John Philip Dalby’s Mid-century Book of Mormon Comics

We are pleased to present 300+ new entries in our catalog featuring the little-known work of John Philip Dalby. These illustrations based on the Book of Mormon were published in the Church section of the Deseret News as a weekly comic from 1947-1953.

With thanks to Ardis Parshall for bringing these images to our attention. Make sure to read her article about the history of these works at the Keepapitchinin blog embedded below.

We’re also pleased to publish the following short essay by Emma Belnap analyzing one of these artworks…

Historical context is an important factor to consider when looking at art. Too often we judge artwork on its aesthetics, making determinations about it using the dichotomy of “Do I like this or not?” While this is a good starting place, my experiences as an art history student have taught me that the allure of art only deepens when we look beyond this binary to consider the context and what the artist is trying to tell us.

Consider, for example, the several hundred illustrations by John Philip Dalby we recently added to the catalog. These illustrations come from a comic series he did for Deseret News between 1947-1953. While the drawings are beautiful and represent the story in a straightforward way, the panel that was of most interest to me shows “wars, and rumors of wars among all the nations and kindreds of the earth” (1 Nephi 14:15). In this image (see above “The Story of Lehi: Part Twenty-Two), there are several planes that look like they are engaged in a dogfight, as well as an even more chilling image in the background: a mushroom cloud. These drawings left me wondering, why would Dalby choose World War II imagery to represent Nephi’s prophecy?

Perhaps, when Dalby drew this in 1948, the horrors of World War II were still on his mind. He may have been considering the United States’ decision to drop atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki just three years before. These bombings, which famously produced mushroom clouds, were devastating, claiming the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in the years to come. The mushroom cloud represents the tragedy and lasting effects of warfare, no doubt capturing what Dalby feared would continue in the wars Nephi prophesied would come in the last days.

Another invocation of war in the illustration is the depiction of a dogfight, inspiration for which can be found in the events of Dalby’s own life. Dalby enlisted in the Army in 1941 and became a member of the 707th Army Air Force (AAF) Band (“Obituary: John Philip Dalby,” Deseret News, May 4, 2004). The 707th AAF Band was stationed at Fort George Wright in Spokane, Washington, a convalescent center for the AAF (Lee Nilsson, “WWII Convalescent Hospital,” Spokane Historical, Stationed here, Dalby would have encountered many wounded members of the Air Force who had engaged in dogfights such as the one depicted. I imagine Dalby heard these soldiers’ stories about their time in combat, including the dogfights they were part of. When illustrating “wars, and rumors of wars” a few years later, Dalby may have reflected on and taken inspiration from the stories of those pilots.

While at first glance this panel seems like an insignificant illustration of a recurrent prophecy, deeper analysis of the historical motivation that spurred its creation give us insights into the life of the artist and the time in which he lived. As a research assistant for the Book of Mormon Art Catalog, I hope that you will find and appreciate beautiful artworks as you look through our website. More importantly, though, I promise that as you look beyond “Do I like this or not?” dichotomy, you will find art in the catalog that sparks your curiosity.

-Emma Belnap, Research Assistant