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 Charles Augustus Mager  (1878 - 1956)

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Lived/Active: New Jersey/Pennsylvania      Known for: magazine illustrations, cartoons, landscape and still life painting

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Ad Code: 3
Charles Augustus Mager
from Auction House Records.
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Gus Mager was a newspaper cartoonist for much of the first half of the century.  He drew both humor strips and straight adventure strips, and Hawkshaw the Detective was his most famous feature.  In addition, he was a painter and contributed to the naming of the Marx Brothers.

Charles Augustus Mager was born in Newark, New Jersey, and remained there all his life.  He is thought to be a self-taught artist, and, according to comics historian Bill Blackbeard, "German humor magazines featuring the cartoon art of Wilhelm Busch, Karl Arnold, and other continental giants of the time influenced his developing graphic style as a boy." After selling cartoons to magazines while in his teens, Mager went to work for Hearsts two New York dailies, the Journal and the American, near the turn of the century.

He had an affinity for drawing animals; by 1904, he was doing a strip about assorted monkeys for the Journal.  These humanized creatures were called monks, and the strip ran under such alternating titles as Knocko, the Monk, Tightwaddo, the Monk, and Groucho the Monk.  The monks gradually changed into real humans, or near approximations, and when Sherlocko the Monk started in 1910, the master detective, his companion Dr. Watso, and all their perplexed clients were roughly human in appearance.

Mager, a Conan Doyle buff, stuck with Sherlocko for the next few years and gave each daily an appropriately Holmesian title, such as "The Mystery of the Unpainted Flagpole" or "The Curious Episode of the Vanished Biscuits."  When he went to work for the New York World in 1913, he took his detective with him, changing his name to Hawkshaw in the process and using him in a Sunday page.  This second version of the sleuth lasted until 1922.

Although he had a highly distinctive style of his own, one that stood out in what the New York Times referred to in his obituary as the "bulb nose era" of cartooning, Mager also possessed a talent for aping the styles of others.  He showed this in the early 1920s with Main Street, an unsuccessful page that owed much of its look to the work of George McManus.  From the late 1920s to the early 1930s, he drew Oliver's Adventures, a straight boy adventurer daily, that was closely modeled on the approach of George Storm.

Mager revived Hawkshaw in 1931, when his detective started appearing in the topper to his longtime friend Rudolph Dirk's Sunday Captain and the Kids page.  Since another syndicate doing the Oliver strip already employed Mager, he worked directly for Dirks with Hawkshaw and signed it Watso.  Ironically, in the early 1930s, the work that Mager signed his own name to was drawn in a blatant imitation of someone else. The work done in his own style was signed with a pen name.

An unusual situation arose in 1932 when Dirks, in a disagreement over money, quit United Features.  Mager, as a side effect, lost his job, too, and Bernard Dibble was brought in by the syndicate to draw both features.  When Dirks went back to work in 1933, Mager did too.  He remained with the detective until the strip ended in the late 1940s, but he never signed his own name to it.

Like Dirks, Mager had painted throughout his life, and his canvases are in the permanent collections of several museums, including the Whitney Museum of American Art in Manhattan.

Ron Goulart, The Encyclopedia of American Comics

Biography from Jim's Of Lambertville:
Charles August "Gus" Mager was born in l878 in Newark, New Jersey.  The son of a diamond setter who worked in the city's jewelry district, Mager's father had hoped that his son would follow him in the flourishing Newark jewelry trade.  To oblige his father, Gus tried out the jewelry business for a short time, but he knew that art was his calling and he joined the Newark Sketch Club.  There, under the influence of artists, Paul Reininger and Will Crawford, he gained an admiration for the work of Vincent Van Gogh, which would later be apparent in his work.

Crawford directed Mager in the field of illustration, and was largely responsible for his early success as a cartoonist for the New York Journal and the New York World newspapers.  For many years, Mager was the artist for Hawkshaw, The Detective, a cartoon series.

Mager was a close friend and colleague of members of "The Eight", including  George Bellows, William Glackens, Walt Kuhn and John Sloan.  In 19l3, Mager's friend, Walt Kuhn, encouraged him to enter two paintings for exhibition at the famous Armory Show in New York.  The show represented a departure from the old ways of the National Academy, and four years later resulted in the birth of the Society of Independent Artists where Mager was a frequent exhibitor.

Mager also exhibited at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Salons of America and the Whitney Museum of American Art. 

He painted landscape and still life compositions in a modernist style which borrowed elements from Cezanne and Van Gogh.  Mager's work was represented by the Rabin and Kmeger Gallery in Newark along with the work of John Grabach, also a friend.

Mager’s paintings are in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Newark Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Montclair Art Museum.  Mager was self-taught.

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Charles Mager is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
New York Armory Show of 1913
San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition 1915

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