Madge’s Magic: A Look at a Forgotten Graphic Masterpiece

March 24, 1907 (click to enlarge)

March 24, 1907 (click to enlarge)

Jenny E. Robb and Richard D. Olson examine Madge, the Magician’s Daughter by the little-known W.O. Wilson.

In 1906 and 1907, W.O. Wilson drew Madge, the Magician’s Daughter for the North American Co. The strip appeared regularly as the front page of the San Francisco Call Sunday comics section. It was an exciting strip that combined the two leading characteristics of successful newspaper comics of that period: one or more children who often seemed to get into trouble and some elements of surrealism. Further, given Wilson’s artistic abilities and storylines, it is no surprise that Madge was very popular.

What is surprising, however, is that today the artist, the strip and even the newspaper have become all but anonymous. W. O. Wilson is the invisible man. Almost no biographical information about him has survived, not even his first name. His earliest work seems to be a full-page cartoon on the automobile in the April 6, 1899, issue of the New York Herald. He had other one-shot comics and then drew The Richleigh Family from May 1 to Oct. 23, 1904. Next he created The Wish Twins and Aladdin’s Lamp, which was published from Oct. 30, 1904 to Jan. 5, 1908. The very next week, Wilson started a strip titled Ba Ba, which only lasted until July 26 of that year. Madge, the Magician’s Daughter overlapped the Wish Twins and was published from at least Sept. 2, 1906 to Aug. 25, 1907.

When Wilson stopped drawing newspaper comic strips, he did not abandon cartooning altogether. He contributed single-panel cartoons and illustrations to the thriving magazine market, including Harper’s Weekly, Puck, Life and Judge. His work continued to appear in weekly magazines until at least 1918. The tag “suggested by A.Crawford” or “+a.c.” frequently followed Wilson’s distinctive signature in his magazine cartoons. Arthur Crawford provided gags and ideas to numerous artists in the early twentieth century and acted as an agent by submitting portfolios of cartoons to various magazine editors. He committed suicide after suffering a nervous breakdown in 1922.

Many of Wilson’s Judge cartoons were reprinted by the Leslie-Judge Co. in an anthology series called Caricature: Wit and Humor of a Nation in Picture, Song and Story. In addition to his magazine and newspaper work, Wilson illustrated a book written by Marian A. Hilton called The Garden of Girls: A Story, published by the Tandy-Thomas Co. in 1909.

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