Pen suddenly gets involved in a new case. Artist: Klaus Nordling.


Medium: Comic books
Published by: Quality Comics
First Appeared: 1940
Creator: Klaus Nordling
If this site is enjoyable or useful to you,
Please contribute to its necessary financial support. or PayPal

Detective fiction is full of the conceit that detective writers make good detectives. A prime example is the pseudomymous "Ellery Queen" being the hero of many of "his" own stories. Even in comics, where writers aren't the only creators who might fancy themselves capable of doing …

continued below

… detective work, we have Yellowjacket, The Bogey Man and others where the ability to create entertaining mysteries is conflated with the ability to solve actual ones.

But comics work is divided into two major types of creative input, combined in the cartoonist, who both writes and draws the story he works on. The equivalent of that sort of detective hero would be a cartoonist who solves crimes. An example of that sort of protagonist is Pen Miller, a Quality Comics (Blackhawk, Doll Man) character from beginning to end of the 1940s.

Pen first appeared in Quality's National Comics #1, where others making their debuts included Wonder Boy, The Kid Patrol and Merlin the Magician. The cover feature was Uncle Sam. Pen's introduction was written and drawn by Klaus Nordling (Lady Luck, The Thin Man.). It set the tone for stories to come by making Pen figure out how a bloody corpse got into his own bedroom without him noticing.

Being the hero of detective stories wasn't the only way Pen Miller was a cartoonist's ideal self-image. He was also tall, handsome, famous and affluent, as a real-life comic book artist could only dream. When the series began, he already had a reputation as an amateur detective, so when he was thrust into a murder mystery, it wasn't surprising that he solved it easily. At least, the sterotyped Asian houseboy, Niki, who was his only supporting character, wasn't surprised.

Pen stayed in the back pages through National #22 (April, 1942), after which he was replaced with The Unknown, an even more minor character than himself, who, unlike a slightly later character with that name, didn't even give an illusion of being connected to The Unknown Soldier.

But that wasn't the end of Pen. After a hiatus lasting nearly a year, he turned up in Crack Comics #23 (March, 1943), where he replaced Madam Fatal in the back pages. Crack's cover feature, The Black Condor, was unaffected, at least for a few months. Pen remained while Captain Triumph took over the cover and most of the back-pages features disappeared. Somewhere along the way, Niki's name was changed to Chop Chu.

He lasted until Crack Comics #59 (March, 1949). Klaus Nordling wrote and drew him the whole time. Presumably, DC Comics owns, or at least can make a valid claim, to the character today. He remains dormant because it's hard to interest modern readers in a cartoonist's idealized self-image.


BACK to Don Markstein's Toonopedia™ Home Page
Today in Toons: Every day's an anniversary!


Purchase Toon-related Merchandise Online

Text ©2010 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Quality Comics.