Jul 27, 2009

Fuzzy (1946-48)

In Plastic Man #3, Jack Cole introduced two new characters destined to populate one-page fillers only. One was CUTHBERT (see our post here), and the other was a happy, inert hobo named FUZZY.

Jack Cole dropped CUTHBERT after only three entries, but he stuck with FUZZY for at least six episodes. The first was signed by his oft-used pen-name, Ralph Johns. The rest were unsigned, but are clearly Jack Cole's work (except for the page from Plastic Man #5).

FUZZY is a likeable character, but the pacing seems off, somehow. Perhaps because it is about the misadventures of a lazy bum that, for once, Jack Cole created a comic strip that was slow-paced and meandering.
Nonetheless, there is some great drawing, such as the foreshortened figure of Fuzzy in the second panel of the first page. Plus, Cole creates some strange moments to savor, such as when Fuzzy pulls up his shirt to reveal a bed of petunias growing from the dirt there! Or when he removes a fluffy mattress to be able to sleep on the uncomfortable bed rail. A truly strange and therefore entertaining fellow, FUZZY wuz. Enjoy!

Plastic Man #3 (Spring 1946, Quality)

Plastic Man #4 (Summer 1946, Quality)

Plastic Man #5 (Autumn 1946, Quality)
My dear friend and fellow comics scholar Frank Young, has created a wonderful blog, Stanley Stories, which is a rich study of the work of comics legend John Stanley. Frank points out this page was drawn by -- or at least inked by -- Bart Tumey. Tumey, along with Alex Kotzky and John Spranger, provided art assists on some of Jack Cole's Plastic Man stories starting in 1946. Although he is not known to be a direct relation of mine, I do get a little thrill to know I share a surname with an artist who worked with the great Jack Cole!

Plastic Man #6 (Winter 1947, Quality)

Plastic Man #7 (Spring 1947, Quality)

Crack Comics #52 (Jan 1948)
NEW FIND! Added August 2010!

Modern Comics #78 (Oct. 1948)

National Comics #69 (December 1948, Quality)
In this late episode, Cole published a FUZZY page in National Comics, a title in which he had regularly published a one-pager called WINDY BREZZE for about 50 or so preceeding issues. In this episode, Fuzzy cons somone into helplessly weeping in sympathy for him, a favorite story element he used to great success in the famous PLASTIC MAN story, "Sadly Sadly," among many others. This one-pager was Cole's last appearance in National Comics, which ended with issue 75.

Jul 26, 2009

Cuthbert (1946)

Jack Cole reached a peak of humorous writing in 1946. In addition to some of the funniest PLASTIC MAN and WOOZY WINKS stories he did, Cole also turned in a brilliantly funny little story in All Humor Comics #1 (Spring, 1946, Quality Comics Publications) (see our post here). As if that weren't enough, the master also created the devestatingly funny CUTHBERT.

In the first entry, from Plastic Man #3, and credited to Cole's oft-used "Ralph Johns" pen name, Cuthbert and his pitiable Dad emerge on the scene with no introduction or ceremony. It's as if there were 200 CUTHBERT one-pagers already published (and oh, how I wish there were!).

Plastic Man #3 (Quality, Spring 1946)

Part of what is so funny is Cole's ability to write a lisp into the dialogue in a way that works beautifully. The combination of Cuthbert's malevolent focus on filling his own needs, and his lisp is truly inspired.

The next entry, not signed, published as a toss-off one-page filler in The Spirit #4, is even funnier, I think.

from The Spirit #4 (Quality, Spring 1946)
from The Spirit #5 (Quality, Summer 1946)
SPIRIT 005 010
As far as I currently know, Jack Cole created only three one-page CUTHBERT stories. If anyone out there knows of any further examples of this demented, delightful strip, please email me!

Odd Jobs, Inc. - Jack Cole's 1946 Reflections on Identity and Age

Story presented in this post:
"Odd Jobs Inc." (Cover and 6 pages, writing and art by Jack Cole) All Humor Comics #1 (Quality Comics Publications, Spring 1946)

Jack Cole's delightful cover feature for the inaugural issue of Quality Comics Publications' All Humor Comics is a standout in every way: writing, art, and a heady brew of Cole's pet themes of identity and infantilism.

Perhaps inspired by the fact that he was creating the lead feature for a brand new title, Jack Cole rose to the occasion, creating two of his most likable and charming characters, HENESSEY P. EGGNOG and ELOISE. The comedy duo functions as a sort of Laurel and Hardy, or George and Lennie (from John Steinbeck's 1937 novel Of Mice and Men), with Henessey ostensibly being the brains and Lennie the brawn of the outfit. Part of the joke, of course, is that Henessey isn't as smart as he needs to be, and the hefty-sized Eloise (who wears a sweater with a big 'E" on it) is a soft-hearted sweetie, eager to please.

Jack Cole's character design of Henessey is very similar to his self-depiction in an INKIE story he made roughly two years earlier, in Crack #34 (see our post on this story here).

Henessey is considerably more upbeat in his personality than the INKIE version of JACK COLE. Perhaps this is just because he is not an overworked, editorially controlled artist. In fact, ODD JOBS, INC. is a picaresque concept that is filled with open space and freedom. One gets the idea these characters could do anything anywhere. It's really too bad that Cole did not do more stories with this concept and character.
The story opens with a breathtaking, Will Eisner/SPIRIT style splash page that is a repeat of an earlier, equally impressive PLASTIC MAN splash page Cole created about two and half years earlier. Jack Cole manages to top his earlier virtuoso effort by making the All Humor splash even funnier, with a good half-dozen solid jokes.

The humor in ODD JOBS, INC. is right on target, with expert timing and really great gags, such as the build-up of excitement at the crowd at Odd Jobs, Inc.'s opening day, only to find out they were only there because someone dropped a quarter. This sort of build-up and deflation is very much Kurtzman/Mad territory. I think Jack Cole, the human sponge, probably absorbed enough of the Jewish, Borscht Belt/East Coast sense of humor to make it a part of his 1940's comic book work.
As a sort of writerly rim-shot, Cole follows up the dropped quarter joke by having Eloise show keen, but misplaced interest in who got the quarter. This is funny stuff!
Aside from the top-drawer gags and character-driven humor, ODD JOBS, INC. is filled to the brim with some of Jack Cole's nearest and dearest pet themes. In the last panel on page two, we have a face and identity change (see our post, The Eel-like Slipperiness of Identity).
Not only that, but it's a child (a child with flat affect and disturbingly soul-less eyes, similar to the abused child in the great Plastic Man story from Police Comics #22, "The Eyes Have It") that transforms into a white-bearded senior. Eventually the senior gets infantilized in diapers. Cole played with this particular story element so frequently that it seems to suggest he was laying bare a part of his own psyche. There's often a serio-comic moment when the transformed character looks into a mirror and sees himself in a new light. Compare this moment in ODD JOBS, INC. with one of Cole's 1940 stories, the HIGRASS TWINS.

Before we get to our feature presentation, just a word about the efforts ye rapidly aging editor makes to get you the primo stuff.
Aside from all the perilous journeys to exotic and dangerous digital locales to locate these rare, practically unknown items, a standard is upheld in all this effort. In general, I try to find the best possible copy of the work I can. There are some items I'm sitting on because I don't feel the pages are of good enough quality to publish, even in a blog. But rest assured the search for presentable material is non-ceasing, machete is drawn, and pith helmet is donned at a rakish angle.
Aside from all this, you should also know a modicum of effort is invested in restoring the visuals for your reading pleasure. I am, after all, a graphic design professional. It's minor, but it can sometimes make a noticable difference, as in this example of the before and after version of the ODD JOBS, INC. splash page.

If anyone out there is enjoying this blog, it would be great to hear from you! I am such a jacked up Jack Cole fan that nothing could stop me from pursuing my obsession in this blog, but it would be a HUGE help to me if folks could write a comment now and then and let me know how I'm doing.
Fellow Cole-miners, what I'm trying to say here is that this is YOUR blog as much as mine, so let me know what you want to see, how it's shaping up, and you are all welcome to email me your own guest-postings!
This doesn't mean I am out of material to post. Not by any means! I have a two-page list of articles to write and rare Jack Cole material to share with you!
And now... here's ODD JOBS, INC., a true standout in the archive of lesser-known Jack Cole comic book stories!

Jul 24, 2009

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)

Jul 22, 2009

Augie Moore - Jack Cole's Ode to Average America 1951 (T-Man #1, 1951)

Story presented in this post:
"Augie Moore and the Teen Terrors" (writing, art, and lettering by Jack Cole)
T-Man #1 (September 1951, Quality Comics Publications)

"Augie Moore is an average guy, with average friends, living in an average city." So begins this little-known example of just how great a storyteller in the comics medium Jack Cole had become by 1951.

This story, the only appearance of Mr. A. Moore and the "Teen Terrors," (good name for a band) is very much of a piece with the ANGLES O'DAY stories Jack Cole created in the first nine issues of the Quality title Ken Shannon, from 1951 to 1953 (posted here). In fact, Cole cooked up both of these slices of Americana around the same time, in the late summer of 1951.

Jack Cole had reached a lofty peak by 1950, with such incredible stories as "The Plague of Plastic People" (Plastic Man #22). In 1951, he took a new tack in his comic book career, developing a much more toned down narrative and visual style.

The industry was shifting from superhero books to crime, love, western, war, and funny animal comics for the young set. Comics books became grimly serious in the early 1950's, until Kurtzman's Mad appeared a few years later, (which was of a piece with Cole's work) making it OK for comics to be comical again. It made sense in 1951 for Cole to reach for a marketable new style.

He smoothed out his wild graphic invention, but maintained that pulse of creative energy underneath the surface. Cole carried this low key style through the nine ANGLES O"DAY stories, his work on 11 issues of Quality's Web of Evil book, and here... in this extremely obscure work.

His usual design touches are in play, although in a subdued form. Augie Moore's coat is green with a black pattern, much like Woozy Winks' blouse. Characters bend and twist their bodies comically. And, just as we have in the seventh ANGLES O'DAY story (Ken Shannon #7), Cole delivers an inversion of the crime story, with an ending that peters out into futility and frustration.

One can sense Cole's impending decision to leave comics in this story. It feels a bit tired. Nonetheless, it is also extremely well-crafted. For example, the way Jack Cole lettered the story, with expert use of typography to convey vocal emphasis and speech tics adds a lot to the development of the characters.

Lastly, it should be noted that in just five pages, Cole delivers satire (Augie's fascination with the hack mystery story he is reading), Americana (teens in a soda shop, small town America), action, and comedy. He may have been slowing down in 1951, but this story shows Cole was truly a master of the form!

Jul 21, 2009

Speed on Paper (Smash Comics 37, Nov. 1942)

In an earlier Speed On Paper design study, we looked at Jack Cole's unsurpassed ability to inject his characters and stroylines with manic energy. Here is another stellar example, from Smash Comics #37 (November, 1942, Quality Publications).

The story features MIDNIGHT, one of Cole's longest-running characters. Originally designed by Quality publisher Everett M. "Busy" Arnold as a knock-off of Will Eisner's instantly sucessful THE SPIRIT, the feature very quickly morphed into one of Cole's richest and most unique creations.

This story, Cole's 14th MIDNIGHT episode, is one of my favorites. It is brimming with graphic invention as the characters smash the panel borders and zoom off the page. This 9-page gem respresents perhaps the apex of Jack Cole's invention in putting speed on paper!

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