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March 13: The Phantom and Mandrake the Magician

Lawrence Bush
March 12, 2017
Lee Falk (Leon Harrison Gross), creator of the enduring comic strips "The Phantom" and "Mandrake the Magician," died at 87 on this date in 1999. The Phantom strip began in February 1936 and achieved a presence in more than 500 newspapers. It featured a costumed crime-fighter operating from a fictional African country called Bangalla who was the twenty-first in a line of crime-fighters. The Phantom had no superpowers but did have a reputation for immortality. He was the first comic hero to wear a skin-tight costume. The Mandrake the Magician began in June 1934 and featured a magician capable of hypnosis, telekinesis, shape-shifting and other powers, accompanied by his African strongman prince, Lothar. Lee Falk was also a playwright and theater owner who directed numerous Hollywood stars, including Marlon Brando, Basil Rathbone, Ethel Waters, Paul Newman, Shelley Winters, and Paul Robeson, among many others. In 2013, Falk was inducted into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame for cartoon artists. "I think the art of writing a comic strip is closer to the theater and to film technique than any other writing I know." --Lee Falk

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.