'Sherlocko the Monk' (1904).

Charles Augustus Mager was an American painter of German descent who also had a comics career under the name "Gus Mager". He created various newspaper gag comics starring monkey characters which eventually evolved into his signature work, 'Hawkshaw the Detective' (1913-1947), a humorous detective comic. He also assisted Rudolph Dirks with his comic 'The Captain and the Kids'. Together with Dirks and Lyonel Feininger he was one of the most notable early German-American comics pioneers.

Early life
Charles Augustus "Gus" Mager was born in 1878 in New Jersey as the son of German immigrants. Relatives often send them humor magazines from Europe, which were an important early inspiration, particularly the work of Wilhelm Busch and Karl Arnold. Later on, the cartoons with humanesque animals by T.S. Sullivant were also influences on Mager's own work. By the time he was 20 years old Mager worked as a jewelry designer. On the side he drew sports cartoons which he managed to sell to various newspapers.

In Jungle Land
In April 1904 he became a cartoonist for The New York American and New York Journal, owned by William Randolph Hearst. Mager's early drawings were one-panel gag-a-day cartoons featuring charming anthropomorphic versions of monkeys and hippopotamuses. These eventually evolved into comic strips under the title '(In) Jungle Land' (1904-1906), sometimes retitled as '(In) Jungle Society'. Early installments were still text comics but the characters quickly adapted speech balloons. The strip was not related to later features with a similar title, such as 'In Jungleland' by Leo O'Mealia for the Associated Newspapers (1915-1915) and 'In Jungle Land' by Whitey for the Paramount Newspaper Feature Service (1927-1928).

Short-lived features
Mager also drew more short-lived comics which barely lasted a few weeks or months at most, like 'And Then Papa Came' (1904), 'Foxy Reynard' (1904), 'Trouble Bruin' (1904), 'It's Too Bad that Willie Stammers' (1905), 'Everyday Dreams' (1905), 'Cecil in Search of a Job' (1905), 'Oily John the Detective' (1905), 'Louis and Franz' (1905-1906), 'What Little Johnny Wanted' (1906), 'Troubles of Pete the Pedlar' (1906), 'Maybe You Don't Believe It' (1907), 'The Nerve of Some People' (1908), 'What Little Sammy Knows' (1908), 'The Merry Widower' (1908), 'Dogs is Dogs' (1909), 'A Misfit Fable' (1909), 'Ain't It?' (1909), 'And Not Only That' (1909-1910), 'O. Heeza Boob' (1912-1913), 'Obliging Otto' (1913), 'Time-Table Tompkins' (1913-1914) and 'Fifty-Fifty Family' (1925).

Mufti the Monk (in the San Francisco Examiner, 25/10/1907) by Gus Mager
'Mufti the Monk' (San Francisco Examiner, 25 October 1907).

Mager's Monks
On 22 April 1904 Mager started a long-running series with characters who were nicknamed "The Monk" (1904-1913) and whose first names ended with an "-o". Contrary to what one might assume from the title, they weren't monks, but monkeys. First in line was 'Knocko the Monk', soon followed by a whole group of monkeys all defined by one personality trait. Knocko was posh, Groucho grumpy and Braggo arrogant. Grafto opportunistic, Tightwaddo stingy, Henpecko submissive and Coldfeeto anxious. Nervo was brazen, Boneheado stupid and Forgetto absent-minded. Joko loved playing pranks, Hamfato couldn't act and Rhymo always spoke in rhyme. Most of these gag comics focused on one particular character or had them interact with one another. Some only ran for a couple of days but they still had a considerable impact on popular culture back in the day. Many vaudeville comedians in the 1900s and 1910s took a stage name ending with the suffix "-o". The most famous example were The Marx Brothers, who named themselves Groucho, Chico, Harpo, Zeppo and Gummo. Groucho Marx was even directly inspired by Mager's character 'Groucho the Monk'.


'Henpecko the Monk', 15 June 1912.

Sherlocko
On 9 December 1910 Mager let his monkey characters spoof Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson with two characters named 'Sherlocko' and 'Watso'. Out of all his monkey-based comics this one turned out to be the most popular. Together with Jack Yeats' 'Chublock Homes' (1897) it was arguably the earliest detective comic directly based on 'Sherlock Holmes' and thus paved the way for artists like Leo O'Mealia, Frank Giacoia, Bill Barry, Gary Reed and Guy Davis ('Baker Street') and parodies like Art Huhta's 'Dinky Dinkerton', Will Elder's 'Shermlock Shomes', Manfred Schmidt's 'Nick Knatterton' and Bruce Jones, April Campbell and Brent Anderson's 'Somerset Holmes'. Mager's 'Sherlocko and Watso' was popular enough to be adapted into two live-action slapstick comedy films: 'The Robbery at the Railroad Station' (1912) and 'The Henpeckos' (1912), produced by the Champion Film Company. Interestingly enough, Mager didn't shy away from referencing Sherlock Holmes' cocaine habit in his comics. Sherlocko regularly asked Watso to bring him a syringe for another junkie shot: "Quick, Watso, the needle!" It even became a catch phrase, printed on pinback buttons and borrowed by another cartoonist, Tad Dorgan, for his own comic strip 'Daffydils'.


Mager's 'Hawkshaw' was also syndicated abroad, like to the Québec newspaper Le Petit Journal (1933-1937).

Hawkshaw the Detective
In 1913 Mager's friend Rudolph Dirks left Hearst's syndicate to join the rival newspaper The New York World, and Mager followed his example. On 23 February 1913 'Sherlocko and Watso' debuted in The New York World under the new title 'Hawkshaw the Detective', since 'Sherlock Holmes' novelist Arthur Conan Doyle threatened to sue otherwise. The cartoonist also took the precaution of turning the monkeys into human characters. Oddly enough Hawkhaw's sidekick still kept his name Watso. Doyle had a good reason to complain. Mager didn't just parody Doyle's characters: he borrowed entire plot elements from Doyle's stories, such as the assassination attempt at Holmes' life from the short story 'The Adventures of the Empty House' (1903). The plagiarism went even further. Mager borrowed the name 'Hawkshaw the Detective' from a character in Tom Taylor's theatrical play 'The Ticket-of-Leave Man' (1863). But since Taylor was safely dead since 1880 Mager didn't have to fear any legal actions. Interestingly enough, another cartoonist, Frank Hutchinson, once had a comic strip named 'Willie Hawkshaw, Amateur Detective' (1905-1906). 

A few weeks later, on 6 March 1913, Mager terminated his 'Monks' comics in order to fully concentrate on 'Hawkshaw'. The series ran as a Sunday comic until 12 November 1922. On 13 December 1931 it was resurrected as a smaller "topper" comic above Dirks' popular comic 'The Captain and the Kids'. This topper was not signed by Mager, but by a certain "Watso". It ran until 21 December 1947. During a period when Mager and Dirks were in copyright dispute with United Feature Syndicate in 1932-1933, the strips were drawn by Bernard Dibble.


'Main Street' (1 April 1923)

Other comics
Apart from 'Hawkshaw', Mager created other less succesful and therefore shorter-lived daily comics. 'Millionbucks' (1913) centered around a multimillionaire who wants to get rid of his wealth. He tries to give or throw it away in each episode, but unfortunately (pun not intended) he always regains it. The comics were notable for the fact that they were told in rhyme. The running gag was stretched from January until June 1913, after which the series was terminated. 'The Trewtolyfe Family' (1922-1923) was basically a rip-off of George McManus' 'Bringing Up Father'. It also revolved around a poor family trying to be accepted in high society, while their father continuously blew their plans by getting along with people of lower class. Its Sunday page version, 'Main Street', ran between the same months from 15 October 1922 until 7 October 1923. The longest-running series was 'Oliver's Adventures' (1926-1934). This once again revolved around a detective, named Oliver, but contrary to his other work it was a dramatic comic.

Later life
Gus Mager retired in 1947. He spent the rest of his life making paintings. Far from an obscure artist, his work was exhibited in various prestigious galleries, among them the Armory Show, the Salon of Independent Artists and the Salons of America. He passed away in 1956 from brain cancer.

Oliver's Adventures (San Francisco Chronicle, 2 April 1928), by Gus Mager
'Oliver's Adventures' (San Francisco Chronicle, 2 April 1928).

The Screwball Comics of Gus Mager on tcj.com

Series and books by Gus Mager in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

X

If you want to help us continue and improve our ever- expanding database, we would appreciate your donation through Paypal.