Master Magician: An Interview with Lee Falk, Part One

By Jeremy Meltingtallow

Many Web users like to post old images and photos on Thursday. This practice is known as Throwback Thursday. We thought it would be a perfect time as any to post an in-depth interview with legendary comic strip creator, Lee Falk (1911-1999).

This four-part interview was first conducted in 1995, and Part One is published today with permission from The Jade Sphinx.


Some men are touched in profound ways by the magic stuff of their boyhood.

A case in point is comic strip legend Lee Falk. He read the stuff of boys, and it stayed. He was touched by Burroughs’ Tarzan and Kipling’s Mowgli, and with a little world myth thrown in, created The Phantom, The Ghost Who Walks, The Man Who Cannot Die. And now, at 83, he still does it, turning out the adventures of the Phantom three generations of boys later. In fact, 1996 is the 60th Anniversary of The Phantom, and Falk still writes his daily adventures.

That is not all. In 1934, Falk, then a college student with dreams of being a writer, created the elegant Mandrake the Magician, an avenger in evening clothes and suave mustache, one of the ultimate icons of 1930s heroism. Mandrake’s adventures are still widely read, and still scripted by the energetic Falk. Lee Falk is a working legend. He has holds the world’s record for writing the continuing adventures of any comic strip character, and with The Phantom, created the costumed superhero. The Phantom’s 60th Anniversary will be marked with a new Phantom film from Paramount, starring Billy Zane as the masked avenger, and Treat Williams as the villain. Based on several stories penned by Falk, and set in the 1930s, this promises to be a treat comic strip lovers will not want to miss. I caught up with the busy Mr. Falk at his home in Manhattan’s Upper West Side in June 1995.


Could you give us some background on yourself?


Well, I was born in Missouri, many years ago. I started Mandrake in 1934, when I was still in University of Illinois, and started The Phantom two years later. I’m very proud that this is the 60th Anniversary of The Phantom, and Mandrake is still going strong at 62. I still write them both, always did, daily strips and Sunday papers. I haven’t drawn them in many years, many, many years. It takes more than two or three men to do that much work!


When I first started, I first drew Mandrake for fun for myself. I drew up two weeks of daily strips, and took my time with it, very slow, and made changes. I had some help from an older artist. Then I sent these two weeks of daily strips for Mandrake to King Features, and, to my amazement, they optioned them! And they wanted a Sunday page, too.


So I suddenly realized that these are not cartoons, these are illustrations. Whereas old friends of mine like Al Parker and Bud Briggs, well known magazine illustrators at the time, could do one or two illustrations in one week, here I had two comic strips with about 18 panels a week, with another eight panels or so for Sunday. Each panel is an illustration. A lot of work. Eventually I got Phil Davis to take over Mandrake when I started The Phantom.


To read the full interview, please click here.

Remember to visit the Mandrake the Magician  website frequently as portions of this four-part interview will be posted regularly for your reading pleasure.