The Pirate Prince – Cole’s first sexual politics story, and his 24-hour comic?

In January, 1940 Silver Streak Comics #7 hit the stands and featured a whopping 38 pages of story and art by Jack Cole. For good measure, Cole also did the cover for this issue, one of the great iconic covers of the early Golden Age of comics.

SIlver streak 7 cover Jack Cole[5]

Buried among the famous Claw, Daredevil, and Silver Streak stories was a little treasure – a  battle-of-the-sexes story disguised as a pirate yarn. Due to the large amount of pages that Cole created in this issue (which he also edited, by the way… which suggests why Cole was never an editor at Quality – because he probably would have written and drawn most of the books he edited!), the story is clearly tossed off, possibly in a single day.

If so, this would make The Pirate Prince perhaps Cole’s only 24-hour comic book story. Like 24-hour comics, this story (even sloppily signed by Cole in a signature that looks very similar to the signature he would use almost 15 years later in his Playboy cartoons)  is loose, revealing, and has an immediacy in both the art and storytelling.

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Given how largely women would figure in Cole’s later work, this story is significant in that Cole has clearly tossed aside the tropes of pirate stories to unreel his own battle-of-the-sexes.

True to form, even in this rush job, Cole packs in a wealth if ideas, including the wonderful concept of a pirate that preys on pirates, setting free slaves…. Robin Hood on the seas.

Cole was fond of creating new series that he then left to others (Daredevil, Silver Streak, The Barker, Death Patrol, Midnight, etc.).  He only made one episode of The Pirate Prince before turning it over to  another great writer-artist, Dick Briefer, who would continue the series for several years.

Here’s Briefer’s first entry in the series, which appeared in Silver Streak #8:

 silverstreak08_12[5] silverstreak08_13[5] silverstreak08_14[5] silverstreak08_15[5] silverstreak08_16[5]

Note Briefer has seized on Cole’s “good pirate” concept and totally abandoned the sexual tension Cole set up. The stories didn’t amount to much, but they were entertaining for the liveliness of Briefer’s line and compositions. Here’s one from a few issues later, in Silver Streak #12:

 silverstreak12_51[5] silverstreak12_52[5] silverstreak12_53[5] silverstreak12_54[5] silverstreak12_55[5]

Briefer’s art soon coalesced into a wonderful, tight cartoony style. Check this post at the fun Mippyville blog for a nice later-period Briefer Pirate Prince story.

BURP THE TWERP – Jack Cole’s Other Comic Book Superhero Satire – The first 20 episodes

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)

POLICE COMICS 002.Burp1

 

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)

Winter, 1946:
The Barker #2 (Episode 55)

Winter, 1946:
Blackhawk #13 (Episode 56)

Autumn 1947:
Blackhawk #16 (Episode 57)

April, 1948:
National Comics #65 (Episode 58)

April, 1949:
Blackhawk #24 (Episode 59)

June, 1949:
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!

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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…

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Episode 4 - Police Comics #5 (Dec. 1941)

Comedic prizefighting, another Segar/POPEYE staple.

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Episode 5 - Police Comics #6 (Jan. 1942)

Cole echoes American tall tales such as Paul Bunyan here.

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Episode 6 - Police Comics #7 (Feb. 1942)

The ridiculous fight between two super strong men… yet another common set up from Segar’s POPEYE.

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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.

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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.

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Episode 9 - Police Comics #10 (May, 1942)

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Episode 10 - Police Comics #11 (June, 1942)

Gruesome comedy. Think I’ll eat vegan today.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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Episode 14 - Police Comics #15 (Oct, 1942)

Five-letter word for Jack Cole: genius.

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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!).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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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

THE JERRY MORRIS CLAW STORIES – Dreamslaves and the fiery brilliance of youthful comic book invention

Stories in this post:

Silver Streak Comics #01 - the claw

THE COMING OF THE CLAW
Story, art, lettering by Jack Cole
Silver Streak Comics #1
December, 1939
Lev Gleason

 

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HIGHWAY OF ICE
Story, art, lettering by Jack Cole
Silver Streak Comics #2
January, 1940
Lev Gleason

 

 

In late 1939, Jack Cole got his first comic book to edit, Silver Streak Comics. The first two issues were filled with lackluster leftover Chesler shop stories, but no matter. The lead stories featured one of Cole’s most feverish creations: THE CLAW.

Cole developed THE CLAW for the next 10 issues, culminating in a 4-issue mash-up epic, “Daredevil Battles the Claw.” This inspired idea for expanding a story across issues and including the line’s best heroes and villains all in one story set the tone for the Golden Age era of comics.

The first two CLAW stories featured the “chemist-adventurer” JERRY MORRIS as the hero. After this, Cole would pit his gargantuan oriental nightmare against heroes who had superpowers. The first two CLAW stories are, in my opinion, pretty special.

JERRY MORRIS has no extraordinary physical powers, but he appears to have no fear and, best of all, he has the ability to create mind-boggling inventions. In Silver Streak #3, Cole would introduce an extraordinary, slightly auto-biographical story cycle about another inventor, DICKIE DEAN, BOY INVENTOR.

Crazy inventions were a major theme of Cole’s work, and a story device he turned to time and time again throughout his career.

In this first CLAW story, Jerry Morris invents a “radium serum” that makes him immune to the Claw’s ability to control others through their dreams. (See the post on “The Dictator of Dreams” from Police Comics #78, in which Cole returned to this idea as a mature artist).

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The first CLAW story is filled with elements that would become obsessive mainstays of Cole’s work: fire and water, dark forces, dreams and the sub-conscious, and wild inventions.

In this story, both the hero and the villain have cool inventions. Cole devotes most of pages 8 and 9 to explain THE CLAW’s ingenious method for secretly stealing ships’ cargoes. Thus, THE CLAW’s power is built on both supernatural evil forces and modern technology!

In the second CLAW story, Cole takes a major leap forward as an artist. We move from the rather standard treatment of the Claw’s towering evil presence shown on page three in story one to the astonishingly weird and elegant pose of the villain on page 5 of the second story.

 

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This story is one of Cole’s wildest ever, and that’s saying a lot. sheer imagination and quantity of the inventions alone is staggering. It’s not the inventions alone that make this story remarkable, but rather their unusual and poetic application.The idea of a car that can travel on top of the roaring ocean waves is a brilliant juxtaposition of modern technology and powerful natural forces. Cole would recycle this idea with a melting ray mounted on a car in a Midnight story a few years later.

This story ranks among the very best of Cole’s early stories, along with “Sounds From the Past” (Dickie Dean, Silver Streak Comics #3), “Wizard Ward and the Boat Race” (Quicksilver, National Comics #13), and the formally perfect fourth Midnight story from Smash Comics #21.

Much in the way Cole created the Plastic Man character out of an evil man, in an almost unconscious reversal of the typical formula, he started his own title without a featured hero and instead made the all-powerful occidental villain THE CLAW the focus of the book. Art Spiegelman said THE CLAW made Ming the Merciless look like Mother Theresa, and even that is an understatement!

The prime creators of the early Golden Age comics channeled the evil forces around them that were growing in power. In the second CLAW story, from 1940 (before the United States joined the war), Cole includes Hitler and Nazi Germany.

In these stories, Cole also showed his own inner demons and darkness. At the bottom of page 5 in story two, the page with the weirdly graceful pose of the villain, there is a vivid image of a suicide.

imageIn some ways, this story, created early in Cole’s 16-year career in comics, is very similar to his last comic book story, “The Monster They Couldn’t Kill” (Web of Evil #11, 1954) also about a towering giant menace. The difference in the early CLAW stories and “The Monster They Couldn’t Kill,” is a shift in the way technology is viewed. In his last story, Cole’s giant monster is a scientist trying to accomplish something good, and in the end, he does this by killing himself…. a solution Cole would enact in his own life. In the early CLAW stories, however, Cole displays a wholehearted, youthful, fever-pitch enthusiasm for technology and the belief (for it is as much a belief system as any religion) that humanity can invent it’s way out of any crisis.

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