Friday, November 13, 2015

Number 1813: “The Pen is...” nearly as mighty as the policewoman

Both Sally O’Neil, Policewoman, and Pen Miller, cartoonist-detective, debuted in National Comics #1. They were both back-up features, yet both lasted much longer than the lead feature for National, Uncle Sam, who didn’t last through the end of World War II.

Sally is smart, Sally is beautiful, Sally is tenacious, Sally can handle a gun, Sally can handle men. Now that is a great character. According to the website, Public Domain Superheroes, Sally was created by Frank Kearn, Toni Blum, and Chuck Mazoujian.

Pen Miller is a successful cartoonist who lives in a penthouse with a man servant. As Don Markstein remarked on his Toonopedia web page, Pen was the “cartoonist’s ideal self-image.” Indeed. Since cartooning for a living is a full-time job, one would think Pen would not have time to do a successful comic strip and still solve murder mysteries. But that would be part of the “ideal,” or at least a stereotype among non-cartoonists that all cartoonists do is sit around, knock out a few funny pictures, then haul in the big bucks.

Pen also has a name that leads to my speculation that it may be a private dirty joke. The second caption of the story says “‘Pen’ is busy . . .” The letterer must be careful of letter-spacing in a sentence like that. The talented Klaus Nordling, who also did Lady Luck, is the artist.

These are their first stories, from National Comics #1 (1940).


J_D_La_Rue_67 said...

First impressions on these:
1) The real Blue Bloods! :)
2) "Velly not oliginal". Is the character speaking of himself?

I really like Sally O'Neil. Fast paced story, appealing character, beautiful dynamic art. Catching "Saponi" was a ...slippery case, she did well.
The second story is a little less interesting, but the idea of a cartoonist detective almost even the score, though I guess the little guy does all the dirty work of ghost writing, inking etc., while Pen does the layouts and gets the cash.
All in all, a honolabe plot. The writer loves to play with words. Nokky, Gouge, Dr. Mujik… I wonder if the Turanian Embassy is located near the Cimmerian Delegation.

Daniel [] said...

In the Sally O'Neil story, as in a lot of early comic-book stories, the hero — or, in this case, heroine — is largely just in the right place at the right time. Whatever particular plan she might have had is unrevealed; a fortuitous challenge of one thug by another provided her not only with evidence of a crime but with the crime itself.

‘Pen’ Miller is perhaps not merely an expression of ironic fantasy, but of crushed hopes. In the early days of the comic strip, a relatively high proportion of the artists achieved celebrity and wealth. A large share of those who ended-up as low-paid comic-book artists had begun aspiring to be comic-strip artists in that earlier era.

I don't think that I'd previously seen anything by Nordling from this early; his later work was of course a lot more polished. And the Sally O'Neil story that I recall seeing was beautiful work by Al Bryant from 1942.

Pappy said...

J D, I'm not sure where the Turanian Embassy is. I wonder where comic book countries find room in Europe? I have looked on a map and can't find any of them. Maybe they are like Monaco or the Vatican, taking up a very small amount of acreage.

I also like the word play. "Gouge" sounds like a name Will Eisner would use for the Spirit. I assume National Comics #1 was produced by the Eisner-Iger Studio, so Eisner may have had some input on each feature.

Pappy said...

Daniel, I go back to observation I've used before that the hero (or heroine) is more lucky than good.

Just as Pen Miller is a fantasy of a "famous comic magazine cartoonist" so Sally is a fantasy projection of a policewoman. She works for a captain loosey-goosey enough to send a rookie to spy on a major criminal armed with just her beauty and a .22.

I agree that not only did Nordling get more polished, many artists working for Eisner and Iger, Al Bryant included, were probably in the top 10% of skilled artists during the original comic book boom.

Alicia American said...

Oooh Sally saves a famus Hollywood star next! I wunderer who it is yo mayB Will Smith yo #BADASS OMG that Pen Millerer story is 2 much like reel life. What cartunist DUZNT smoke a pipe & have a racy stereo-type boyfrend?