Tagged: Dan Herman

Ed Catto: Comics’ Original Mustachioed Magician!

Mandrake Covers for ComicMix 

Mandrake oct 30 1938The world has quickly forgotten that Iron Man was always kind of a B-level superhero. As you know, mid-tier comic titles like Iron Man or The Guardians of the Galaxy have now become blockbuster movie franchises. And next up is Doctor Strange, the thoughtful, deliberative sorcerer of the Marvel Universe who was always a well loved, but ultimately B-level player. We know that bigger things are in store for him as his cinematic manifestation, in the guise of actor Benedict Cumberbatch, was plastered all over downtown San Diego.

There have been several other comic book magicians with pencil thin mustaches and one was so popular that his adventures also enjoyed time on the big screen. It seemed like Mandrake should have broken out of that B-character ghetto by now.

Mandrake the Magician, created by Lee Falk (who created The Phantom almost two years earlier), is regarded by many comic historians to be one of comics’ very first superheroes. Falk was the original artist, but before long the masterful Phil Davis was brought in to handle those duties. Mandrake, with his faithful friend Lothar, started in the funny papers, and soon graduated to comic books, movies, radio and more. There was a television pilot developed in the 50s, a cartoon in the 80s and even a made-for-television-movie. Throughout the 50s and 60s, Mandrake was so big he was regularly parodied in Mad Magazine.

Mandrake_2 Don HeckThis character is a dapper magician, with slicked back hair and a tuxedo that would look great onstage in Vegas. In the early days, he employed reality-bending magic and traveled to the astral plane, not unlike Doctor Strange, but he would later settle into a routine of simply fooling evildoers with hypnotic trickery.

Mandrake seemed to have it all. His girlfriend was beautiful and exotic, and after a loooong courtship, they married. His best friend was an African strong man and prince. (In many ways, I think the bromance of Spenser and Hawk from the Robert B. Parker detective novels were a modern version of how that friendship could have been presented.) He was well respected in his community. Mandrake had an over-the-top house called Xanadu that could certainly be featured on MTV Cribs. Everybody loved him… except for dirty rotten crooks.

Lee Falk photoAnd Mandrake’s 60s comics even have that Silver Age Marvel feel. Mandrake #1, reprinted in Hermes Press Mandrake The Magician The Complete Series: The King Years: Volume One offers stories in that vein. The first story, for example, is illustrated by Marvel stalwart Don Heck and uses a real New York City location as a backdrop for adventure.

“If you like Silver Age Marvel comics, I don’t know how you couldn’t like it,” said publisher Dan Herman.

I should also note that Titan is reprinting Mandrake the Magician newspaper strips, while Dynamite spins new adventures of Mandrake in solo series and the Kings Watch team-up comic. As an aside, we had the honor of including a Mandrake the Magician backup in an issue of Captain Action a few years ago.

Over time, Mandrake drifted off the pop-culture radar while Doctor Strange came into pop-culture focus and is ready to take center stage this fall.

The Hermes Press collection, Mandrake The Magician The Complete Series: The King Years, Volume One is a celebration of Mandrake’s glory days. It collects five issues of Mandrake’s King series and Mandrake backup stories from Flash Gordon comics.

Mandrake Cover Vol_1This volume includes scans of original artwork, in that wonderful IDW/Scott Dunbier Style. A reprinted interview with Fred Fredricks, the “modern” Mandrake newspaper strip artist, also provides insights to the character.

But would there have been a Doctor Strange without a Mandrake? One might argue that via Mandrake and Lothar, we can see the prototype for Doctor Strange and his assistant Wong. Mandrake’s adventures harken back to a simpler time, when magicians and gangsters and super-villains all knew their place in the world, and the world’s most insidious problem could be solved in half a comic book.

Mandrake and Lothar, full of self-confidence and purpose, never thought of themselves as B-listers.

Ed Catto: How To Turn 80 In Comics

Phantom Issue #6 Cover_72 dpiA business magazine recently featured a story about the astoundingly short average life span of today’s companies, brands and product leaders. They noted that the average life expectancy of a modern company is something like 15 years. I think about a brand like PalmPilot, where one of my college buddies made a fortune, and how that name is practically a trivia question for this year’s MBA graduates. (“Is it a helicopter operator in Palm Beach?”) Likewise, cool companies they want to work for include Google and Lululemon – brands that didn’t exist 15 years ago.

So with all that in mind, let’s explore the opposite: the challenges of working with an 80-year-old brand in such a fickle climate.

Created in 1936, Lee Falk’s The Phantom was the first costumed comic hero. Bridging the gap of the masked vigilantes of the pulps (The Shadow, The Spider, etc.) and comic book superheroes, the Phantom enjoys a comfortable, ongoing popularity domestically and a rabid international fandom.

In fact, in occupied countries during World War II, the Phantom became a symbol of hope and resistance. And in Australia and New Zealand, seat at the pop culture table today is much closer to the head of the table than it is in the US.

So how does a domestic publisher best manage, and bring to life, this 80-year-old brand? I reached out to Dan Herman of Hermes Press, one of the US companies who license the Phantom from King Features.

Hermes Crew 2014Dan is a fast talking lawyer, but don’t hold that against him. He’s also a super-passionate fan, dedicated to creating top quality books and comics to spotlight his favorite characters and artists. And his knowledge of comic book history and geek cred runs deep.

Hermes Press offers a wide variety of books. They reprint classic characters like Brenda Starr and Pogo. They just created art books focusing on Jim Davis and Alex Raymond. At their San Diego Comic-Con booth last year, author Max Allan Collins was touting their new Mike Hammer collection.

Dan Herman is not afraid to zig while other publishers zag, either. While IDW has published reprints of Milt Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates, Dan publishes the later adventures by George Wunder. Following in the footsteps of the legendary Milt Caniff was difficult, but Wunder did it for an impressive 27 years. “I always felt that Wunder was not as bad as they said,” noted Dan.

Angst Free Zone

Dan feels The Phantom is a character that occupies a unique spot in heroic fiction. “In his own universe, he’s a myth. He’s only tangible in his own country. And part of the charm and power is that he ‘never dies’,” explained Dan.

Phantom Avon Cover 1_72 dpiAfter watching WB’s blockbuster Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice movie, Dan’s next observations seem all the more striking. The publisher explained that The Phantom is free of angst.

“He’s not really a revenge myth,” said Dan. “He’s a myth of the commitment to good.” In fact, noted Dan, The Phantom employs two icons. One is his dreaded Skull Ring, a symbol of punishment, and other is his Good Mark, a symbol of protection and hope.”

“The Phantom knows who he is, where he comes from and what his job is,” said Dan.

Hermes Phantom Comics

Hermes has embarked on an impressive quest to reprint The Phantom comic strips and The Phantom comics, but also wanted to add to the mythology with new comic book adventure. Dan explained he was asked, “Why don’t you create a new Phantom?”

His answer was clear and unwavering – he believes in the essence of the brand. “The Phantom is a myth and you have to keep the myth,” said Dan.

Hermes just published a Phantom series written by Peter David and drawn by Sal Velluto. It was an exciting period piece that delivered on the action and also cleverly tied up decades-old continuity questions.

Dan revealed that next up is another Phantom comic book series. In this new adventure, John F. Kennedy reaches out to the Phantom to send him on a secret assignment. And while the Phantom isn’t an American, he did attend school in the states and his wife is an American.

Alex Raymond Page 12_72 dpiIndustry veteran Ron Goulart is the writer, but the artist is new to comics. “We loved Sal Velluto’s art, but for this we wanted something different,” said Dan.

The new illustrator is a Hollywood artist, and he will be creating matte paintings in the style of the legendary Alex Raymond. “His work is on par with the best of George Wilson,” teased Dan. But he wasn’t ready to reveal the artist’s name to me at this time.

The Prose Phantom

In the 70s, Avon published a series of prose Phantom adventures. There were 15 paperbacks in all, many written by Phantom creator Lee Falk and all with excellent George Wilson covers.

To further develop this 80-year-old brand, Hermes will be reprinting these prose stories. And these tales are a treat for longtime fans, as they expand upon many of the adventures and settings in the classic mythology. “These stories filled in a lot of the blanks,” said Dan.

The new series will be published in the 5 x 8 paperback standard, and will be smyth sewn on a higher quality paper. A new one will be offered every other month for 30 months. Look for the solicitations in the upcoming May/June Previews.

Looks like busy times ahead for publisher Dan Herman and this particular 80 year-old hero.