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!

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