Sometime in 1941, Jack Cole had the brilliant and visionary idea to make fun of comic book superheroes, a genre not even 5 years old at the time.
All at once, three mind-blowing series exploring this idea of this idea sprang from Cole’s mind into existence, beginning an arc of invention that would peak about 10 years later with Harvey Kurtzman’s MAD parodies. The three series were PLASTIC MAN, DEATH PATROL, and the almost unknown BURP THE TWERP.
Here’s the amazing first appearance of BURP THE TWERP:
Episode 1 - Police Comics #2 (Sept. 1941)
There’s more entertainment in this single page than in most of the 5-7 page Quality filler stories. I count no less than 13 jokes in this one page alone. As if the creation of a new anti-hero and a bushel of jokes wasn’t enough, Cole also throws in one of his many self-portraits – this time as “Ralph Johns,” a pen name he frequently used for his one-page stories. (Cole’s middle name was Ralph, and Jack is a version of the name “John”)
As a kind of carry-over from the earliest comic books, which were collections of 1- and 2-page shorts, Quality’s comics usually included a couple of one pagers. During the 1940’s Cole wrote and drew hundreds of these (see my earlier postings on WINDY BREEZE).
Except for a handful of episodes, Burp’s one-page stories all appeared in the back pages of Police Comics. He functioned as a kind of counter-weight to the PLASTIC MAN stories that appeared in the front of the book.
While Plastic Man could shape his body into any object or person, Burp had an infinite number of wacky super-powers. Sporting the same red/black/yellow costume colors as Plastic Man, Burp’s physique was anything but heroic: bulging stomach, spindly legs, gray mustache, and bald head.
At a time when the comic book superhero was almost a religious icon, Cole’s parody was outrageous.
Cole filled the early E.C.Segar inspired BURP pages with loose, crazy drawings, wild puns, surreal/stream-of-consciousness gags (another connection to MAD and Will Elder), and satirical wackiness surpassed only by his PLASTIC MAN stories.
From September, 1941 to April, 1949 Cole published a total of 59 one-page BURP THE TWERP episodes. Each one was touched with brilliance. Here’s a run-down of the BURP pages:
September, 1941 – July, 1946:
Police Comics #2-55 (Episodes 1-54)
The Barker #2 (Episode 55)
Blackhawk #13 (Episode 56)
Blackhawk #16 (Episode 57)
National Comics #65 (Episode 58)
Blackhawk #24 (Episode 59)
Blackhawk #25 (reprint of episode 55 from The Barker #2)
The last 3 BURP episodes were re-published earlier in this blog here, to celebrate the publication of THE TOON TREASURY a massive, hallucinogenic tome of comic book work, compiled and beautifully shaped by Art Spiegelman and Francois Mouly, which reprints 3 BURP pages.
Here are the rest of the first 20 episodes of BURP THE TWERP, with occasional notes.
Episode 2 - Police Comics #3 (Oct. 1941)
It was (and is) common practice to draw the title art of a series once and then paste in photostats of it in each new story. Cole drew the titles of this and all his other stories fresh and different every time!
Episode 3 - Police Comics #4 (Nov. 1941)
First known “photograph” of an instinct! To my eye, it resembles E.C. Segar’s Jeep, from POPEYE. How interesting that Cole said “photograph,” and not “drawing.” In his mind, these were little films more than static drawings…
Episode 4 - Police Comics #5 (Dec. 1941)
Comedic prizefighting, another Segar/POPEYE staple.
Episode 5 - Police Comics #6 (Jan. 1942)
Cole echoes American tall tales such as Paul Bunyan here.
Episode 6 - Police Comics #7 (Feb. 1942)
The ridiculous fight between two super strong men… yet another common set up from Segar’s POPEYE.
Episode 7 - Police Comics #8 (March, 1942)
Jack Cole presents a lexicon of men/women relationships here. The short man’s name, “Digest,” cracked me up.
Episode 8 - Police Comics #9 (April, 1942)
When he flies, Superman kind of dive swims through the air in graceful arcs. Burp flies by way of an ungainly propeller that comes out of his head.
Episode 9 - Police Comics #10 (May, 1942)
Episode 10 - Police Comics #11 (June, 1942)
Gruesome comedy. Think I’ll eat vegan today.
Episode 11 - Police Comics #12 (July, 1942)
None of Cole’s characters fought in WWII, which Cole also sat out. In the early 1950’s, in one of his last stories, Cole brought Plastic Man and Woozy to the Korean War.
Episode 12 - Police Comics #13 (August, 1942)
Cole’s depiction of people from Japan in his comics was virulently racist and, sadly, typical. This time, Burp’s propeller comes out of his butt,which also has a target painted on it.
Episode 13 - Police Comics #14 (Sept, 1942)
The character in panel 7 looks a lot like one of the characters in Harvey Kurtzman’s HEY LOOK 1-pagers. Was Kurtzman influenced by Cole’s BURP pages?
Episode 14 - Police Comics #15 (Oct, 1942)
Five-letter word for Jack Cole: genius.
Episode 15 - Police Comics #16 (Nov, 1942)
In BURP’s world, realty twists itself to conform to puns. Burp is also, in a way, Cole’s ultimate creator of crazy inventions, although they seem to be less inventions and more organic extensions of himself (such as super ear wax!).
Episode 16 - Police Comics #17 (Dec, 1942)
Bizarre and unsuccessful. Also, have you noticed how loose the drawing has become? COLE’s PLASTIC MAN had become a huge success by time, and must have been making larger and larger demands on his time.
Episode 17 - Police Comics #18 (Jan, 1943)
Cole re-shapes his character… literally! A terrifically inventive way to draw a gag out of a change in direction.
Episode 18 - Police Comics #19 (Feb, 1943)
Cole loved volcanoes. See Coleism #3 in my article on some of Cole’s recurring story devices here.
Episode 19 - Police Comics #20 (March, 1943)
Superman is vulnerable to Kryptonite; Burp the Twerp is vulnerable to… tickling! A throwback to the earlier character design… probably published out of sequence.
Episode 20 - Police Comics #21 (April, 1943)
Cole draws FDR and Churchill. For some reason, they are at the North Pole. Cole appears to have been anti-war, and this strip certainly shows the absurdity of war in no uncertain terms. See also his anti-war story, “A Machine to End War,” (Dickie Dean in Silver Streak #4, May 1940)
Want more? Leave a comment or drop me a line if you’d like me to share the remaining 39 Burp the Twerp episodes!
Text copyright 2010 Paul Tumey