Les Aventures du professeur Nimbus:

23 Nov

Tightrope Walker During the Occupation – Part 3/4[1]

by Antoine Sausverd

Translated by Annick Pellegrin

Edited by Harriet Earle

Original publication: Sausverd, Antoine. « Les Aventures du professeur Nimbus : Funambule sous l’occupation. » La Crypte tonique septembre – octobre 2013: 13-18. Print.[2]

“Pour les besoins de la propagande nationale” [For the Sake of National Propaganda]

In the summer of 1942, the Germans asked Daix to use the famous character professeur Nimbus to contribute to a propaganda operation. Daix then used this opportunity to take up his demands against Opera Mundi. On 4 August 1942 he wrote to the president of the Commissariat général aux questions juives [General Commissariat for Jewish Questions] (CGQJ): “Ma création graphique, le « Professeur Nimbus », m’est demandée afin d’être utilisée pour les besoins de la propagande nationale. Malheureusement et malgré mes efforts, je n’ai pu me libérer d’un contrat draconien signé en 1934 avec Opera Mundi (agence juive) et concernant Nimbus.” [My graphic creation, professeur Nimbus, has been requested from me in order to be used for the sake of national propaganda. Unfortunately and despite my efforts, I have not been able to get rid of a draconian contract signed in 1934 with Opera Mundi (Jewish agency) concerning Nimbus.] Daix attached to his mail an overview of the situation and documents, hoping “qu’une intervention de votre organisme me fera obtenir gain de cause.” [that an intervention on the part of your agency would help me to succeed].[3]

The artist did not know it, but for a few months Opera Mundi had been feeling the full force of the Aryanisation laws that dispossessed Jewish owners of their enterprises. Since 6 May 1942, the press agency had been under the control of a temporary administrator nominated by the CJQJ, who oversaw the management the company and organised its sale. Opera Mundi then changed names to become the SANDEP, Société anonyme nouvelle de documentation et d’édition de périodiques [New Anonymous Documentation and Periodical Publication Company].

Daix met the temporary administrator of the SANDEP in September 1942. The latter was amenable to the artist’s requests and he obtained the cancellation of his contracts with Opera Mundi, amongst which the one for Nimbus.[4] Daix therefore found himself as the legitimate creator of Nimbus and henceforth held the rights to the character.

The first manifestation of this change was soon to be seen: the Nimbus strip signed by Daix reappeared in October 1942 in the pages of a newly-launched newspaper sponsored by the German propaganda: La Voix ouvrière. For his Nimbus, Daix negotiated a much more lucrative contract that the one signed with Opera Mundi in 1934: 400 francs for each strip (in 1934, Winkler’s agency paid 50 francs per strip), not to mention the fact that the artist made the newspaper pay him 5000 francs to be the exclusive publisher of the famous professor.[5]

But the true return of Nimbus under Daix’s pen would take place six months later in Le Matin, a newspaper in which the artist was still publishing his strip Le Baron de Crésus. The transition to Nimbus was quite smooth. The arrival of the professor in Le Matin was announced at the end of March 1943 through several headline drawings: “Nimbus revient !” [Nimbus is Coming Back!]. On 27 March 1943, a first strip showed Nimbus and Crésus together. The two sidekicks would continue to appear side by side for a few strips, then Nimbus would become the only star of Le Matin once more.

Henceforth Daix would exploit his creation without a middleman. Compilations of his strips published by I.P.C. publishers were sold at newspaper stands and his series was published in the Belgian daily L’Avenir starting from 20 August 1943. Daix authorised the use of this hero for various animated cartoon projects. Thus, a project for a second “Adventure of Nimbus” in animated cartoon saw the day during the occupation, as early as at the end of the year 1943 (the paper hero had been adapted to the screen once before in 1936). This short film, entirely funded by the Ministère de l’information de Vichy [Ministry of Information of the Vichy government], was the only animated cartoon that benefited from such support during the occupation.[6] This film was recently rediscovered in the French archives for films and it does not seem to have been released in cinemas. Two more animated cartoons would become works of propaganda, the only two featuring professeur Nimbus: the first one, also produced in 1943, featured two of Daix’s heroes: Crésus par-ci… Nimbus par-là [Crésus Here… Nimbus There].[7] The second one, for which Daix ceded his rights to the character Nimbus, was directed by his friend Raymond Jeannin and was titled Nimbus libéré [Nimbus Liberated].[8] Ordered and produced by the Germans, this film was released in French cinemas for the first time on 24 March 1944, as a complement to the filmed news projected each week. In it, Nimbus plays the role of the average Frenchman wishing for liberation by the US and who finds death in the ruins of his house that has been bombarded by his liberators, war planes flown by Goofy, Felix the Cat, Donald, Popeye, Mickey and Minnie.

Forced Work in Germany for Counterfeiters

In Spring 1943, two professeur Nimbus occupied the press space: in the occupied zone, in Le Matin, the series was drawn by Daix and, in the Free Zone, in Le Journal by Lief de Enden and Sée.

Despite the difficulties encountered and the price increase demanded by Opera Mundi, Le Journal continued to publish the strip regularly. In his mail to the administration, de Marsillac, the editor-in-chief, regularly reaffirmed the daily’s attachment to maintaining Nimbus in its pages.

Upon finding out that Nimbus strips continued to be published in Le Journal, Daix sent a registered letter to the daily, in which he formally forbade it from “publier à l’avenir tout dessin ayant pour sujet le professeur Nimbus, ainsi naturellement que tout dessin d’imitation” [publishing in the future any drawing in which professeur Nimbus appeared, as well as, of course, any imitation drawing] and stating that he had given the exclusive publishing rights to Le Matin.[9]

As Le Journal continued to publish Nimbus, it received, on 13 July 1943, a process, served by a court bailiff at the request of Daix, indicating that they were committing an offence with their “contrefaçons” [counterfeits] of Nimbus that had to disappear within forty-eight hours.

But the series had already disappeared from Le Journal, as the daily had not received Nimbus strips since 29 July. De Marsillac called Mr Fournier, the manager of the SANDEP, and reached a man who remained vague. He suspected that Fournier was probably under surveillance and possibly the object of lawsuits or threats. De Marsillac mentioned that Le Journal was willing to take some risks in order to continue publishing Nimbus. But the manager declared that “les deux dessinateurs qui faisaient Nimbus lui avaient été enlevés, l’un pour partir aux camps de jeunesse, l’autre par le Service de Travail Obligatoire” [the two artists who drew Nimbus had been taken away from him, one to go to the youth camps, and the other by the Compulsory Work Service]. Was Daix behind these punitive measures that targeted de Enden and Sée? Exceeded by this “contrefait” [counterfeit] Nimbus that persisted in being published despite his injunctions, did the artist use his relationship with the occupying forces to exact revenge?

[1] This is the third part of a four-part essay. The second part can be found here:

[2] The original text has been very lightly revised for inaccuracies and spelling mistakes.

[3] A.N., F 7 14962-14964: Letter from Daix to the CJQJ, dated 4 August 1942.

[4] A. N., F 7 14962-14964: Letter from André Daix to M Favier, temporary administrator, dated 23 September 1942.

[5] The strip would appear sporadically in La Voix ouvrière until the last issue, dated 1 August 1944. Only some fifteen strips would be published.

[6] According to Sébastien Roffat (personal communication).

[7] Kermabon, Jacques. Du praxinoscope au cellulo : un demi-siècle de Cinéma d’animation En France (1892-1948). Paris: CNC, 2007, p. 160.

[8] The short film is available on YouTube.

[9] A.N., 8 AR 431: Letter from Daix to the Journal, dated 23 March 1943.


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