Phil Davis

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Phillip Marquis Davis
Phil Davis-40s.jpg
Biographical information
Born: March 4, 1906
Died: December 16, 1964
Nationality: Mini usa.gif American
Occupation: Artist
Website: N/A


Life and career

Phillip Marquis Davis was in St Louis, Missouri on March 4, 1906. His father was Charles Henry Davis and his mother was Ethel Herchenrath Davis. Phil had an older brother Hugo (b.1903) and a baby sister Emily (b. 1908). At the age of 6 Phil got deeply interested in drawings: "I had a mania for parades”, he says. “I drew every parade I could see. My family neither encouraged nor discouraged me; they just went along and accepted my dark fate."

During a summer vacation when he was 12 years old - that was during the first World War - he got a job as a tool boy in the Liberty Motors plant. There he met Franz Berger, who used to be captain of Purdue University's baseball and football teams. Berger was a mechanical engineering professor at Washington University - also doing a war job during the summer - and he encouraged Phil to take a manual training course at high school. Phil did, with every hope of becoming an engineer.

When he graduated from Soldan High School, his family was in financial trouble, and he had to get a job right away. Because of his training in mechanical drawing he was able to work in the technical department of the Bell Telephon Company as a draftsman. Then young Davis hit a series of bad luck streaks. He'd been sick in the flu epidemic, and had a form of sleeping sickness as an after-effect. The phone company had to transfer him to outside work - switch-board installation - but the continuing effects of the sleeping sickness made him undependable and he was laid off.

Phil tinkered with radio and got a first-class ham license (9 EDD). He took night-school courses in trigonometry and drafting, and finally hooked up with a civil engineering firm, where his lettering work was very much admired. One day the head draftsman said, "Why don't you try commercial lettering? There's a lot of money in that!" Phil took a Y.M.C.A. course in showcard lettering, and bought all the books on the subject that he could find. His first commercial art work appeared in St. Louis Post Dispatch in 1928. On May 16, 1929 he married Helen Culbertson, the daughter of late Mr, and Mrs. Barnette Culbertson. They made their home at 5316 Pershing avenue and their son, Phil, was born in 1930.

Through a series of small art jobs as a free lance artist (spending the night at Washington University art school, studying figure painting and illustration), he finally landed in a advertising agency who calling themselves The Illustrators Inc. The agency was in the 12.th floor in the Louderman Building, where several commercial artists rented a studio together, with Al Parker as the main illustrator. Shortly after US Liberty Magazine printed a Phil Davis cover for the September 1933 issue a young man named Lee Falk came walking into his office.

Mandrake - The Early Years

Lee Falk came with his idea for an adventure strip, suggesting a partnership. Phil Davis worked out the physical appearance of characters in a story, which he figured could be serialized indefinitely, and made up a two-week sample. Part of Falk’s stake was to finance his own trip to New York to try to sell it. And right away Mandrake the Magician landed in the New York Journal under the heading "Floyd Gibbon's daily page of thrills and mystery” June 11, 1934. On November 5 Phil re-married Martha Grocott Walter, whom later became the head fashion artist in Vandervoort's art department. And in 1935 (February 3) the first Sunday page with Mandrake was to been seen in the newspapers.

"I didn't have any idea of the amount of work involved in a comic strip," Phil recalls. "I nearly killed myself in Mandrake's first year-working 14 hours every day, and 5 hours on Sunday besides! There's a lot of difference between taking a week to do one drawing for an advertisement - and doing 24 complete drawings for six comic strips! "Still, I wouldn't go away from my anatomically correct figures to do the faster type of cartoon illustration. Anyway, once you start a strip, the Syndicate wants it to be always exactly the same. "But all this pressure has had its advantage. By doing good art for Mandrake, I don't lose my touch, and I can always do commercial work in addition. I find that Mandrake has made me a better artist, and a much faster worker."

In the beginning Phil Davis did all the artwork himself. Late 1935 Phil Davis sublet parts of the ink work to a man named Ray Moore, whom later became the first artist of the other Lee Falk figure – The Phantom. It is believed that Ray Moore worked on the Mandrake dailies from the strip printed the January 13, 1936, since Phil Davis stop signing the strips with his own name.

In 1939 Phil Davis had developed a tight work schema so that he could be 4 weeks ahead the publication dates, so at:

  • Mondays he roughing out the six strips of dailies and one page of the Sundays.
  • Tuesdays and Wednesdays he spent tree hours in pencilling one strip in the morning, afternoon and evening.
  • Thursdays he pencilled the Sunday page.
  • Fridays he spent inking in.
  • Saturdays at noon he picks up his wife and they went to their weekend house at Big River, in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains.

As assistants he had a pen and ink draftsman, to whom he sublets part of his pen work, and another part time worker (Eddy Walcher) did the lettering.

From 1940 he took up his carer as an illustrator and did commercial illustrations for various companies, Coca-Cola etc. In 1941, Phil Davis received a $500 award as the winner of a medal-design contest of the American Newspaper Publishers Association ($ 500). The medal he designed was presented annually to the winner of an annual essay contest open to students of journalism on The Achievement of the Daily Newspaper in Public Service.

Mandrake - The WW2 Years

About 1941 his wife Martha, gave up her career as fashion artist for on of St. Louis department store, to assist him in preparing Mandrake drawings. Martha had a great influence on women's costumes, those of Narda in particular. During WW2 he served as an art director for Curtis-Wright Aircraft Corp in St. Louis. He did most of the technical illustrations for the instruction book of the Curtiss A-25 Dive Bomber, and found time to write the operational data for the radio equipment used by the plane. During this time Martha sometime did the entire strip and as Phil Davis said in 1948: "And now," says Phil, "she's just as good as I am! After the war, she didn't want to leave Mandrake - so now we work together, and each of us can do any part of the job, or finish the work of the other one."

Mandrake - Pre WW2 - the Fifties

In 1948 Phil Davis did his work at whichever of the places he happens to be, his studio downtown, his studio at his home or at his drawing boards in his country house.

Lee Falk mailed two or three months' supply at a time. Phil studied the script, edit it a little, cut down the amount of talking the characters did (on account of space limitations) and proceeds to rough out in pencil. When he had six strips finished that way, he sendt them over to a lettering man who inked in all the lettering. Sometimes a balloon would take more or less space than Phil had estimated, and with the lettering in first, he could adjust the drawings to fill the panels properly. Phil Davis said in 1963 that he illustrated the art comprehensively in pencil and then Martha did the rendering (ink).

Little are known about his life outside his work on Mandrake. But it is known that he had a complete power-tool woodworking shop in his country house, and that he did most of the cabinet work, plumbing and electrical work out there. He liked to swim in the river and lake behind his property. He did a little hunting, and played with his two dogs: Julius, a French poodle and Max, a dachshund.

In 1963 Phil Davis suffered a heart attack. He died of a second attack at St John's Mercy Hospital on December 16, 1964. He was survived by his brother Hugo H Davis and his sister Emily Price Drimmel.

Martha Davis continued the art for the ongoing dailies and Sundays until Fred Fredericks became the new artist on the "Mandrake the Magician" in 1965.

Press annoucement

Sources

See also

Spotlight on Phil Davis - Other illustrations