Jun 19, 2009

Crime on the Run (Blue Ribbon #1, 1939)

Story presented in this posting:

Blue Ribbon Comics #1 (November 1939, Archie) - Crime on the Run (Story and art by Jack Cole)

Jack Cole's 1947 True Crime comics are fairly well-known. They were examples of a supposed corruptive influence on America's youth in the infamous book, Seduction of the Innocent by Fredric Wertham. The stories were reprinted in the 1980's by Michael Gilbert in Mr. Monster's True Crime #1 and #2. In 2004, one of the True Crime stories was reprinted in Jack Cole and Plastic Man: Forms Stretched to Their Limits by Art Spiegelman and Chipp Kidd.

At the dawn of his career in comics, however. Cole took the "true crime" concept out for several trial runs. It's not yet clear what may have influenced Cole to create his series of gritty, pre-Dragnet police procedurals, but crime was obviously something that fascinated Cole.

Since we've been mining some of Cole's work at Archie, it seems right to continue by sharing the first of two true crime stories he made for Archie's Blue Ribbon Comics. Here, in late 1939, we see the embryonic efforts of Cole to draw realistically. After a year or two of this, he doffed the "realistic" straightjacket and unleashed his glorious natural cartooning ability in the work of the 1940's.

Although the draftsmanship is crude, the story displays Cole's solid sense of graphic design, and has some remarkable panels, such as page 4, panel 6, which almost looks like a woodcut. Perhaps more astutely, however, one can compare the art and tone in this story to the hard-boiled art of Chester Gould in his DICK TRACY strip, a likely influence on Jack Cole.

Quite rightly, Cole (or perhaps an editor) seemed to think that the fact the stories were true would make an impact. In this story, he starts by assuring us the story is taken from records and photographs in "Cleveland police files." It's my guess that Cole, who was cranking out comic pages to survive in New York City, probably did not journey to a Cleveland police station to research the story. More likely, Jack Cole lifted it from a magazine or book, or possibly even made it up.

It's interesting that this crime story, created in 1939, takes place in 1913, making it a historical story as well. Cole went to some lengths to show the cars, horse-drawn wagons, and clothing of the period, which suggests he probably did work from photographs.

In any event, here is CRIME ON THE RUN, in all it's grim glory. In our next post, we'll share the second story in this series.

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