like a Popeye strip, but even more like a Fleischer Brothers Popeye cartoon. There's one called "Customers Wanted" from January 1939, the same year as this, in which Popeye and Bluto lay waste to each other's rival penny arcades with similar gimmicks as seen here in a futile effort to get Wimpy as a customer. There are a few others featuring arcade and sideshow settings as well. I wonder if it could have been a deliberate nod to the spinach-loving sailor?