A huge shout out to the amazing scanners and folks at the Digital Comics Museum for making material like this available to the world. Bless you, men!
According to Kurt Vonnegut, a twerp is someone who shoves false teeth up his rear end and bites the buttons off of the back seats of taxi cabs. That’s not too far from the bizarre, funny Jack Cole version. Perhaps Vonnegut had Cole’s comic in mind.
As Cole was developing his brilliant Plastic Man stories in Police Comics, which were a parody of the superhero concept, he also delivered a wonderful wacky Burp the Twerp one-pager every month which represented an all-out surreal take on the then brand-new world of the costumed crusaders.
Cole’s Burp is a fat, round, polka-dotted butterballish senior citizen. While Cole was obviously heavily influenced by screwball cartoonist Bill Holman (Smokey Stover), in this this page, Cole pays homage to E.C. Segar’s POPEYE, another of his inspirations. Segar was fond of staging knock-down, drag-out epic prize fights between Popeye and oversized contenders. Popeye, sometimes regarded as the first superhero, displayed amazing strength and always won. If you haven’t read Segar’s Popeye,be sure to check it out. Fantagraphics is reprinting this all-time great in super cool, affordable volumes.
Police Comics #5 (December, 1941)
Note the name of the contender in the above page. It’s startling how often the word and act of suicide appears in Cole’s work.
Next, here’s another “fight” that Cole’s fiendishly clever sub-conscious derails into la-la land.
Police Comics #7 (Feb. 1942)
Some of Cole’s war-time work was pretty racist, such as this one-pager. I don’t know for sure, but my in-depth study of Cole’s work leads me to think that he was no more racist than the average American of the time. After the war, his work isn’t mean to any particular group of people, and in fact, his stories often satirized the very “mob mentality” that gives rise to racism.
Police Comics 13 (Nov. 1942)
Plastic Man himself makes a cameo appearance in our next Burp the Twerp one-pager. After a cavalcade of surreal gags to show how Burp is truly the most super of super men, Cole throws in his own superhero who causes Burp to faint! Years earlier, as editor at Lev Gleason’s Silver Streak Comics, Cole had pioneered the idea of having different characters cross-over… a device that became a money-making commonality in American comics from the 1960’s on. Notice that Burp’s form has changed in this next page, the 17th episode, which, along with the first 20 Burps, you can read here.
Police Comics 23 (October 1943)
During the war years, Americans had to make a lot of sacrifices. Coffee was hard to get… and so the following strip makes a joke out of that. A rare topical joke from Jack Cole, who mostly avoided humor that was tied to events of the day.
Police Comics #24 (Nov 1943)
To get the following joke, it is necessary to know that “jack” was slang at the time for money. There are nested jokes here, as Burp totally misses the fact that he has “won” a five dollar bet by giving away six thousand dollars. Cole was becoming an expert at packing in the jokes, something that would be done to great effect in Mad.
Police Comics #27 (Feb. 1944)
And speaking of nested jokes, this next page literally shows us a visualization of Cole’s approach, in the wonderful eighth panel. The whole strip reads like Alfred Jarry’s version of a Vaudeville comedy skit.
Police Comics 29 (April 1944)
Again, notice the eighth panel in the following page. Cole sets up a rhythm of action panels and then creates a perfect set-up for the punch line with a quiet note. So, we’ll end this posting, dear readers, on a quiet note.
Police Comics 32 (July 1944)