Monday, August 07, 2006
Obscurity of the Day: Old Nicodemus Nimble
In 1915 the U.S. was already flirting with the idea of getting involved in what was shaping up to be World War I, aka The War To End All Wars (yeah, right). What could be more appropriate in those troubled times than an anti-war comic strip.
Old Nicodemus Nimble was a fabulist inventor who, with the aid of his magical cigar and suitcase full of tricks, spent his time at the European front. In each strip he would bring his powers to bear on the conflict, putting an end to a battle or saving civilians. The strip's anti-war message was clear and forthright, no namby-pamby dancing around the issue. Two years later the strip may well have been considered seditious.
Cartoonist W.L. Wells first made the national scene in the Chicago Tribune, where he took over Old Opie Dilldock's Stories from F.M. Howarth. He was an ideal replacement - his natural style was a pretty close match for Howarth's. Wells brought more than a similarity in style to the table, though. He was a master designer whose color Sunday pages have the same 'wow' factor that we get from a McCay, a Feininger or a Dart. Even here, working smaller and in black and white, you can plainly see that each strip treats its space as a coherent whole, with layouts that shout to be noticed.
And these samples aren't by any means Wells at his best - sadly my run of this strip is in pretty bad shape and I had to pick samples with an eye toward reproduction. Even so I found it necessary to recreate the text dialogue in sample three since the original was printed so badly.
Old Nicodemus Nimble was syndicated by NEA and started on June 24, 1915. It ran daily until October 29 of that year. In addition to the strip, Old Nic' also showed up in a rather incrongruous setting as the host of a panel cartoon titled Golf Hints By Nicodemus Nimble.
This is a neat strip, though I still can't get out of the "uncanny valley" that seeing Howarth's faces drawn by another pen provokes. But an antiwar fellow who smokes a "magic cigar" and stops wars by deploying "laughing gas"?
This guy was about fifty years before his time!