Showing posts with label 1950. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1950. Show all posts

PLASTIC MAN Jan 1950: The Return of the Pointed Exclamation Mark!

Plastic Man 21 cover comic book

 Story in this post:
”Kra Vashnu”
Story, Pencils, and Inks by Jack Cole
Plastic Man #21
January, 1950
Quality Comics


For a 13 issue run of Plastic Man (issues 17-29), Jack Cole wrote and drew almost all the contents in these issues. In the first story in Plastic Man #21 (Jan. 1950) most of the sound effects are punctuated with a “flat” exclamation mark (on left in illustration below).

plastic man 21 callout5 

But somewhere in the middle of the story, Cole draws a BAM! with a “pointed” exclamation mark (right side of illustration above). It’s even artfully arranged so the “M” breaks it up.

I believe this is important because it is a sign that Jack Cole was re-connecting with his original, pure source of inspiration after a few years of dampened enthusiasm brought on most likely by having other writers and artists forced on him to produce the large number of Plastic Man stories his publisher wanted.

The pointed exclamation mark populated almost all of Jack Cole’s comic book work for the first 6 or 7 years. This was when he wrote, drew and often even lettered his own stories – a highly unusual practice for the time and one which, I believe, allows us to consider his graphic stories as the developing work of a master of the form. In 1950, Cole began to flow the magic of his early work back into his stories, but this time – instead of a talented newcomer – here was an accomplished master employing numerous techniques with an almost casual virtuousity.

plastic man 21 callout4 

As Cole re-connected with his vitality and vision, his work in 1950 became became richer and more complex, developing into what could be called Cole’s “baroque” period. Plastic Man never stretched so outrageously and comically. I can think of no other comics that are as dense with humor and invention as Jack Cole’s 1950 Plastic Man stories.

plastic man 21 callout2

Reading these stories is a jaw-dropping experience for any comics person. In just one page, Cole delivers a dazzling array of brilliant graphic design solutions. His stories have some much kinetic energy they almost vibrate on the page. There is often more than one thing happening in each panel so that it’s necessary to re-read the stories in order to fully engage with them (similar to the way the film Playtime by the inspired filmmaker and comedian Jacques Tati works).

plastic man 21 callout1

In the “Kra Vashnu” story, the sudden and abrupt single appearance of the pointed exclamation mark heralds a new phase of focus and passion by Cole. The story certainly reflects this, with some astonishing panels and art, such as this one (with dialogue removed):

plastic man 21 callout3 which shows quite well Cole’s uncanny ability to draw the less defined “in-between” poses – almost as if he was able in his mind’s eye to freeze the frame of a movie and then draw that. In so doing, Cole’s “freeze-frame” technique delivers some of the most abstract and beautiful art seen in comics.

The “evil magician” plot of “Kra Vashnu” is one that Cole used over and over, starting with his third MIDNIGHT story in March, 1941. Cole revived his first evil magician, CHANG-O, in December, 1941 with “The Return of Chang-O.”

Still, Kra Vashnu is quite a diabolical foil, and his appearance is pleasingly bizarre, with his tattooed forehead, cape, platform shoes, and – strangest of all – his long, unclipped toenails (in one sequence, Woozy tries vainly to clip them).

The story does contain some of Cole’s trademark themes, including doubling (doppelganger) and identity shifting. There is also a vivid misogynistic murder and attempted suicide. In the story’s climax, Plastic Man is seemingly murdered, his corpse resembling a deflated, punctured balloon. All of these violent themes are surrounded with non-stop gags and brilliant art, making it a Jack Cole classic.

Plastic Man’s stretched poses and transformations are particularly brilliant in this story, as well, and worth paying attention to as you read this amazing story, which I have painstakingly digitally restored for your reading enjoyment:

 Plastic Man 21-03 copy Plastic Man 21-04 copy Plastic Man 21-05 copy Plastic Man 21-06 copy Plastic Man 21-07 copy Plastic Man 21-08 copy Plastic Man 21-09 copy Plastic Man 21-10 copy Plastic Man 21-11 Plastic Man 21-12 Plastic Man 21-13 copy Plastic Man 21-14 copy Plastic Man 21-15 copy

Is This Cole? – Will Bragg (1949) – A Rare Portrayal of A Woman Pilot in Early Comic Books

Modern 101-01-covStory this post:
”Will Bragg – Air Circus”
Story – unknown
Pencils (and inks?) – Jack Cole
Modern Comics #101 (Sept. 1950-Quality)


Here’s a neat find by comic book artist, writer, and fellow comic book archeologist Frank Young. Unlike the character featured in this article, WILL BRAGG, Frank WON’T brag, so pardon me if I do a little braggin’ on him, here.

Frank just caused a splash in the comic book world with his discovery of two heretofore unknown Fletcher Hanks stories. Frank also is creating with the talented and inspired David Lasky one of the richest, most entertaining historical graphic novels I have ever seen, Carter Family Comics: Don’t Forget This Song. As if this weren’t enough, Frank is THE scholar on Little Lulu writer/artist John Stanley, with an extensive blog called Stanley Stories. Thanks for this gem, Frank (and the unknown scanner)!

Jack Cole had trouble single-handedly keeping up with the demand for PLASTIC MAN stories and was forced to work with assistants. It’s interesting, and even a bit of a paradox, that he also created a fair number of comic book stories that appeared in the back pages of various Quality Comics titles. I see this as the result of his restless nature and up-and-down energy. I think new projects held a great deal of appeal to this inventive, ever-growing artist.

Take a look at the following story and see if you agree with Frank Young and myself that Jack Cole drew it. Just look at the curl of smoke in the last panel on page one… nice, huh?

 Modern 101-22-WB Modern 101-23 Modern 101-24 Modern 101-25 Modern 101-26

WILL BRAGG began as a back-up feature in Modern Comics #47 (March, 1946). Quality staffer Paul Gustavson created the series, writing and drawing most of the stories.

However, it appears to be none other than Jack Cole who delivered pencils and inks on the Will Bragg stories in the last four issues of Modern Comics, issues 99 to 102.

In the story above, from Modern #101, the most obvious Jack Cole touch is the woman pilot. In fact, she stands as one of the more appealing of women in Cole’s stories, being a very upbeat tomboy who is generous of heart and easy on the eyes. It’s easy to see why Will Bragg makes a fool of himself over her!

The “regulars” character design in this series (not the woman pilot) is very UN-like Jack Cole, but he was forced to work with the cartoony, almost ugly figures as originally designed by Gustavson, for continuity. It’s too bad he couldn’t have known in advance the series was ending with these stories and really cut loose. Even so, there are moments which are satisfying, and it’s cool to see Jack Cole’s graceful drawings of a cool old biplane in flight.

Perhaps Cole got this series because of his years one-page stories that featured another boastful blowhard, WINDY BREEZE. (To read the WINDY BREEZE stories, click here). In any case, the stories do not seem to be written by Cole, as they lack his breakneck pacing, satire, and darkness. However, the artwork – to my eye – certainly does look like his work, and there are some nice examples in the WILL BRAGG stories.

This was some of Cole’s last cartoony work. In short order, he would shift his style into a more sober, realistic, and shadowy world, as seen in the Angles O’Day  and Web of Evil stories.

What do you think, dear readers… IS THIS COLE? Your comments are welcome and add much to this blog.

To help you decide for yourself, here are the other Cole-ish WILL BRAGG comic book stories, from Modern Comics 99, 100, and 102. Alas, these available only in microfiche scans which, at their best, are pretty muddy and washed out. Even so, it is possible (and fascinating) to see the hand of Jack Cole all over these pages.

 Modern99_22 Modern99_23 Modern99_24 Modern99_25 Modern99_26 Modern100_22 Modern100_23 Modern100_24 Modern100_25 Modern100_26 Modern102_37 Modern102_38 Modern102_39 Modern102_40 Modern102_41 Modern102_42

Chop Chop - Jack Cole's 1950 Blackhawk Back-Up Feature

In 1950, Jack Cole published a consecutive series of three zany short back-up features in Blackhawk (Quality Comics Publications). The stories featured Chop Chop, the comic relief character in the BLACKHAWK line-up. The Chop Chop back-up was a regular feature in the book, and was always at least mind-boggling for it's racist slant on Chinese culture.

These stories came along at a time when Cole began to search around for a new style in 1950-51 (see our postings on ANGLES O'DAY and AUGIE MOORE). His artwork in this short-lived stint is exceptional, and as inventive as ever, such as this panel in which Chop Chop puts his arm through a vibrant sound effect.

The ehtnic dialogue in these stories is quite bizarre and only works some of the time.

The odd writing is saved, however, by the inclusion of a bevy of exotic and beautiful femme fatales. In fact, these three stories are similar to Cole's approach on his 4-6 pager WOOZY WINKS back-up features, in which our portly skirt-chaser oft falls prey to sexy schemers.

In the first story, Woozy -- uh, that is, Chop Chop -- is almost too busy to pursue the sexpot, but manages to get down to business by the end. There's a funny, almost Kurtzman/Mad-style splash panel, and some great figure drawing. Look at Chop Chop's propulsion in the fourth panel on page two.

Blackhawk 31 (June, 1950)

In the next story, we are not only dealing with Chop Chop's broken English, but also the near-halluncinogenic mangling of the language from a Spanish perspective. Consider this baffling statement, from the lovely Paquita: "Of a true, you are past date for full-dress assoosination, my handsome wan!" The running joke here, created eight years before the Castro and the Cuban Revolution, has to do with the instability of bannana republic military dicatorships.

Blackhawk 32 (August, 1950)

The next entry is probably the most sucessful of the three stories. The ethnic dialogue is reduced, and the device of Chop Chop mistakenly concluding he is in a pirate movie is amusing enough. Best of all, is one of Jack Cole's hottest women characters, the sexy and venal pirate leader, Captain Kate. Note the clever visual pun of Chop Chop's name on the poised sword in the spash panel.

Blackhawk 33 (October, 1950)

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