Thursday, November 28, 2013


Ink-Slinger Profiles: Nick Penn

Nick Penn was born Nicholas Pouletsos in Illinois on February 8, 1911. His birthplace was recorded in the 1920 U.S. Federal Census, and his birth date is from the Social Security Death Index.

In the 1920 census Penn was the oldest of two children born to William and Mary, both Greek emigrants. His father was a porter at a pool room, and his sister, Bessie, was two years younger. The Pouletos family resided in Fort Wayne, Indiana at 208 West Lewis Street.

According to Indiana’s Laughmakers (1990), Ray Banta said Penn “…graduated from Fort Wayne's Central High School and continued his art education in Chicago schools.” A 1928 Fort Wayne city directory listed Penn as a student who resided at 1326 Dodge Avenue, his parent’s home.

Penn has not been found in the 1930 census. Banta said he “…began creating editorial cartoons for the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel in the 1930’s.” Penn was listed as “Pouletsos Nicholas cartoonist” in the 1932 city directory. He lived with his parents in the 1934 directory listing.

According to the Cook County, Illinois Marriage Index at, Penn married Laura Diamond April 9, 1936.

Penn also worked for the Chicago Tribune, according to Banta, “…where for 14 years he assisted such nationally-known cartoonists as Sidney Smith, creator of The Gumps, Frank Willard of Moon Mullins, and Carl Ed of Harold Teen.” The 1940 T
ribune comic strip, The Drums of Fu Manchu, was signed with the initials “N.P.”, most likely belonging to Penn.

Signed N.P. in bottom tier, middle panel’s lower left corner

The 1940 census recorded Penn as “Nick Penn” and his wife in Chicago, Illinois at 5646 Kenmore Avenue. He had been living in Chicago since 1935. The census said his occupation was newspaper artist, who finished one year of high school.

Penn served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and drew the comic strips Stalemate and Helen Highwater, which appeared in hundreds of Navy publications. Samples of both strips are in Great Cartoonists and Their Art.

Banta said that after the war Penn produced the strip Uncle Dudley which appeared in the News-Sentinel. Penn was profiled June 27, 1946, in the News-Sentinel article, “Comic Strip Starting Monday Created by Fort Wayne Native”. The strip was more commonly known as Bessie (probably named after his sister) and was syndicated from February 2, 1948 to October 28, 1950 (dates from American Newspaper Comics), then sold as reprints in 1951 and 1952 [note from Allan: Uncle Dudley does appear to be the origial title of Bessie -- info about this earlier incarnation is lacking in my book]

One of Penn’s colleagues at the News-Sentinel was Jerry Stewart who did the strip Little Moments.

Penn’s occupations and whereabouts were found in a number of Fort Wayne city directories. In 1949 he was a cartoonist who resided at 1010 Lake Avenue, apartment D. The following year he was a Chicago Sun Syndicate cartoonist and lived at 932 Lake Avenue. The 1952 and 1954 directories have him as an artist at 117 East Suttenfield. In 1956 and 1958 the artist resided at 2410 South Calhoun, apartment 2. Penn’s address was the same in the 1959 directory and he was an employee at the Rialto Theater.

According to the Social Security Death index, his sister, Bessie, passed away July 1983. Penn passed away December 1990 and buried at the Catholic Cemetery in Fort Wayne.


Thanks so much for posting this biography of my great uncle. I learned a lot I did not know.

Mary Diamond Johns
Nick and his wife were really nice folks... I used to visit with him for hours when he resided in the Florida Apartments in Fort Wayne. I wish I still had the strip that he drew and wrote for me when I was young but it has been lost in time. I will never forget the amazing experiences he told us about.
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