Ferdinand Fermo Fissi was born in Greenwich, London, on 11 June 1872 at 484 New Cross Road. He married Alice Maud Giles (1887-1951) in Rochford, Essex in September 1907 and they had two children, Sophie Maud, born 1908 in Rochford, who died in 1994 in Honiton, and Dorothea Alice, born 1914, who died in 2002 in North Wales. Sophie apparently had two daughters.
Fissi may have had his first professional experience with illustrations for ‘The Illustrated Police Budget the Leading Illustrated Police Journal in England,’ which ran from 1893 to 1910, and was edited by Harold Furniss. He definitely had a hand in ‘Famous Fights Past and Present’ (1901) and ‘Famous Crimes Past and Present’ (c. 1903), both edited and eventually published by Harold Furniss. Another likely source of work was probably the publisher Charles Shurey, who was also connected with Famous Crimes and had numerous penny publications to his name.
In 1909 Fissi executed 22 drawings of Beaulieau Abbey which were engraved and published in book form under the title ‘A History of Beaulieu Abbey,’ by Sir James Kingston Fowler. Fissi was a contributor of motoring illustrations to a magazine called ‘The Car’ in 1912. In 1913 he illustrated ‘Dervorgilla, Lady of Galloway and Her Abbey of the Sweet Heart,’ by Wentworth Huyshe, for the Chiswick Press in Edinburgh.
Alice Maud petitioned for divorce in 1917. Fissi was remarried to Mary Rebecca (Rita) Morgans on 22 Feb 1919. In 1922 Fissi was working at London's Cricklewood studios for J. Stuart Blackton, the British-born founder of American Vitagraph Company and producer of the first animated cartoon, "Humorous Phases of Funny Faces," in 1906. The 1922 film was titled "The Gipsy Cavalier" and starred famous French light heavyweight boxing champion Georges Carpentier. In 1923 Blackton and Fissi worked together in London on "The Virgin Queen."*
Ferdinand and Rita sailed to New York on the SS Aquitania in 1924. They lived in New York at 1585 East 14 Street from 1925 to 1930. A surviving photograph shows Fissi at work as a scenic artist in an unidentified film studio, possibly at Cricklewood, possibly in New York. On 3 may, 1925 Fissi authored an article in the New York Herald Tribune titled “How Tricks of the Motion Picture Trade are done. Feats of Photography and Illusion explained and Illustrated by Ferdinand Fissi.”
The US census showed them living in North Tarrytown, New York in 1930, which is probably the year they moved to Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where they resided at 204 Indian Valley Trail in the suburb of Port Credit. The couple had no children. Fissi was appointed Chief Artistic Director for the city of Toronto and spent his later days designing ceramics and furniture in Port Credit.
Fissi was quite a good artist and his sensational drawings had a grim, lively, even humorous quality about them. His most famous work will probably end up to be the illustrations to the account of ‘Jack the Ripper’ which appeared in ‘Famous Crimes’ about 1903. The series is famous amongst Ripperologists in both original and facsimile reproductions. I myself am quite fond of the covers to the serialized ‘Burke and Hare,’ the bloody-minded pair of Scottish body-snatchers, also published in ‘Famous Crimes.’
It’s not known if Fissi carried on as an illustrator in New York and Toronto. Likely he did and his contributions might be eventually dug up in old newspapers and magazines. His sketches and paintings, if they survived, may still be hidden in some basement library archive in Ontario, awaiting rediscovery.
Ferdinand Fissi died of coronary thrombosis 18 October 1954 at 11:30 pm in the Oakville Hospital at Port Credit. Rita Fissi died 22 May 1963 aged 68. She is buried at Spring Creek Cemetery, Spring Creek Cemetery in Mississauga, Ontario.
*Many thanks to Tony Morgans (Rita Fissi’s nephew) and Nick McBride for most of the illustrations. Thanks to Clare Lendrem, grand-daughter of Dorothea Alice Fissi, for The J. Stuart Blackton references.