FANNIE OGRE – Jack Cole’s Great Lost SPIRIT Story (1942)

THE SPIRIT first appeared as a weekly comic book insert. It was so successful that a daily newspaper strip soon followed. SPIRIT creator Will Eisner wrote and drew the first six weeks of the strip. When the wartime effort drafted Eisner into military service, Jack Cole took over the strip. In August, 1942, Cole left the strip to create a new back-up feature in the pages of Police Comics, a little thing called PLASTIC MAN.
A couple of years later, in 1944, Jack Cole wrote and penciled some of the SPIRIT Sunday comic book insert stories, which can be found here and here.
 fannie ogre
Cole’s work on the SPIRIT DAILIES runs from May 18, 1942 to August 8, 1942, and covers a complete storyline, start to finish. In this post, we share the complete story, which features the proto-typical Chester Gould/Jack Cole comic strip femme fatale, FANNIE OGRE.
There are several “tells” in the artwork itself that this sequence was mostly penciled, inked, and even lettered by Cole. The artwork strongly resembles his MIDNIGHT (which was created as a SPIRIT duplicate) stories of the same period, and uses many of the same characteristic visual elements, including:
  • Decorative patterns
  • Pointed exclamation marks
  • Distinctive lettering (so that the simple sentence “Oh ho! Do I!” has a wealth of nuance and tonality)
  • Extreme camera angle
  • Funnel-shaped sound effects
  • Speed lines and clouds that include the speed sound effects of “zip!”
  • Beams of light slashing through darkness, usually with pointillism effects at the edges
Many of these devices can be spotted in the following two strips:
The Spirit dailies by Jack Cole_call outs copy
Aside from the art, the storytelling is classic Cole. In the example shown above, we have a casual graphic description of torture and dismemberment, with a comic edge!
After an introductory bit of comic business with Spirit assistant Ebony and his con-man cousin Scallywag, Cole teasingly introduces the grotesque figure of FANNIE ORGE, a youthful, shapely woman with a horribly wrinkled face… sort of a female Prune Face (Cole borrowed a lot from Chester Gould’s DICK TRACY, and never more so than in this early newspaper strip effort).
Cole’s graphic stories were filled with crazy inventions, and this story is no exception. A jar of magical beauty cream erases FANNIE’s wrinkles, bringing Cole’s core theme of shapeshifting and identity/face change to the fore.
When he created the character of PLASTIC MAN, Cole had the inspiration of tweaking the superhero origin story by making the non-super self a crook and then having the hero keep the identity of the criminal (for a while, at least). This same playfulness around the conventions of the crime-fighter hero story is evident in FANNIE ORGE, when she extracts a promise from THE SPIRIT to lay off crime-fighting until August 1 (co-incidentally PLASTIC MAN’s birth date, roughly).
The story ends with, yes, you guessed it.. a suicide. For a man who ended his life in suicide, it is haunting that so many of Jack Cole’s comic book stories include suicide. More people killed, or attempted to kill themselves in Jack Cole’s “funny” comic book stories than in any other series in the history of comics and, possibly literature.
fannie ogre suicide
FANNIE ORGE’s death is almost an exact copy of the ending of the classic 4th MIDNIGHT story, written and drawn by Jack Cole about 8 months earlier, with the silhouette of the plunging figure and the clock tower tolling the death knell. Ask not for whom the bell tolls… it tolls for thee.
With the exception of Cole’s last work on his newspaper comic strip Betsy and Me, this story represents the longest sustained graphic narrative of his career, at roughly the equivalent of 24 pages in comic book format (the longest PLASTIC MAN stories were 15 pages in length).
It is interesting to note how Cole’s treatment of Ebony prefigures PLASTIC MAN’s sidekick, Woozy Winks. This story is the missing link between Ebony White and Woozy Winks, and shows the creative cross-pollination that happened between Jack Cole and Will Eisner.
A disclaimer is also necessary here. Cole’s depiction of Black Americans (thousands of which were off fighting for the United States in World War Two when this story was created) is inexcusable. We present this work here not to put anyone down, but to look at the artistic development of an important figure in American art.
I hope you enjoy FANNIE OGRE, a lost classic dug up for you from the Cole-mine!
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