Hawkshaw and The Colonel: The game is afoot! Artist: Gus Mager.


Medium: Newspaper comics
Appearing in: The New York World
First Appeared: 1913
Creator: Gus Mager
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Gus Mager created several newspaper comic strips, of both the humor and adventure varieties. His best-known creation was …

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… a humorous adventure strip called Hawkshaw the Detective. But he arrived at Hawkshaw by a circuitous route, and it took him years to thread his way there.

Mager was a staff cartoonist with the Hearst organization, from about the year 1900, when he was 22. Starting in 1904, with Knocko the Monk, he did regular features for Hearst about people caricatured as monkeys, usually named after a dominant trait. Braggo the Monk, Rhymo the Monk, Colfeeto the Monk, Tightwaddo the Monk and many more followed. The monks became quite popular, even sparking a minor national fad of using monk-like names to nickname real people. In fact, the Marx Brothers, Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Zeppo and Gummo, got their stage names from that source — Mager even had a Groucho the Monk.

By far, the most famous of Mager's simian protagonists was Sherlocko the Monk, who had an assistant named Watso, both of whom debuted during December of 1910. It's hard to avoid seeing this duo was inspired by what is perhaps the most parodied pair of heroes in English language literature, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.

In fact, Arthur Conan Doyle, Holmes's creator, noticed the resemblance himself, and threatened legal action over the use of the name (if not the concept, which he had no control over). That's why, when Mager moved to the rival Pulitzer papers, instead of calling his new Sunday page Sherlocko the Detective, he took a name from another source, one safely in the public domain. Playwright Tom Taylor's 1866 stage production, The Ticket-of-Leave Man, had starred a detective named Hawkshaw, so Mager's Hawkshaw the Detective debuted in The New York World on February 23, 1913.

This version of the Great Detective was a little more humanoid than the average "monk", tho he otherwise looked just like Sherlocko. His assistant, The Colonel, also looked more like a person than an animal, tho he closely resembled Watso. Both grew more humanoid yet as time passed, but still remained recognizably themselves. Hawkshaw's arch enemy, The Professor, started out more or less human, tho he didn't resemble Holmes's Professor Moriarty in the least. The three adventured together in Pulitzer papers for years, and even had some adventures reprinted in book form, by The Saalfield Company, in 1917.

The series ended in 1922 and Mager turned his attention to other pursuits, such as Main Street (humor) and Oliver's Adventures (adventure). But in 1931, he was hired by fellow cartoonist Rudolph Dirks to do a topper for The Captain & the Kids, and he revived Hawkshaw (already no stranger to Dirks's syndicate, United Feature, through the Pulitzer connection) for the purpose. Since he was working for other syndicates on other strips, he had to use a pseudonym on this one, and chose "Watso". Hawkshaw's clients had names like Nervo, Henpecko and other monks from years gone by.

The following year, when Dirks had a contract dispute with the syndicate, the company brought in Bernard Dibble (who later served a stint on Milt Gross's Looy Dot Dope) to do both series. But Dirks and Mager were back the year after that. Hawkshaw and The Professor continued their ongoing conflict through World War II; but afterward, when toppers were going out of use, they dropped out of sight.

Today, like Bizarro and Caspar Milquetoast, Hawkshaw has entered the English language. The name has become a slang term meaning — what else? Detective. Chances are, that doesn't come from Tom Taylor's 1866 play.


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Text ©2003-06 Donald D. Markstein. Art © United Feature Syndicate.