In 1948-50, the back pages of Quality comic books often ran stories that looked and read a lot like Jack Cole comic book stories. Are they actually by Jack Cole, or do they represent his strong influence on a handful of artists who worked with him as assistants? It’s up to YOU, dear readers to help settle this mystery… so please comment and share your thoughts!
The most striking example of the Cole-like stories are a series of 5-page stories from Hit Comics featuring Naval anti-heroes BOB AND SWAB. Here’s one from Hit Comics #51 (March, 1948):
As you can see, these pages are filled with Cole-isms. The page layouts feature panels that are artistically rotated, “curl” up around the corners, and are circular and even jagged. These are all devices that Jack Cole invented and mastered as early as 1941 in his early MIDNIGHT stories.
The figures, both in the way they are inventively posed, and in the way they are arranged in the panel also seem very Cole-like. Many of the “supporting actors” are also physically exaggerated in one way or another – not unique to Cole by any means, but certainly part of his art.
Then there’s the treatment of sound effects as a visual element integrated into the design, something you can find in virtually every comic book page Cole drew.
The pages are delightfully dense, and represent kind of a virtuoso feat in the way they integrate so many people, objects, and backgrounds into a cohesive whole that drives the narrative forward.
BOB AND SWAB were created by Klaus Nordling, who wrote and drew most of the stories, and is probably best known for his LADY LUCK stories. The series name is an in-joke, as “bob and swab” is slang for receiving a blowjob while cleaning ones ear. The cough/sneeze from the swab (apparently) creates a more intense orgasm.
Whatever it’s intended secret meanings, the series was a fun-packed, red-blooded, two-fisted, woman-appreciating kind of adventure, something that would easily accommodate Jack Cole’s style of story. In fact, there are a lot of similarities between the work of Klaus Nordlng and Jack Cole. For one, Nordling was also a writer as well as an artist. Like Cole, he tended to do everything on his stories. He also was a master caricaturist, and had a great sense of humor. However, his work is not nearly as filled with shadows and obsessive themes relating to sex and death, as one finds in Jack Cole’s comic book stories. Nordling’s stories are great fun, but somehow, there’s much less at stake than one senses in a Jack Cole story.
For comparison, here is a typical (signed) Klaus Nordling BOB AND SWAB episode from around the same time as the maybe-Cole episodes, from Hit Comics #64 (May, 1950):
As you can see, while very distinctive and similar in some ways to Cole’s work, Nordling’s work can be clearly identified from Cole’s. (Klaus Nordling’s comics are quite enjoyable and I recommend them to anyone who likes Jack Cole’s work).
The Grand Comics Database credits the first story in this blog, from Hit #51 as being by Nordling, by clearly it’s not, as you can see when you compare the two stories. The GCD lists all the 1948 BOB AND SWAB stories as being written and drawn by Klaus Nordling. Clearly, these were made by other talented folks and the GCD, a wonderful resource, is incorrect. I haven’t emailed them a correction, however, because I cannot conclusively say WHO did these marvelous stories.
If Nordling didn’t write and draw the Cole-like 1948 BOB AND SWAB stories, then who did?
As you study the other three examples below, you’ll see the stories very much feel like Jack Cole, especially when the sexy women enter the story. It’s hard to look at the lovely mermaid splash page for the BOB AND SWAB story from Hit Comics #54 (see below) and say that Cole didn’t have a hand in the art. The females in these BOB AND SWAB episodes look strikingly like the “Cole Woman,” and that is what first drew my attention to these stories.
But even with the mouth-watering women, the great layouts, and all the Cole-isms, these stories somehow don’t quite feel like pure Cole.
It’s my guess, and I could be wrong, that these stories are the work of one or more of the talented artists who worked with Cole as assistants on Plastic Man. There is such gusto and exuberance in the art of these stories that they feel to me like new talent showing what it can do on it’s own, and also drawing (no pun intended) on the genius innovations they learned from Jack Cole.
As to who the writers and artist(s) could be on these stories could be, I’d welcome your thoughts, dear readers. Could they be written and penciled by Cole, and inked by someone else? Or do they represent someone like Cole’s assistant on Plastic Man and the True Crime comics Alex Kotzky really going to town and reaching deep to make some great little stories?
Here are a couple of pages from the great “Mr. Cat” story in Police Comics #72 (November, 1947) by Jack Cole and Alex Kotzky that, in their exotic setting and page layouts, feel very much like these BOB AND SWAB stories:
Or perhaps these stories are collaborations between Jack Cole and John Spranger, who had worked in the Eisner-Iger studio and who was generally thought to be able to the best Cole-like Plastic Man. Here is an example of his work on THE SAINT comic strip that shows he had great design talent:
In any case, who ever did write and draw these stories, it is clear that a fresh, post-war crop of writers and artists in the late 1940’s were being heavily influenced by Mr. Cole. And, whoever the credit belongs to – Jack Cole, or one of his talented assistants, these are wonderful stories with some great artwork, and I am pleased to share them with you!
I look forward to hearing your thoughts on my latest entry of IS THIS COLE?
Hit Comics #52 (May, 1948)
Hit Comics #54 (Sept. 1948)
Hit Comics #55 (Nov. 1948)