Joining the ranks of YoYo Martin as our favorite villains of the comics pages, Mr. Coffee Nerves is a vaudevillian apparition whose arch-nemesis is made of whole wheat and bran, and tastes quite delicious when combined with warm milk. Postum, the coffee-alternative.
Paul Arthur’s character Mr. Coffee Nerves gains his pleasure in breaking up families, destroying careers, instigating murders, and other generally evil intentions perfectly suitable for the host of a caffeine headache. Who is this Paul Arthur, you ask? Well, if you couldn’t take a guess from the style, he’s both Milton Caniff and Noel Sickles.
The old best friends and native-Ohioans shared a studio at 320 East 42nd Street (which Sickles also called home), where amid pumping out Terry and the Pirates and Scorchy Smith, respectively, the two also moonlighted doing advertisement work. “Paul Arthur” was their chosen non-de-plume, and is a reversal of Caniff’s two middle names. As noted by Bruce Canwell in Scorchy Smith and the Art of Noel Sickles, “Because the deadlines of producing a regular comics feature were relentless, employers were not enamored by the thought of their creators adding to their workload, which increased the risk of artists turning in their strips late”, thus the necessity of a pseudonym.
The two worked on the Postum advertisements, and many others like it, from roughly 1936-1938. These advertisements would often allow them to rake in triple of what they were making in the syndicates each week.
Coffee in the 1930s, it would seem, is marginally decipherable from crack- barring the employment of Snidely Whiplash’s grandfather as a mascot. We love Sickles and Caniff’s interpretation of the character, as later versions in the 1950s unfortunately added a jet-pack to Nerves’ costume and lost the hat. The two geniuses would collaborate again as Paul Arthur in 1977 on an unsold Bruce Lee comic strip, the original drafts of which reside in our collection at the Cartoon Library.
As a bonus for those especially tickled by Mr. Coffee Nerves- give a listen to hear him in dubious action on a radio commercial for Postum, available through the Old-Time Radio website.