Comics / Comic Reviews / Comic Strips

Mandrake the Magician: The first Superhero in Comics and Life


By Hervé St-Louis
January 1, 2022 - 21:00

Mandrake the Magician is a classic comic strip character first published by newspaper syndicate United Features and created by American cartoonist Lee Falk in 1934, two years before the latter created the official “first superhero” in comics, the Phantom. Mandrake was a magician who would trick villains as he travelled the world with his partner, super strong and super durable African prince Lothar, who in effect was the first black superhero. But there was another Mandrake the Magician that tends to be forgotten, that appeared on the stage before his eponymous comic strip counterpart. Let’s explore the history of Leon Mandrake, magician, and mentalist.

Born in 1911, Canadian Leon (Gioglio) Mandrake was a stage magician based in Vancouver, Canada who starred on stage under the label Mandrake the Magician as early as 1927. He travelled North America and performed as Mandrake the Magician across North America. Ironically, according to Don Markstein, Falk had created the comics strip Mandrake the Magician in 1924 but only submitted it for print years later. The comic strip character that looked eerily like Gioglio.


The resemblance between the fictional character, and the stage magician was acknowledged early on, and the King Features creators and Gioglio would play with meta-narrative crossovers over the years, without any conflict involving copyrights nor trademark. These were the days! Both the stage magician wore tuxedos, were skinny and had fine moustaches. Both enjoyed a living entertaining guests and audiences for years.

Leon Gioglio performed his last show in 1985, again in his native British Columbia and died in 1993. While we don’t know if Gioglio foiled nefarious plots by villains and dictators as his comic strip brother did, the question of whether Falk had based his fictional character directly on the stage magician was never resolved.


The Comic strip’s Mandrake the Magician, of course survived his real-life counterpart and continues to appear in comic strips, comics, cartoons, television and a host of other media. The titular comic strip ended in 2013 when the current cartoonist Fred Fredericks retired. Prior, Falk had worked on the strip as a writer, joined by cartoonist Phil Davis in 1934 until his death in 1964. Mandrake the Magician is the prototype for many popular comic magicians such as Zatara, his daughter Zatanna, Sargon the Sorcerer, Ibis the Invincible, and many more.


The Surrey Museum, in British Columbia, Canada ran an extensive exhibit on Mandrake the Magician that looked at both the fictional and the stage artist, early in 2021. An online virtual tour is still accessible from the Surrey Museum for those interested in accessing the exhibit.

Last Updated: August 31, 2023 - 08:12

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