Friday, October 21, 2011
Napoleon Noodle by Jimmy Bancks - A Lost Newspaper Strip
Like any good cartoonist, Jimmy Bancks didn’t throw all of his eggs into the one basket. Throughout his career he was always trying new things and, considering the scope of his work, he became something of a renaissance man. From when he first became active in the late teens, he undertook a wide variety of tasks and appeared to succeed in virtually all of them. In the early 1920s he began to teach aspiring artists via correspondence under the banner of the J.C. Bancks School of Sketching[i]. By the end of the 1920s Bancks was also becoming active on stage, to the degree where he was showcased in London at the Palladium, resulting in a potential clash with the Australian Cricket Board of Control (as it was then known) when Bancks invited none other than Don Bradman to share the stage with him for two such appearances in 1930[ii]. The Bradman connection was also obvious as Bancks was very active as a cricketing identity, to the point where his 1930 trip to England was planned around the Ashes tour, indeed Bancks travelled with the team upon their return, resulting in a page three story in the The Mail (Adelaide) detailing both the return of the Australian cricket team (to much pomp and ceremony) and the ‘Return of Mr Bancks’, who alighted from the same ship, the Oronsay[iii]. Bancks, with his great friend cricketer turned cartoonist Arthur Mailey, would travel frequently with the Australians, visiting England often and accompanying the Australians on their early 1930s trip to America.
Eventually Bancks progressed from being a stage actor to being a playwright. His 1934 play, Blue Mountain Melody, was staged in November and featured costumes designed by his first wife, Jessie Tait[iv]. The fact that Jessie Tait was the daughter of E.J. Tait, the managing director of J.C. Williamson, the largest theatrical firm in Australia at the time, wouldn’t have hindered his chances. Sadly for Bancks, Jessie passed away in 1936, due to complications giving birth[v] – both Jessie and the baby were lost, a crushing double blow for Bancks. Bancks would remarry, in 1938, and was still married at the time of his own passing in 1952. Bancks also wrote for various newspapers on a variety of subjects and became a much sought after speaker on the social and professional circuit. Clearly his enthusiasm and energy was boundless.
By the time Ginger Meggs had become a runaway success in the 1920s he had also experimented with other strips, something that he would dabble in at different periods of his life. One such strip was the short-lived and now largely forgotten Napoleon Noodle. Not much has been recorded about Napoleon Noodle and most biographies of Bancks tend to overlook it, along with other such strips. What is known is that the strip made it's debut in mid 1932 and vanished in early 1933. Napoleon Noodle centred on the main character, an eternal worrier who always manages to misinterpret overheard conversations with a long suffering wife and manages to find himself in unusual situations where his own unique wit is challenged. Noodle was an ‘every-man’ character, adept at getting himself both in and out of situations with ease and just as capable of overcoming a situation with his guile as he was at being stymied and Bancks drew the strip with the same style and energy that he invested into Ginger Meggs. Viewed today the strip is dated, with references to events now largely forgotten, but is still charming in its own right. It’s easy to see why the strip never really caught on though, after a few readings it becomes apparent that Bancks might well have struggled to keep the strip fresh and it fell into a no-man land – too adult for children, and possibly too cartoony for adults. When the strip hit the mark it was as good as anything Bancks ever did – Bradman features, although not the same Don Bradman that Ginger Meggs met. Bancks did his best to raise interest in strip to the point of having Napoleon Noodle actually appear in Ginger Meggs, one of, if not the only, time that he would cross characters over.
I’m not sure just how many Napoleon Noodle strips Bancks did; perhaps the Bancks family would have a better idea, but the strips I had uncovered certainly warrant a second viewing. Considering the historical value of Bancks in the world of cartooning, and his place in Australian heritage, it would probably now be a good idea to collect some of the more unique work that he did and collect them into a volume for print. Until then enjoy one of the genuine ‘lost’ strips of an Australian giant, Jimmy Bancks and Napoleon Noodle!