Madge’s Magic: A Look at a Forgotten Graphic Masterpiece
Madge, the Magician’s Daughter is now an unknown comic even though it was the front-page headliner of a major newspaper’s comic section. The pages reprinted here show an attractive young girl who has difficulties when she tries unsuccessfully to impress her friends by doing magic tricks that she has watched her father perform. As we looked at these pages, we could not help but think of Mickey Mouse in his role as the sorcerer’s apprentice. Wilson’s strip appeared 30 years before the Disney version, which was based on the traditional German fairy tale interpreted as a poem by Goethe in 1779. Perhaps Goethe’s poem also inspired Wilson when he created the comic strip’s central device.
The best-known fantasy strips published at that time, such as Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland and Lyonel Feininger’s Kin-der-Kids and Wee Willie Winkie’s World, starred boys, but Wilson made his child protagonist a girl and cast her in stories featuring dinosaurs, dragons, mermaids, pirates and Indians—the adventures usually associated with boys. The only similar example featuring a girl was The Naps of Polly Sleepyhead by Peter Newell, but after nine months Newell dropped the fantasy element and transformed it into a strip about children playing pranks. Also, unlike Polly, Wilson incorporated innovative panel formatting that added to the strip’s distinctiveness. Only two of the pages in the sample reprinted here use the same physical layout, although others use the same conceptual schema. For example, the pages with the chameleon, mermaids, dragon and sea monster each use a dynamic center panel to catch the eye, even though the shape varies from a rectangle to a circle to a diamond.
The San Francisco Call no longer exists. According to Faulkinbury, who has traced the history of many California newspapers, it started as the Morning Call in December 1856 and was renamed the San Francisco Call in March 1895. It merged with the Evening Post in December 1913 and became the San Francisco Call and Post until August 1929. At that time it merged with the San Francisco Bulletin and became the Call-Bulletin until August 1959.
Finally, Wilson’s work was distributed by the North American Co., which has also disappeared and should not be confused with the North America Syndicate (formerly called the News America Syndicate), acquired by King Features in 1987.