Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » John Philip Dalby: Musician, Storyteller, Artist (would this post get more traffic if I said it had COMIC STRIPS?)

John Philip Dalby: Musician, Storyteller, Artist (would this post get more traffic if I said it had COMIC STRIPS?)

By: Ardis E. Parshall - September 02, 2009

Who is the most prolific illustrator of the Book of Mormon? Not C.C.A. Christensen, with his brightly colored 1890 paintings. Not Minerva Teichert with her wonderful pastels. Not even Arnold Friberg with his muscle-bound old men and striplings.

My candidate for that title is a man you have possibly never heard of, and whose work you almost certainly haven’t seen: John Philip Dalby.

Phil Dalby was born in Idaho in 1919 and spent his youth in Colorado. He served a mission to the North Central States from 1939-41 – he remained an active member of the Church his entire life – and was in his first semester of studies at the University of Utah when Pearl Harbor was attacked. Phil left school to enlist in the army. His particular talents led the military to send him to the Army Music School in Virginia, and he served in the 707th Army-Air Force Band until his 1945 discharge.

After discharge, he attended San Diego State, where he earned his B.A.; the University of Utah, which awarded him his Master’s; and the University of Oregon where he earned his Ph.D. Phil sang (baritone), directed choirs, directed the band at Utah State Agricultural College (now USU), and taught or served as an administrator at community colleges in the Chicago area and in Florida, until his retirement in 1970 – then he and his wife Barbara served a mission at BYU-Hawaii.

Phil passed away in 2004 at the age of 85.

And the Book of Mormon?

While Phil was an undergraduate at San Diego, he began to draw a comic book version of the Book of Mormon – predating by almost 60 years the recent work that is often touted as the first Book of Mormon graphic novel. Phil’s work, “Stories of the Book of Mormon,” began publication in the Church News section of the Deseret News on January 1, 1947, and ran weekly until May, 1948. After that it ran sporadically, apparently according to the time Phil had to devote to it: sometimes it ran weekly for a while, then it might disappear for a month or two. The last installment I have been able to find so far appeared on August 8, 1953.

Phil began with the Book of Ether, then I Nephi, and carried the story at least through III Nephi 16:7 – without further searching, I won’t know whether he made it through the entire book.

Each of his strips filled half a page – half a full newspaper page; the Church News was not then printed in tabloid size. Early in its run, the Deseret News offered scrapbook covers for people who wanted to clip the strips and paste them into book form, and the paper encouraged parents and Primary teachers to use the comic strips to help interest children in the Book of Mormon narrative.

Phil drew hundreds of strips illustrating the Book of Mormon. Below are reproduced his very first strip opening the Book of Ether, followed by a sequence of three later strips illustrating the final battle between Coriantumr and Shiz (without, unfortunately, any decapitated warrior rising in a last effort to fight!)




  1. Great stuff, Ardis! Although that second drawing from the left on the last line fails to show Shiz’s headless state–definitely going for the G rating.

    And that name Dalby keeps showing up in unexpected places. My daughter just moved to a ward with a Bishop Dalby. Before then, the only Dalby I’d ever heard of was in The Ipcress File.

    Comment by Mark B. — September 2, 2009 @ 10:11 am

  2. This is a great find, Ardis. I had never seen these before, but I always thought that there were many of the Book of Mormon stories that would be well adapted to a modern graphic novel. All in all, considering he was drawing for the relatively low resolution b&w graphics of the newspaper printing process of the time, the quality is pretty good. I’d be curious to see if he did any more detailed, color panels.

    Comment by kevinf — September 2, 2009 @ 11:09 am

  3. Great post.

    I’m impressed with the quality of these strips. I wonder, with the current surge in interest in graphic novels, if a publisher would pick these up and re-publish them as a set? The style of the drawing is very visceral and earthy and seems like it would appeal to the modern graphic novel reader.

    Comment by Hunter — September 2, 2009 @ 11:18 am

  4. Max Dalby was a music professor at USU, having retired not too many years ago. I can’t remember his instrument, but it was a horn or reed, definitely a band instrument. He is probably the son of Phil Dalby.

    Comment by Maurine — September 2, 2009 @ 2:12 pm

  5. Ardis, I’d have commented sooner, but my workplace blocks the photos so all I got was big blank spaces. Now that I’m home, I see these are really cool! (Women warriors in Church News… who’da thunk it?)

    They make me think of that ongoing Bible-stories comic strip running in Boys’ Life.

    Comment by Coffinberry — September 2, 2009 @ 7:26 pm

  6. Awesome! I am disappointed that he wimped out showing the head, though.

    Comment by Orwell — September 2, 2009 @ 7:57 pm

  7. Very cool!

    Comment by Edje Jeter — September 2, 2009 @ 9:58 pm

  8. I see from an obit that Max was his brother.

    My boys are interested in these comics, the girls not so much. :)

    Comment by Researcher — September 3, 2009 @ 7:18 am

  9. The COMIC STRIPS teaser got my attention, but I find I’m in the same boat as Coffinberry and must wait till I get home to look at them.

    But I can tell those who care that Max Dalby played the clarinet. I took lessons from him for a while, but don’t ask him about it because I was one of those students he probably wanted to forget.

    Comment by Last Lemming — September 3, 2009 @ 7:30 am

  10. Music and art. What a talented individual. In your list of BoM ilustrators, don’t forget Robert Barrett, who painted the pictures for the official “Book of Mormon Reader”

    Comment by Clark — September 3, 2009 @ 9:03 am

  11. Wow, how had I never heard of this before?

    Comment by Rob — September 3, 2009 @ 8:42 pm

  12. Thanks for passing this along, Ardis! It brought back memories. I knew the Dalby family in Walnut Creek, CA, for a few years between 1960 and 1965. Phil (as John Phillip was called then)was the President of Diablo Valley College in nearby Pleasant Hill, and he hired me as a social science instructor (without knowing me as LDS, I think). He later went on to the presidency of a community college in the Cleveland (OH) area, where Derrill (one of his sons) still lives, I think. Derrill and his younger brother used to baby-sit for us in Walnut Creek when our kids were little. I knew about Phil’s academic background in music, of course (though he had moved to academic administration where the money is much better), but I didn’t know about his drawing talent. He never revealed it, as far as I know, when he lived in Walnut Creek. Anyway, thanks for the memories and the additional biographical information on someone whom I admired (as I did Barbara and the family). Small world indeed!

    Comment by Armand Mauss — September 3, 2009 @ 9:52 pm

  13. .

    Clark—do you know for sure if they were done by Robert Barrett? My wife and I have had long conversations trying to decide if it is him or someone very similar. I say yes. She says no. She actually took a class from him so I would love to be right.

    And Ardis—once again you prove you know everything. I knew this guy existed but was unable to find him when I wrote my comics survey for Motley Vision. This is not the first time you’ve known something I’ve been unable to figure out. I really need to learn to ask you questions.

    Comment by Th. — September 4, 2009 @ 2:26 pm

  14. .

    Now that I’m home and can see photobucket images I have to say I love these.

    Comment by Th. — September 4, 2009 @ 11:17 pm

  15. Wow. Before Mike Allred.

    Comment by Johnna — September 5, 2009 @ 8:46 am

  16. Well, I wish I had been “plugged-in” to all this sooner. I have had a restored, complete (as published) press-ready + PDF CD since 2002, but didn’t know what to do with it. The recent Sunstone article by Ardis Parshall may revive some interest in seeing it published – all 313 panels. My mother, who lives in Salt Lake, would be very pleased to know of all this attention. I can hardly wait to tell her! — Oldest son, now 65 himself, Derrill Dalby.

    Comment by Derrill Dalby — November 8, 2010 @ 6:15 am

  17. Derrill, I’m so tickled that you found this. I didn’t know how to go about finding any Dalby family members. I had hoped you-all wouldn’t mind that I was posting your father’s strips, even in the low-quality scans of photocopies of microfilm — they’re simply wonderful, and I hoped to create some interest and a market for a real reprint.

    If I can help at all, especially if I can give some publicity to a quality publication (whether paper or CD), I hope you’ll let me do that. I can be reached either by a comment here or by writing to AEParshall {at} AOL {dot} com.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 8, 2010 @ 10:27 am

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