IS THIS COLE #5 : The 1948 Bob and Swab Stories

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):

Hit51_1

Hit51_2 Hit51_3

Hit51_4 Hit51_5

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):

Hit 064-22

Hit 064-23 Hit 064-24

Hit 064-25 Hit 064-26

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:

Police 072-12

Police 072-13

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:

Saint Comic-Strip 1951[6]

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)

Hit52_1

Hit52_2 Hit52_3

Hit52_4 Hit52_5

 

Hit Comics #54 (Sept. 1948)

Hit54_1

Hit54_2 Hit54_3

Hit54_4 Hit54_5

 

Hit Comics #55 (Nov. 1948)

Hit55_1

Hit55_2 Hit55_3

Hit55_4 Hit55_5

WINDY BREEZE Part 3 – 1944

Here’s the next 10 delightful episodes of Jack Cole’s classic Windy Breeze one-page comic book stories, signed with his pen name, Ralph Johns.

These are presented in the order of publication. This set of 10 are from National Comics #40-50. There was no Windy Breeze published in National Comics #43, although Cole was more than usually present in that issue with the cover and lead feature, the first BARKER story (which we will present in this blog very soon!), For the previous 20 Windy Breeze pages, see my earlier postings here.

Note that, as in the earlier postings, I have touched up some of the pages and added publication information on each page.

I am indebted to Ger Apeldoorn’s great blog, The Fabuleous Fifties, for a couple of the scans below. Notes on the individual episodes follow.

 

National Comics #40 (March, 1944)
In their great book, Jack Cole and Plastic Man: Forms Stretched to Their Limits, Art Speigelman and Chip Kidd refer to “the idea-per-minute vaudeville zaniness of Olsen and John’s Hellzapoppin…” This episode is a good example of Cole’s Vaudeville like theatrical staging. His characters often “acted” for the audience, dropping outrageous puns and striking humorous poses, just like comedians in the Vaudeville and early film comedies did.

image: cartoon man being chased by police

National Comics #41 (April,1944)
This scan comes from my own collection, and is part of what I call the Great Tallahassee Golden Age Score, in which I managed to acquire two large cartons of random pages of classic Golden Age comic books, including some nice Jack Cole material. For the whole story on that collector’s dream find, see this posting. In panel 3, Windy talks directly the audience, another Vaudeville, broadly comic touch.

image: comic book cartoon character pats himself on the back and rides in a car 

National Comics #42 (May, 1944)
A bizarrely violent episode with great cartooning. I love the way Cole’s figures in the mid-forties had become refined and angular. Note also the amazingly good lettering (which Cole did himself in these 1-pagers), especially in panel 5. His lettering enhances the “actors” delivery of the lines. Look at how the rising and lowering of the h’s in “Ohhhhhh!” suggests the wavering of a prolonged exclamation. It’s a myriad of touches like this that makes Cole’s comics a world unto their own, and fun to read.

image: cartoon characters from the 1940s hitting each other

National Comics #44 (June, 1944)
Lots of wonderful little touches here. The scalloped edges of the middle tier. The dynamic integration of the “zoom” sound effect in panel 5, the labels for the 20th floor and the banana peel, which somehow add to the zany humor.

Rare old back issue comic book page from National Comics by Quality Publications 1940s

National Comics #45 (July, 1944)
One of the very best of all of Cole’s one-pagers. Beautiful design, great pacing, lovely cartooning. Note the scalloped edged panels again for the imaginary flashbacks.

image: cartoon giant mushrooms

 

National Comics #46 (August, 1944)
Cole is hitting some kind of peak here with another breathtaking page. The fanciful rowboat reminds me of George Herriman’s Krazy Kat. Look how Cole breaks up the three tiers with tall and shot panels. I love how Windy’s speech balloon in the final panel dovetails into the space made by the 3 panels around it. Outstanding layout.

image: comic book cartoons of man in rowboat 

National Comics #47 (September, 1946)
A rare wartime joke. Windy’s character is getting richer. Here, he’s cheap, and quarrelsome.

nat47_comic book old car balloons

National Comics #48 (October, 1944)
Occasionally luck breaks in Windy’s favor, which keeps the strip interesting. The idea of propelling a motorboat with furious ear-wiggling is funny. Cole was such a good writer that he doesn’t even need to illustrate this to make it funny. Love panel seven, where Cole really suggests a strong wind with the poses and displaced clothing.

image: comic book man blown by stong wind

National Comics #49 (November, 1944)
This episode is funny, but there is a slight edge of darkness, especially in the great opening panel.

image: cartoon flowers and candy

 

National Comics #50 (December, 1944)
Brilliant word play. Cole was a true master. If Samuel Beckett wrote comics in the 1940’s they might read like this. Note how Cole has simplified the images to match the reduced verbiage. And note also how his expert lettering carries the entire concept forward, as it subtly increases in size.

comic book page about a door to door salesman

I Was The Monster They Couldn’t Kill – So I Had To: Jack Cole’s Final Comic Book Story

Story in this post: “The Monster They Couldn’t Kill”
Story and Pencils by Jack Cole, inker unknown
Web of Evil #11 (Feb., 1954 – Quality Comics Publications)

cartoon-monster-destroying-

Jack Cole’s dark and disturbing last published comic book story haunts me. I first read it about 6 months ago, and have read it about a dozen times since. I cannot escape the growing sense that Cole was sending out a personal message in this story: a comment on his 16 year career in comic books, and perhaps a bitter statement about the way the industry had changed. I think Cole drew back the curtain and exposed his own inner psyche in this story. Knowing that he would take his own life in despair just a few years later, this story haunts me.

It’s my own theory that Jack Cole wrote at least 8 of the 16 stories he penciled that appeared in Web of Evil #1-11 (I haven’t seen the first story he did, in Web #1). It seems to me that these stories are all better written and revolve around a character’s psychological breakdown instead of an unexplained supernatural event. A more complete explanation of this theory is available in an earlier posting, here.

monster rocket flame In “The Monster They Couldn’t Kill,” Cole creates the character of a scientist who has a serious lapse in judgment and makes himself the test subject of an experiment involving atomic energy. Cole begins the story brilliantly AFTER the experiment, our first indication that this is – either deliberately or unconsciously – a story reflecting BACK on his career in comics. It seems certain that Cole created this story knowing full well it would be his last, since it was his decision to go work for Hugh Hefner at PLAYBOY.

Even though he was dismissive of his comic book work, there can be no doubt for anyone that has read Jack Cole’s stories that he poured his heart and soul into these stories, and realized on some level that they represented an enormous effort on his part. This was a guy that clearly LOVED comics. “The Monster They Couldn’t Kill,” then, is a window into Cole’s feelings as he closed this chapter of his life.

image: comic book atomic radioactive giant scientist breaks out of train

image: back issue comic book scientists image: comic book scientists at supercomputer in 1953

image: rare comic book page showing giant monster image: page from rare comic book web of evil 11 by Jack Cole

image: radioactive giant man tipping over rocket 1950s image: atomic explosion in comic book page from 1953

The scientist-monster has no voice in this story. Not until the end do we even know for sure that anything of his mind and humanity remain.

Once again, we have Cole’s favorite theme of crazy inventions, which he used over and over in his graphic stories, starting with some of his earliest work on the DICKIE DEAN, BOY INVENTOR stories (1940).

In this story, the focus is not on the invention at all, but the terrible consequence it has had on it’s inventor, and the people around him. We know that Cole himself was an inventor, so if we switch out the scientist with Cole in this scenario, a chilling personal statement about how he may have regarded himself comes into focus.

image-cartoon-monster-scien It’s almost as if Cole is revealing some deep inner part of himself. A grim-faced scientist pulls aside a curtain on page two and we see what this great inventor has become: a giant franciscogoya_saturn_devouring_his_sonidiot, barely recognizable as a human. He wears goggles with slits in them, presumably eye protection from when he irradiated himself.

The goggles and his deformed face and body give him a preternatural look, like something out of a Goya painting. I was struck by the similarity between the post-atomic Dr. Fry and Jack Kirby’s Mole Man villain from his FANTASTIC FOUR stories (which was derived from his 1950’s monster stories):

monster-and-mole-man Cole was a tall man, with thin fingers, and it seems to me he put something of himself into both Plastic Man and Dr. Fry.

The psychological overtones are rampant in this story. I also wonder if Cole was thinking about the comic industry, which had grown so rapidly and which had seemingly morphed maniac-computerinto a world where he was no longer welcome. The industry had grown at a maniac pace. It’s no subtle clue that Cole names the super-computer in the story “Maniac.”

Dr. Fry is a sort of post-atomic age version of Plastic Man, in that his body is deformed by a brand new technology. Going all the way back to Jack Cole’s first adventure story, Little Dynamite, so many of Jack Cole’s stories are about the power – and chaos - that is unleashed when the human body is stretched, deformed, pulled, stunted, or gigantized.

Like Plastic Man, Dr. Fry is a hero, but for different reasons. Dr. Fry’s growth is out of control. Maniac informs us that he will eventually be larger than the earth. In short order, he’s too large for humans to control. He bursts out of a railroad radioactive-monsterfreight car as if it were made of tissue paper. He tears a building down as if it were made of Legos.

But none of this destruction is mindless, as it turns out. Dr. Fry is well aware that he has become the monster they can’t kill… therefore the only solution left in this desperate situation is… suicide. In the last panel of the last story Jack Cole published, the “monster” is praised for taking his own life and sparing those around him. Suicide as heroism.

Jack Cole took his own life on August 13, 1958, just about four years after he wrote and drew “The Monster They Couldn’t Kill.”  He wrote two suicide notes, bought a hand gun, and drove to a road outside of town and shot himself in the head. Sadly, two children on bikes found him, still alive. He died later that day in a hospital.

It has never been clear why this enormously talented and powerful creator ended his life so early, in the prime of his life. His last comic book story, perhaps, holds a clue.

Copyright 2009, Paul C. Tumey

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