Spotlight on Lettering - Mandrake the Magician

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Subject: Lettering

Lettering in the Mandrake strips

In this artickle lettering is filling in narrative text and dialouge into captions and speech ballons. During the long run of Mandrake strips in the newspapers we find a variety of font’s, typefaces, calligraphy, letter sizing, layout and balloon shapes.

As part of his education Phil Davis had a Y.M.C.A. course in showcard lettering [1], and about this time had "bought all the books on the subject that he could find". During 1934 the lettering looking more and more like technical lettering, like in technical drawing:

old technical lettering

Early Lettering

the first daily strip.

In 1939 Phil Davis told [1] that he have found some satisfactory assistants:
"- a pen and ink draftsman to whom he sublets part of his pen work" and
"- another part time worker does the lettering."
"- I used to do it all myself," ...


The lettering in the first daily story is of varying quality. The lettering in most of the twelve first strips looks like done without a proper use of guidelines and letters and phrases are uneven. Gradually, as Phil Davis get more experience with the lettering, the letters changes a bit and becomes a little wider. Several early letters are characteristic:

  • Some letters tends to rise up to right like "B", "D", "G", "O" and "P". (the "P" and "D" are similar in Phil Davis' signatur)
  • The upper portions of the letters "P" and "R" predominate over the lower portion.
  • The right leg of "K" and "R" is away from the left stroke.
  • In the middle the "B" often connect the left stroke falling down left.
letters from the first daily story


The lettering at the first Sunday page is even more uneven than the first week of the dailies. Several letter are also different than the early dailies, like: "B", "C", "D", "G", "M", "O", "R" and "Y".

  • "M" with slopping sides.
  • The right leg of the "R" touches the left stroke.
  • "Y" with a diagonal lower portion.
letters from the first Sunday page

There may be two explanation for the differences in the letters.

  • First: someone other than Phil Davis did the lettering on the first Sunday page.
  • Second: the first Sunday page was made before the first "two weeks" of the dailies.

Keep in mind that in the first daily story there is a time gap between the last strip in week two and the first strip in week three. The "two first weeks" was made as a sample that Lee Falk would try selling to KFS in the spring 1934. It might well be that Lee Falk also brought with him to New York a sample or two of a Mandrake Sunday page.


Looking at how Mandrake's suit is inked gives a clue, supporting the second option. Mandrake's suit is inked all black in the first five Sunday pages (some exceptions in week 2 and 5), like in the five first weeks of the dailies (some exceptions in week 4 and 5). This indicates that the first five weeks of the Sunday pages were drawn and inked before the first Mandrake strip was printed in the newspapers on June 11, 1935. The letters in the Sunday pages for the weeks 2 - 5 are close to the first daily story.

An explanation of the different lettering on the first Sunday page may be that the first Sunday page was Phil Davis first attempt to draw Mandrake. And that he did the "two weeks" of the dailies afterwards, with more proper letters.

Supporting the first option is how Mandrake look in the first Sunday page. His face is more like how he is drawn after a few weeks run of the dailies. It would be strang if Phil Davis changed the letters typeface just for this one page. It is known that Ray Moore assisted on Mandrake before he became the artist on The Phantom February 17, 1936. The lettering on the first "two weeks" of The Phantom is likely done by Ray Moore, but is very different than for the first Mandrake Sunday page. The "M" and "W" looks different, and not infrequently Moore fails to connect the strokes that forms "B" and "R". If the letterer is not Phil Davis or Ray Moore it might leads to another opportunity, Lee Falk.

letters from the twelve first strips of The Phantom

Lettering in 1935 - 1939

In the third daily story the letters have changed to:

  • The upper portions of the letters "P" and "R" predominate over the lower portion.
  • The right leg of "K" and "R" is away from the left stroke.
  • The right leg of "R" also move more right and become longer.

For the first Sunday story the letters looks similar from the sixth page (Notice also the tail of the speech balloons in the page of April 28, last seen in the dailes May 11 1935).

letters from the third daily story

From the sixth week of Mandrake's fourth daily story the letter "J" is written with a top stroke. In the Sundays the letter "J" with the top stroke is seen at the page of September 1, 1935. About this time there are some experiments with the letter "M" with slopping sides, mainly in narrative text in the captions and in the name Mandrake.

In January 1936 one can see to different shaped "Y" letters in some strips, and the one with the diagonal lower portion are most commonly used for a time afterwards until it reverses in April/May 1939. It is interesting to look at the first "The Phantom" daily story from week 3 and on, the "J" and "Y" are like the one in Mandrake about the same time. Although in the Mandrake strips it still appears that Phil Davis did most of the lettering.

The letters in two captions in the fourth daily story deviates from the normal letters, looking more like the one in the first two weeks of "The Phantom".

letters from the fourth and fifth daily story

Eddy Walcher

Eddy Walcher has been mentioned as the letterer on both the Mandrake and "The Phantom" strips. He is mentioned in an article [2] from 1954. The article has a picture of Eddy Walcher lettering in on a Sunday page in his studio at his home in 3441 Magnolia avenue. He said he: "gets a week's run at the time and usually finished his job in a day." Looking at the letters in stories from 1954 showing "C", with a characteristic small stroke on top. The question mark is easily recognizable and beautifully designed. The letters "G", "K", "R" and "S" also have characteristic features. The "C" can be seen from early 1940's and "G", "K", "R" and "S" a bit earlier.

letters from ""Baron Kord"

The lettering in The Phantom strips early 1939 to mid 1942 have similarities with the lettering in the Mandrake strips, and it may well be that Eddy Walcher did the lettering on The Phantoms strips in this period. But more research is needed to draw any definite conclusions on the subject.

Lettering in 1956 - 1965

After Eddie passed away in late 1955 a new letterist is seen in the daily story "Michael" in the strip of January 2, 1956. In the Sunday story "The Castaway" the same letterist is seen in the strip of January 29, 1956. The new letterist has a simpler style than Eddy Walcher: the "C" without the characteristic small stroke on top, the "J" without a top stroke. Also the use of "I" as personal pronoun missing the top and bottom stroke. Notice the characteristic triangular shape of the exclamation point.

letters from "The Castaway"

Fred Fredericks

Fred Fredericks became the new artist on Mandrake from the daily strip of June 7 and the Sundays from the strip of June 27, 1965. He did the lettering himself in a similar style as in his previous strips, like in the "New Jersey Patriots" and "Under the Stars and Bars".

letters from ""The Traveller's Tale" and "The Cobra Returns"

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  1. 1.0 1.1 Marguerite Martyn. "The Man Who Draws Mandrake." St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, Missouri) 30 August 1939, p 3D
  2. Wagner, Ted P. "Work, not magic creates Mandrake" St. Louis Post-Dispatch - Pictures (St. Louis, Missouri) 25 July 1954, p 7