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Ballet Souffle Trio

The Incomparable Ballet Souffle is a 4 page Lady Luck story written and drawn by Klaus Nordling who inherited the strip after the departure of Nicolas Vicardi (better known as Nick Cardy). The Lady Luck character was created by Will Eisner and Chuck Mazoujian in 1940. Nordling’s plot is a simple one involving rivalry and jealousy between three male ballet dancers, Sopofore, the chain smoking hypochondriac Mr Fawnish, and Blovodkine who is the ballet’s choreographer and lead dancer. At the outset Lady Luck is at the theater as the curtain is about to rise for the opening performance of Blovodkine’s new ballet “Peanut Brittle.” The male lead dancer, Sopofore, who is friends with Lady Luck bemoans that he has gained 47 pounds in the last two weeks and is uncertain both how well he will perform and be received by the audience and critics. Mr Fawnish appears suddenly out of nowhere to proclaim his talent and play the victim for being ignored for his talent, especially by Blovodkine whose role he desperately wants to dance. Mr Fawnish would also be thrilled to take over for Sopofore. Failing that, Mr Fawnish would be quite happy if the opening performance were a failure and sets about trying to sabotage a female dancer named Stampova. While all this is happening Lady Luck is observing Mr Fawnish and deduces he’s the likely culprit behind things going wrong. She quickly decides to ruin him and his efforts by placing a strand of bear fur (I kid you not from an old bear rug that just so happens to be lying on a trunk back stage) into a cigarette in his cigarette case which he just so happens to smoke before taking to the stage for his part. A moment into his pirouette and Mr Fawnish is almost overwhelmed with nausea and scurries back stage and subsequently confesses to lacing Sopofore’s food with “gland powders” and to ruining the other dancer’s performance because he wanted to discredit Blovodkine’s reputation. Despite these efforts the critics sing Blovodkine’s praises for his “daring departure in theme and technique” and Sopofore is content to longer being thin.

A few thoughts. Nordling quite obviously drew the male ballet performers with stereotypical traits and body language that were in conventional use at the time to convey gay queens: limp wrists, a head tilt, exaggerated arm gestures. Their names made me curious but I found nothing in searches for Sopofore or Blovodkine. Certainly “Fawnish” was a made up name, but something clicked in my memory and I searched Nijinsky’s name. Nijinsky was very famous at the time, and still is, for his role in Afternoon Of A Faun. The similarity in style between Mr Fawnish’s hair and Nijinsky’s Faun confirmed for me that Nordling used the famous Russian dancer to model Mr Fawnish. Nijinsky had many male admirers as soon as his career began and had affairs with Prince Pavel Dimitrievitch Lvov and Count Tishkievitch. The latter affair was all in the open. By age 20 he and Serge Diaghilev, the founder of the Ballets Russe, were lovers and Nijinsky the principal performer. Nijinsky later married a wealthy dancer named Romola de Pulszky which angered Diaghilev who fired him and a long downward spiral followed.

Blovodkine may have been based on Mikhail Mikhaylovich Fokine whom Diaghilev made Ballets Russe’s chief choreographer. Fokine also cast Nijinsky as the Fawn. Nordling’s choice to name the dance company Ballet Souffle may be a play on “Ballets Russe.” It’s purely a guess on my part, and a stretch at that, to wonder if Nordling chose “souffle” to convey another clue about the trio. Souffles would’ve been considered fancy and elegant, light and puffy or poofy and from poofy it isn’t much of a verbal leap to poofter which was a slang word for gay men.

Nordling’s Quality Comics editor Gill Fox noted in an interview with Alter Ego’s Jim Amash that Nordling was involved in local theater. That isn’t to say Nordling was gay or bisexual but the fact that he married and had two children might mean he was closeted. Nordling might just as well have known and been friendly with local gay men and this story was an attempt on his part to do something positive however constrained by social standards of the time.

This is the first and only appearance of this trio of characters who were created by Klaus Nordling. This story was printed in Smash Comics #68, cover dated December 1946 but this was a reprint from the Spirit Section as were all of the Lady Luck stories. I’m unable to find info on the original print date. The Spirit Section was a 16 page comic insert in the Sunday newspaper comics section. It was produced by the Eisner Studio and was the home of Will Eisner’s Spirit. The comic appeared in 20 newspapers with a combined circulation of 20 million so millions of people may have read this Lady Luck story.

The Ballet Souffle Trio join Duoro and Mulano, Hefty Hannah and Toots Malone, Jasper Dewgood, Sanjak, and several Wonder Woman characters as queer coded Golden Age characters.

Quality Comics went out of business in 1956 and the company sold many of its title and character trademarks to DC. The original Quality Comics trademarks have never been renewed which allows for those original stories to be in the public domain. DC has published stories over the years in order to keep its trademark intact on the Quality characters it bought. The most well known of these characters are Blackhawk, Plastic Man, and the characters who made up the Freedom Fighters: Uncle Sam, Black Condor, Doll Man, Phantom Lady, the Ray, and Human Bomb. Smash Comics #68 is free and legal to read at this link.

Thanks to Bill Delaney for mentioning this story!

December 12, 2022
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