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!


  1. Yeah, Paul.. I definitely think this is a Cole SPIRIT Sunday! There's some great cartoony animation to the Posing.
    On the last page, I can see that distinctive way that Cole has, of drawing the bottom of characters' shoes.. In this case, Dolan. He always makes a point of indicating the arch on the bottom of a shoe. Whereas most cartoonists, would simply draw one continuous FLAT surface..

  2. These wartime SPIRIT stories are unmined territory. The non-Cole, non-Eisner, non-Fine episodes are so damned dull and bland that, at a casual glance, it would appear there's nothing good in that 1943-45 stretch.

    Cole's contributions are less strong than in his solo work. THE SPIRIT seems to have been a by-committee effort during the war years.

    These are akin to the PLASTIC MAN stories that Cole let others illustrate or finish, when his workload got too big for one man. Glimpses of his imagination and influences shine through the cracks of the others' work.

    A thorough examination of these wartime SPIRITs may yield you some valuable finds.


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