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