Sep 25, 2009

Inkie Meets Don Quixote: Jack Cole's 1944 Self-Portrait (Part 2)

Story presented in this post:
Inkie Meets Don Quixote (story and art by Jack Cole)
Crack Comics #33 (Spring 1944 - Quality Comics)

Some time ago, I posted for you one of the two delightful INKIE stories that Jack Cole wrote and drew in 1944, courtesy of Darryl Aylward, who shared his scans. That story was from Crack Comics #34, and can be read here.

Thanks to the Great Tallahassee Golden Age Score of 1982 (you can read my account of this incredible and bizarre comics find here), and my pal Frank Young, who scanned the pages without a trace of miffling, I am pleased to present to you the other INKIE story, from Crack Comics #33.

The comic book artist Jack Cole is shown in this vintage classic page from  Crack Comics 33.
Cartoon car crash and back robbery is shown in this rare comic book page from Crack Comics 33

A cartoon library and drawings of books are shown in this page from the Quality Comics publication Crack Comics.
A cartoon boy enters into the book Don Quixote in this vintage comic book page from 1944.
A cartoon comic book version of Don Quixote is beautifually drawn by artist Jack Cole
A cartoon fantasyland with Don QUixote is shown in this classic vintage rare comic book.
The artist Jack Cole who has his own course in how to draw cartoon characters is shown in this golden age comic book.
A cartoon spinster librarian is shown in this comic book page from 1944.
What a fun, light-hearted story Cole turns in, here.

A highlight is page two, in which Cole depicts himself as so preoccupied with creating comics that he barely notices the tempations and chaos of the outside world (which could provide material for him, if he'd notice it). This is a wonderful bit of self-parody.

Perhaps this is what life was like for Cole, who spent most of his waking hours safely ensconced in his home, sweating deadlines and working hard... but also clearly immersed in his work.

Later, INKIE slips into a copy of The Loves of Cassanova and emerges, blushing, to say " You wouldn't understand this one." Again, there's an authentic biographical note, as Cole was gearing up to begin submitting sexy gag cartoons to men's magazines, such as Humorama. In fact, I've read somewhere that his original art pages were observed to have sexy women and gag ideas sketched out on the backs.

I hope you enjoyed this story. As far as I know this is the first time it has been made available digitally, or reprinted in any form since its publication 65 years ago!

Sep 19, 2009

Cole-isms #1 - Death Patrol (Military Comics #31, 1944)

Story presented this post:
Death Patrol - Mt. Fuijama (Story and art by Jack Cole)
Military Comics #31 (August, 1944 - Quality Comics)

Jack Cole's eighth, and last, DEATH PATROL story from 1944 is a perfect storm of his unique design and stylistic elements - his "Cole-sisms."

Before we look at some of these, I have a little personal story to share.

I've been following a new blog, The Panelogical Pantheon, in which the author -- a fellow comic book freak -- writes as much about his personal life as he does about comics. I cannot recommend this blog as his taste is different than mine, to put it politely, and he has some odd ideas (for instance, he insists on referring to Jack Cole as "John Cole"). This blog author, incredibly, seems to worship some of the worst comics ever done. However, his personal stories are interesting, and so, inspired by his example, I thought I'd share a little story with you about how I came to own a copy of the pages in this posting.

In 1982, I was 20 years old and living in Tallahassee, Florida with my girlfriend. One weekend, we had a tag sale in our apartment's front room. Among the people who came were a 19-year old guy, his girlfriend, and his younger brother (maybe 16). The boys saw part of my comic book collection in the living room and became very excited. I had a suitcase of old 1960's Marvels out.

The 19-year old fellow, who had a little fuzz on his upper lip and talked with a southern twang, insisted I sell him the suitcase. No way, I thought. He then told me he wanted to open up his own comic book shop and needed the collection for his stock. I asked if he had any golden age comics.

He said that he and his younger brother had broken into a deserted house and found in the attic a huge pile of golden age comics. Now THIS caught my attention! I told him I might consider a trade. He seemed to like the idea. I got his address and made plans to drop by his place that evening with my suitcase of silver age Marvel comics.

"At last!" I thought, my dreams of finding a horde of old golden age comics was becoming reality! I had feverishly desired to make just such a find for myself for nearly half of my 20-year old life!

When I arrived, they were having dinner. The boys lived with their mother. I was shown into a bedroom, where the golden age comics were. I was very excited. As we walked into the room, the boys explained that the comics they found were a little "torn up." They left me in the room and went back to finish their dinner.

There, in front of me were two large cartons, both filled with loose pages of golden age comics. The first thing I pulled out was the cover of Plastic Man #1! I rooted around and saw the cover of Four Color #9 (the very first Carl Barks comic story and already worth some money back then), and a few pages from it, as well. There were pages from DC comics, Timely comics, and Quality comics from the early 1940s. In some cases, there was a complete coverless comic, or a near-complete section. It was both wonderful and tragic!

I wound up trading my suitcase of old Marvels for the two boxes of bits and pieces, and fifty dollars in cash. Soon after, the prices of the Marvels I had traded away began to rise, and had I held on to that box until today, they would be worth maybe 10 to 20 thousand dollars! No matter, I originally bought them all for ten cents apiece from The Book Nook in 1975.

At the time, finding golden age comics was totally out of the question. There were very few reprints around, and the original comics were out of my price range. At the time, I reasoned, this was my only chance to see this material!

My friend, and fellow comics freak Frank Young (see his great blog, Stanley Stories, devoted to the great comic book writer and artist John Stanley) and I spent many dizzying hours breathing in the acrid dusty fumes from these treasure boxes and sorting through them. Even then, Frank had an astonishing encyclopedic knowledge of comics and identified artists and writers I had never even heard of! We pieced together about three quarters of Four Color #9 (which I later sold for a four hundred bucks on eBay), and several other cool items.

Among the pages, we assembled a small, fascinating pile of Jack Cole comics, which I spent years studying. These pages sparked the interest in Cole's non-Plastic Man work that eventually led to the creation of this blog, 26 years later!

I recently excavated this stack of pages from the linen closet where I keep my pared-down comics collection (non-digital comics, that is!). My pal, Frank Young, who has a top-notch scanner graciously scanned these pages for this blog. Thanks, Frank! There are a few items in this set that, as far as I can tell, have not previously been scanned or circulated, including this astonishing DEATH PATROL story from Military Comics #31 (August, 1944):

A border of cartoon skulls frames a classic old vintage rare comic book page from Military Comics
Comic book drawings of men in prison stripe uniforms and an erupting volcano are shown in this collector's comic book page from the golden age of comic books

Great comic book drawings of characters covered in black mud are shown in this rare old comic book page
Men in a turish steam bath are shown in a classic rare comic page by artist Jack Cole
First off, it needs to be stated up front that the portrayal of non-white people in this story is disgraceful, and I do not approve. That being said, such portrayals were, sadly, the standard of the day. The portrayal of Japanese people in this way was probably a reaction to the very real threat Japan posed to the United States when they were at war.

From a design standpoint, this 4-page gem is a stand-out in Jack Cole's non-Plastic Man comic book stories. It ranks alongside the fourth episode of Midnight (Smash Comics #21), the first Dickie Dean story (Silver Streak Comics #3), the "Daredevil Vs. The Claw" story (Silver Streak #7), and his one QUICKSILVER story (National Comics #13).

Unlike these other entries in the "Jack Cole Hall of Fame," this 4-pager falls short in the writing, but it is such an outstanding example of Jack Cole's visual style that it merits inclusion.

One of the things that makes Jack Cole's work great is that he invented numerous highly successful and unique stylistic and design elements. Over time, he accumulated a vocabulary of these elements which he used in his graphic storytelling to both distinguish his work and make vivid, entertaining stories. Several comic book artists accomplished the same feat with their own unique "isms."

For example, Jack Kirby's 1940's "isms" include extremely dynamic page layouts, foreshortening, and arms and legs that energetically break out of the panel borders, to name but a few. Steve Ditko's "isms" include slender, long-fingered hands in very specific tensed poses, and close-ups of fear-bulging eyes.

Let's take a look at page two of this story and study the stellar examples of six Cole-isms that are here. You can click on the page below to get a larger, more readable image:

A visual study of a page from a Jack Cole Death Patrol comic book story in which elements of his artistic style are analyzed.

Cole-ism #1: Flames
Cartoon flames
From almost his first work in comics, Jack Cole loved to draw licking flames. Not only do they add drama to the story, but the way Cole drew flames was a study in the appeal of simple visual rhythm.

Cole-ism#2: Bottom of Foot
Cartoon prisoner Perhaps Cole's first "ism," probably developed in his Landon School of Cartooning exercises. You can see foot bottoms in his earliest "bigfoot" style work done in the Harry 'A" Chesler shop in the late 1930's. Cole kept this affectation up throughout his career. Drawing the bottoms of feet and shoes may have been a byproduct of a much harder to define Cole-ism having to do with how Cole positioned the human figure in "space."

Cole-ism #3: Erupting Volcano
cartoon volcano erupting lava
Like FLAMES, this Cole-ism adds drama and must have been fun to draw. Cole liked this element so much he based one of his greatest PLASTIC MAN stories, "The Lava Man," from Plastic Man #2 (Summer, 1944) around it. He used the erupting (or perhaps "ejaculating?") visual to great effect in everything from Plastic Man splash (no pun intended) pages, to humorous one-pagers (see the last Burp the Twerp page in this posting).

Cole-ism #4: Iris Close-up
Cartoon character in cowboy hat and prison uniform
Used mainly in his early 1940's page layouts, this design element traces back to the style of pre-1929 American silent movies, which Jim Steranko, Cole's best biographer to date, says Jack Cole loved to watch as a boy. In the way he would use the iris, or circular panel to break up a rhythm of squares, Cole simulated the "close-up" effect of early cinema. The circular panels add great visual interest to the page layout without detracting from the flow of the stories.

Cole-ism #5: Celistial Circles (Sun/Moon)

Cartoon characters in prison stripes running across full moon Characters are framed and set off by all manner of enormous circular suns and moons in Cole's early to mid-1940's work. The celestial objects add drama and romance by their very presence, but they add visual interest by pleasantly contrasting with the forest of right angles that is the typical comic book page filled with square panels. Cole brilliantly used this simple design element to create depth of field in his panels. In his best work, including this DEATH PATROL story from Military Comics #31, he creates a delightful visual resonance between the circles of the suns and moons and his IRIS CLOSE-UPs (Cole-ism #5).

Cole-ism #6: Bold Patterns

Jack Cole set his work apart and above that of many of his contemporary comic book artists by the masterful use of this one design element. He frequently made wild, bold patterns a part of his character's costumes, ensuring that there would automatically be plenty of eye-candy on the page. Consider WOOZY WINK's' polka-dotted blouse, of PLASTIC MAN's striped middle. Cole used patterns to create pleasing visual density. On special occasions, as in the example above, Cole's wild patterns also became a story element. (see also this post).

There are many more Cole-isms to identify and look at. We'll return to this subject in a future post, as well as share more of the rarely seen material from my Tallahassee golden age score!

Reminder: your comments provide encouragement and helpful guidance. Please let me know what you think of this blog!

Sep 12, 2009

DICKIE DEAN #2 - A War on War

Story presented this post:
Dickie Dean - A Machine to End War (story and art by Jack Cole)
Silver Streak Comics #4 (May 1940 - Lev Gleason)

For a 14-year old boy, DICKIE DEAN is not only extraordinarily brilliant, but also surprisingly altruistic.

DICKIE DEAN's honorary grandson, JIMMY NEUTRON, is also a boy genius inventor, but he mostly uses his talents to make yummy candy, hypnotize his parents into giving a birthday party every day, and to build cool little rocket ships. DICKIE DEAN, in his first appearance (see our blog post here), creates a machine to listen to voices from the past, and immediately decides to apply it to fighting crime.

In his second adventure, Dickie decides to invent a machine that will end war, in reaction to the death of his uncle, who is a soldier fighting a fictitious war. When he has a chance to sell the machine and become wealthy, Dickie -- like a young Buddha -- turns the offer down.

In these earnest stories made at the beginning of Jack Cole's career, one can find nothing of the tongue-in-cheek humor for which he would become famous. Even though his plots are deadly serious, Cole's restless imagination and penchant for cramming his comic book stories with more ideas per square inch than just about anybody else, makes the DICKIE DEAN stories a fun read.

In this story alone, aside from a machine that makes the air too thick for bullets and machines of war to speed through, we also see Dickie's extremely cool laboratory, an ingenious door-answering periscope, and a wireless radio that Dickie conceals in a hollowed-out heel of his shoe.

Dickie's friend and sidekick, Zip Todd is more present in this story. Being a little heavyset and dense, as well as bravely loyal to Dickie, Zip is a sort of boy-version of Woozy Winks. In the rest of the eight DICKIE DEAN stories, Zip becomes pretty much a fixture in the series.

What's amazing about this story is that Dickie actually succeeds in transforming humanity, and ending war. Much like the first story in this series, the writing works as a sort of poetic allegory. Cole ends the story with Dickie hard at work on his next invention, much as Cole must have been hard at work creating his next amazing comic book story.

Silver Streak #4 cover (not by Cole)

Comic book superhero and villain with snake are shown on this cover of Silver Streak Comics from 1940.
A comic book version of a world war is shown on this firat page of a Dickie Dean Boy Inventor comic book story
Boy inventor is shown in this vintage old comic book from 1940.
A cartoon airplane and laboratory is drawn in this rare old comci book from the golden age of comics
A 1940 radio set hidden in a shoe heel is shown in this old comic book page from Silver Streak Comics

Cartton sedans from 1940

Blimps zeppelins and airship are shown in this classic old cartoon page from 1940.

Zeppelin gondola is shown in this vintage old comic page from 1940

Sep 9, 2009

IS THIS COLE? - The Spirit 186: Jack Cole's First Spirit Section?

Cartoon of nervous worried man chewing fingernails Story presented in this post:
"Druce's Time Bomb" AKA "Death After Death" [Story and pencils by Jack Cole(?), inks by Robin King (?)]
Originally published as Spirit Section 186 (December 19, 1943)
Reprinted (version in this post) in The Spirit #2 (1945, Vital)

Here's another fun SPIRIT story that seems to bear the unmistakable stamp of Jack Cole's flair for mixing the macabre and the madcap. I'll share a few thoughts, but first, the story itself:

The comic book superhero THE SPIRIT is shown in this vintage newspaper comic page
Cartoon drawing of man reading newapaper is shown in this rare old comic book

Cartoon of carnival clown and furtune teller appear in this vintage old comic book page from 1943

Classic vintage comic book THE SPIRIT

Jack Cole ghosted THE SPIRIT for Will Eisner during WWII. Eisner, like so many other American comic book writers and artists served in the military (in Eisner's case, the Army and even some time at the Pentagon).

In 1943-45, Cole was one of the few American comic book artists not working for the war effort. As such, he took on as much of the available extra work as he could, more than likely building up a cash reserve against the day he would be called up (he never was).

If "Druce's Time Bomb" AKA "Death After Death" is Cole's work, then it would be his first SPIRIT Sunday section.

Cole had been ghosting the SPIRIT daily comic strip for a few months (soon to be reprinted in this blog, stay tuned!). We know this because, according to comics publisher, scholar, and SPIRIT expert Cat Yronwode's research, Jack Cole wrote and penciled some of the Spirit Sunday Section stories from December 19, 1943 (section number 186) to Aug 13, 1944 (section number 220). See Yronwode's checklist, here.

The opening splash panel, if it is by Cole, certainly is a departure from his style. The fine line work suggests to me the hand of Lou Fine. However, the bottom tier on page one, and the rest of the story certainly feels like Jack Cole's trademark farrago of comically contorted figures.

The script idea is very much in the vein of the supernatural, eerie ghost story that Will Eisner frequently wrote for this series. However, it goes in a direction very different than where Eisner would have typically taken it. Cole goes for laughs where Eisner went for creeps. Still, it is possible that Cole worked on this first effort from notes, or a partial script written by Eisner.

There are a few "tells" in the artwork that Cole's hand is present in this story. Most notably is the polka-dotted green pants of the clown, very similar to WOOZY WINK's unforgettable costume.

Another tell is the use of the jagged-edge balloon to emphasize an exclamation. Here's a panel from this story, and several others, to compare.

Also, the over-the-top drawings of the terrified MIXIE (see the art at the top of this post) in the final pages feels very similar to Jack Cole's comically over-dramatic reactions regularly found in his PLASTIC MAN stories.

So there's my thoughts. The story originally appeared in The Spirit Section 186 (December 19, 1943). The version we present here, is the 1945 reprint, from The Spirit #2 (Vital).

The Spirit #2 cover (not by Cole)
Cartoon graveyard and drawing of a tombstone, a dead tree, and an owl are shown in the cover of The Spirit 2, a rare old comic book from the 1940s So, what do you think, dear reader, is this Cole? Your thoughts are welcome!

Sep 7, 2009

DICKIE DEAN - Chasing the shadows of the past

Story presented in this post:
Dickie Dean - Voices From The Past (story and art by Jack Cole)
Silver Streak #3 (March 1940 - Lev Gleason)

Silver Streak Comics #3 Cover (not by Cole)

Here is one of Jack Cole's most poetic, haunting stories.

In December, 1939 Jack Cole became the editor of Silver Streak Comics, a new book published by Lev Gleason. Cole's work over the next 10 issues of the title is fascinating to study. This is where he intoduced the magnificent and macabre CLAW. It is also where he created the sturdy superhero, SILVER STREAK. In a later issue, Cole created a swashbuckling series, THE PIRATE PRINCE, which was picked up by Dick Briefer.

In the back pages of Silver Streak Comics, starting with the third issue, Cole created a little-known series of exuberant and weird adventures featuring a boy inventor, DICKIE DEAN.

The first three DICKIE DEAN stories are set in New Castle, Pennsylvania -- Jack Cole's hometown. His brother's name was Richard, and people with that name are often known as "Dick." Hence, this series was a sort of homage to Cole's past. Just a couple of years earlier, Cole had made numerous small loans from various townspeople in New Castle and transplanted himself and his new bride to New York City, where he was determined to become a sucessful cartoonist. By becoming the editor of his own title, Cole had reached a definite watermark of success.

During Cole's early years in the big city, his brother Richard visted him. One can imagine Cole returning to his apartment one day after work, casually informng his visiting brother that he had just created a new comic book character named after him.

We know from THE STERANKO HISTORY OF COMICS Volume 2, that Jack Cole was a boy inventor himself. He played pranks with radio and electricity, had a chemistry set, and built several ingenious items. In his career as a graphic story teller and cartoonist, Cole invented new techniques and forms.

In this story, Dickie invents a machine that broadcasts voices from the recent past. Later, the machine also shows shadows from the past. In an amazing sequence, Dickie actually chases the shadows of the past. In a climactic ending, Dickie saves himself from burning to death by lying in a bathtub filled with water. This story is rife with psychological overtones, as was most of Cole's best work.

Jack Cole used his "Ralph Johns" pen name for his other work in Silver Streak Comics, but he signed every DICKIE DEAN story prominently with his own name. Perhaps to make sure that the people back in New Castle reading his comics knew that their boy inventor and cartoonist had arrived.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...