Les Aventures du professeur Nimbus

07 Dec

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

Condemnation in absentia

Les Aventures du professeur Nimbus by Daix came to an end on 17 August 1944 with Le Matin that fell apart in the besieged capital.[3]

Daix went into hiding and fled from Paris. His residence was searched. An arrest warrant was issued against him on 12 July 1945 for acts prejudicial to the security of the State. Daix, not having been apprehended, was judged in absentia at the court of justice of the Seine department on 8 January 1946. The exposé that led to this condemnation summarised the charges: Daix was a “collaborateur notoire” [notorious collaborator]. The tribunal reproached Daix for his denunciation of cartoon animators, and his involvement in 1942 in the “organe pro-allemand” [pro-German organisation] La Voix ouvrière made matters worse for him. But his drawings of Nimbus would be judged as not containing political propaganda.

The judgement found him guilty of having “entretenu des intelligences avec l’Allemagne ou ses agents avec l’intention de favoriser les entreprises de l’Allemagne au préjudice de la France et de ses alliés” [conspired with Germany or its agents with the intention to favour Germany’s undertakings to the detriment of France and its allies], with the existence of attenuating circumstances. Daix would be condemned to twenty years of forced labour, to indignity and to forfeiture of his civic rights.

No trace of his relationship with Opera Mundi/SANDEP was mentioned, nor of his Francist relationships or engagement, and certainly not a pro-German collaboration.

After living in hiding for a few years, Daix obtained falsified documents and left France. He would continue to live and work as an illustrator in Portugal and in South America under a false name, Alberto Maniez, for a quarter of a century.

Nimbus is in the Resistance

In November 1944, back in Paris, Betty Winkler started up Opera Mundi’s activities once more. Paul Winkler followed in spring 1945. The agency wished to revive its pre-war publications. The first reappearance of Nimbus after the war was not a bande dessinée: an article in the magazine Filmagazine dated 15 February 1945 recounted an imaginary meeting between Nimbus, Mickey, Donald and Pluto. In their jeep, Walt Disney’s characters wore the US uniform: they were the liberators coming from North Africa. It was Nimbus who told the story of the scene that took place “quelque part sur une route de France, à l’heure où revenant d’un coup de main avec mon groupe F.F.I., je regagnais notre quartier central” [somewhere on a French road, at the time when, coming back from helping out the French Forces of the Interior, I was returning to our headquarters]. And Daix’s character went on: “Car il faut que je vous dise que, malgré mon grand âge, ma petite taille et ma calvitie très développée, je n’ai pas hésité à entrer dans les mouvements de résistance. C’est d’ailleurs à la suite de mon incorporation dans les corps francs que le gouvernement de Vichy, pour se venger, a glissé au cours de ses actualités hebdomadaires un dessin animé de propagande où l’on me ridiculisait honteusement…” [Because I have to tell you that, despite my old age, my small stature and my highly developed baldness, I did not hesitate to enter resistance movements. It is in fact following my incorporation in the corps of volunteers that the Vichy government, to exact revenge, slipped into its weekly news a propaganda animated cartoon in which I was shamefully ridiculed…].[4] This propaganda animated cartoon was, of course, Nimbus libéré. Having died a few months before, under allied bombs, Nimbus found himself resuscitated and rehabilitated in the eyes of the public. The article was in fact a pretext to announce the upcoming release of the animated cartoon, Pinocchio, on French screens. Opera Mundi was probably behind this article in order to prepare the famous professor’s comeback in the press. The latter would wait more than a year: time enough for the situation to calm down and become regularised.

Upon finding out that Daix would be judged for conspiring with the enemy, Winkler wrote to the state prosecutor on 26 December 1945. Attaching a copy of the Nimbus contract from 1934, he specified that it was “formellement stipulé que le titre choisi pour la série de dessins et de droit au personnage dessinée constituaient la propriété d’Opera Mundi” [formally stipulated that the chosen title for the series of drawings and rights to the character were the property of Opera Mundi]. But he mentioned none of the events that occurred during the occupation and even asserted that his agency had severed its relationship with Daix since 1940…

Through this letter, Opera Mundi who wished to take up the publication of the Nimbus series once more, wanted to know if Daix was in a position to continue this collaboration given the charges against him. His letters addressed to the artist having remained unanswered, Opera Mundi announced that if they did not receive news from Daix, they would consider themselves to be “dégagée de toutes obligations vis-à-vis de Daix et libre de confier à tout dessinateur de son choix le dessin des nouvelles séries de Nimbus” [discharged of any responsibility towards Daix and free to entrust any artist of their choice with the illustration of new Nimbus series].

Opera Mundi indeed relaunched professor Nimbus’s strip six months later: Les Aventures du professeur Nimbus, once more under Opera Mundi’s copyright, appeared as early as 25 June 1946 in the daily La Résistance. Then distributed in numerous national and regional dailies, professeur Nimbus’s strip was successful once more, although not to the same degree as before the war.

It was, of course, de Enden who drew the series. It is possible that at the time when he took up the series once more, he was assisted by one or several scriptwriters in order to provide the daily strips. De Enden would draw professeur Nimbus until 1971, at the age of 71 years. Robert Velter took up the series after de Enden’s retirement, then Pierre Le Goff was the strip’s last illustrator from 1982 to 1991.

Throughout the period from 1946 to 1991, all the strips of Les Aventures du professeur Nimbus published in the press bore the same Opera Mundi copyright statement and the same signature, J. Darthel, a pen name that Winkler had come up with and that he placed under the drawings until his death in 1982. The boss of the agency kept a strict control over the production of the script and gave it final approval. The use of this pen name enabled Winkler to stifle all passing fancy of artistic recognition for the successive artists of Nimbus, who remained obscure for a long time.

The final close to the relationship between Daix and Opera Mundi was reported in the 20 September 1950 issue of L’Écho de la presse et de la publicité, with an account of a hearing held in the civil tribunal of the Seine.[5] The amused journalist announced to his readers that professeur Nimbus, “fatigué et chagrin d’être orphelin depuis 1940” [tired and sad to be an orphan since 1940], was still awaiting news of the presumed author of his days, Daix, who “s’est évanoui dans la nature” [had vanished in thin air]. In order to protect itself legally, Opera Mundi was asking for de jure and de facto recognition of its rights on Nimbus. The tribunal announced the end of the contract signed between Opera Mundi and Daix about professeur Nimbus, that is to say the termination of the various agreements passed in 1934 between these two parties. Nothing linked Daix, Opera Mundi and professeur Nimbus anymore.

Antoine Sausverd – researcher and blogger. Maintains the site Töpfferiana, dedicated to 19th century bandes dessinées. Has contributed to the journals and magazines Le Collectionneur de bandes dessinées, SIGNs, L’Éprouvette, La Crypte tonique.

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

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

[3] Translator’s note: the author is referring to Paris.

[4] « Même en temps de guerre la famille Disney conserve le sourire, nous déclare le professeur Nimbus », « Confidences recueillies » par Roger Forca, Filmagazine, 15 février 1945, p. 11.

[5] Maurice Munaut, « Le Professeur « Nimbus » en justice », L’Écho de la presse et de la publicité, 20 septembre 1950, p. 50. The date of the hearing is not specified.


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