Oct 28, 2009

BLIMPY – The Wild Cartoon Satyr PAN Goes Nuts in one of Cole’s Busiest Months Ever

 Story in this post:
Blimpy - “The Satyr Strikes”
Story and art by Jack Cole
Feature Comics #76 (March, 1944)

In March, 1944, Quality’s comic magazines published nearly 40 pages of work by Jack Cole. Considering that Cole was doing it all: writing, penciling, inking, lettering, and probably even coloring -- his rate of more than a page a day is pretty impressive. The heavy workload for this period probably explains the less detailed look of this BLIMPY story, although Cole was also fitting his work into the previously established look and feel created by Quality Comics staffer Tony DiPreta.

In this story, Cole’s imagination and sense of fun are fully engaged as he has the brilliant idea of inserting the sex-crazed PAN into the otherwise bland and pre-pubsescent world of BLIMPY. Check out the sexy girl on page 5, panel 6 (wolf whistle).

Cole even directs his satyr into a burlesque show… with predictably comical results!

In the splash panel, the over-sexed satyr seems to be dragging the child-like BLIMPY into a room marked “Ladies Only.” This panel, to me, seems to be almost an illustration from Cole’s  (and most men’s) sub-conscious world where their lust [the satyr] is in conflict with society’s taboos and morals [Blimpy]. Heavy stuff for a children’s story. BLIMPY readers must not have known what hit them.

Of course, in wartime 1944, more comics were selling to American soldiers than children. Cole and his editors must have known this. In fact, it was around this time that Quality began to stuff their seven anthology titles with stories involving scantily-clad heroines and girl-next-door teens who just happen to spend most of the story in lingerie and skimpy swim suits.

On page 2, panel 2 and on page 6, panel 1 we see Cole’s oft-used device during this period of silhouettes in profile against a large full moon. (see the post on Cole-isms here)

Jack Cole created two BLIMPY stories. This is the only one I’ve found, so far. Please pardon the quality as the pages are from micofiche scans, the only versions available at this time.

I hope you enjoy this lost gem from the Cole mine!Cartoon genie and comic book Pan satyr_Feature Comics 76_1

Cartoon genie in golden age rare comic bookFeature Comics_76_2 Comic book genie _Feature 76_3

Cartoon satyr Pan in vinatge comic book_Feature Comics 76_4 Drawing of sexy woman in 1944 dress and hat_feature COmics 76_5

Cartoon satyr in burlesque palace in rare 1944 comic_Feature Comics 76_6 Cartoon character genie Blimpy in Feature Comics 76_7

Oct 21, 2009

Cole's Influences - The Marx Brothers - IKE AN' DOOITT - Inspired War Years Madcap Comedy!

Story presented in this post:
Ike an' Dooitt (2 pages, story and art by Jack Cole)
Crack Comics #31 (Oct. 1943)

You might think I'm obsessive, but I actually counted the jokes in Jack Cole's remarkable 2-page story from 1943, IKE AN' DOOIT, and came up with the astonishing number of 28!

In this inspired bit of war years lunacy, Cole managed to work in puns, a jingle, bondage, murder, a crazy invention (electric backscratcher), nudity, a couple of mind-boggling meta-jokes (in which the characters show they are perfectly aware they are in a comic strip), and even a bubbly burp.

Here's the strip... thus far only available as a cleaned-up microfiche scan, but so remarkable that it's worth reading, even in the muddy fiche version:

Pretty amazing stuff, huh? Cole's characters appear to be amalgamations of the then popular comedy team, The Marx Brothers. Specifically, Cole has combined features of Groucho and Harpo, the two middle figures in this publicity photo.

The Marx Brothers made films from 1929 to 1949, and very likely were a major influence on the development of Jack Cole's comic sensibilities, with their rapid-fire surreal nonsense, and set pieces for comic improvisation. In this cartoon portrait of the team by Al Hirshfeld (done many years after Cole's work), you can see the natural visual impact of the character designs that Cole played with:

Though we have here a comedian working in the medium of graphic storytelling and inspired by film... the Marx Brothers actually derived their names from a comic strip! From 1904-22, Gus Mager ran a series of newspaper comic stories in which he parodied detective stories and Sherlock Holmes. He put an "o" after the character's names: Knocko the Monk, Sherlocko the Monk, Watso (for Watson) and so on. The Mark Brothers borrowed this idea, naming themselves: Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Zeppo.

There is wonderful website called Barnacle Press that reprints many great old comic strips, including a series of Gus Mager's strips. Here's one I enjoyed:

Mager's characters were vaguely simian, hence the name "Monk." It's interesting to note that a currently popular (and one of my favorite) comic detective TV shows is called MONK.

Cole would return to the idea of two guys who would do any job that needed doing about 3 years later, with his ODD JOBS story in All Humor #1 (click here to read). Even the splash page of ODD JOBS resembles the opening panel of IKE AN' DOOITT.

Sadly, just as his IKE story was a one-time deal, so ODD JOBS only lasted for one story. Sigh.

Cole had used the astonishingly effective device of a character zooming out of the panel and across the page about a year earlier, in a MIDNIGHT story that appeared in Smash Comics #37 (Nov. 1942), available for reading here.

Before we end this posting, I wanted to call your attention to the new donation button at the top right corner. A few folks have asked me how they could support this work, and so I've put up a donation button. Don't feel obligated, but if you're flush and of a mind to help a starving writer out, click away! Speaking of clicks, another good (and free) way to help any blogger is to click on the advertising links they have up. I'm just sayin'... cough, cough...

In page two, panel two of IKE AN' DOOITT, there's a reference to "Typsy Hose Lee." Jack Cole is referring to perhaps the most famous stripper of all time, Gypsy Rose Lee. Just for a fun way to end this post, here's a photo of the lovely Miss Lee. That dooitt!

Oct 17, 2009

The Strange Final Plastic Man Stories of Jack Cole (and Others) - Celebrating our 50th Post!

Plastic Man and the evil villain Scroggs are shown asleep and dreaming in this edited cartoon image.
Stories presented in this post:
Plastic Man - "No One Can Stop the Vanishers"
(writer unknown, pencils and inks thought to be by Alex Kotzky)
Police Comics #89 (Apr. 1949)

Plastic Man - "The Dictator of Dreams"
(story and pencils by Jack Cole, inks thought to be by Alex Kotzky)
Police Comics #78 (May, 1948)

Welcome to the 50th article posted on Cole’s Comics!

To start the festivities, I’d like to announce that I am putting together a book proposal for what would basically be a book version of this blog. I will be shopping this around to various publishers. If there’s anybody out there in the publishing industry, or with connections to such that would be interested in seeing the proposal, please contact me!

As time goes on, I’ll be sharing more about this project. I welcome your thoughts or comments. For those kind folks who comment and send email helping to develop this critical analysis of Cole’s art, I will happily include your name in the acknowledgements section of the book.

I also would like to announce that a new FUZZY one-pager, from Modern Comics #78 (Oct. 1948) has been discovered and posted in the article previously written about this series.

Now, for the treat promised for this posting!

In honor of the occasion, I thought we’d begin to look at the last work Jack Cole did on PLASTIC MAN. I have a very special story to share with you in this post – one of my favorites in the entire Plastic Man series.

The popular and ground-breaking Plastic Man Archives reprint series seems to have stalled out at Police Comics #77. It’s been three years since the last volume. In the last 25 or so issues of Police Comics that featured Plastic Man stories, there are about 15 stories that Jack Cole wrote, penciled, and in a few cases, also inked. There are also several Cole stories in the last original issues of Plastic Man during the same period.

These stories are intensely strange and filled with amazing graphic storytelling innovations. As time goes on, we’ll look at several of these heretofore unseen gems.

Police Comics #78 featured one of the strangest stories Jack Cole ever made… and that’s saying a lot! “The Dictator of Dreams” is a story that Jack Cole wrote and penciled. It was inked by someone else. In his 1986 book, Focus on Jack Cole, Ron Goulart suggested that perhaps the inker on this story was Alex Kotzky.

In early 1946, other artists began to work on the enormously popular PLASTIC MAN Series. It has been written that when he was told that it would be necessary to bring other artists into his creation, Jack Cole wept.

Like most artists working in early comics, Jack Cole did not legally own his creation. His publisher destroyed his pages of original art, and when it became profitable to do so, hired other writers and artists to create Plastic Man stories.

This sad situation may have contributed to Jack Cole’s decision to leave the comic book industry and later refer to it in very negative, dismissive terms.

Seen from this perspective, Cole’s career divides into two phases. The first is a heady period of expansion and excitement covering 1938 to 1945, in which Cole did everything on most of his stories in this period, writing, drawing, inking, lettering, and even probably coloring. The second phase, from 1946- 1953, is characterized by stretches of diluted, compromised work shot through with flashes of startling brilliance and mature artistic vision.

For the last half of his 16 year career in comics, Jack Cole was forced on a regular basis to dilute his work by allowing others in. This may also explain why he worked on several obscure short filler features in the pages of Quality comics, in which he was allowed to reign again as the sole creator for brief periods.

On the rare occasions in this second phase when a story is 100% Cole, it is usually a highly dense, compressed bouillon cube of creativity.

There is a vast difference between reading a Plastic Man story written and at least pencilled by Jack Cole, and one that was made by other hands entirely. According to Jim Steranko, writers of Plastic Man include: Bill Woolfolk, Manly Wade Wellman, Gwenn Hansen, Harry Stein, and the famous crime novelist Mickey Spillane. According to Ron Goulart, the artists known to have worked on Plastic Man include: Bart Tumey, Andre LeBlanc, John Spranger, Bill Ward, and Alex Kotzky. Steranko provides his own list of names, all of which are different than Goulart's: Lou Fine, Gill Fox, Charles Nicholas, Ruben Moreira, and Al Bryant on pencils with John Belfi and Robin King on inks.

About ten years younger than Jack Cole, Alex Kotzky was a dedicated fan and protégé of Cole’s, and probably the best imitator of Cole’s magic. He is best known for his long running newspaper strip, APARTMENT 3-G.

Here is a story, from Police Comics #89 (Apr. 1949) that Ron Goulart credits Alex Kotzky with penciling as well as inking. It is useful to compare with the stories that Cole penciled. One can note several Cole-isms in this story, including a panel with quivering borders (mostly famously used in the needle in the eye scene from “Murder, Morphine and Me”), the integration of sound effects as part of the overall design, and the dynamic page layouts. The characters are comically exaggerated in the way that Cole developed, and they move at manic speeds with lots of little puffs of dust and speed lines, just as Cole did. There’s even a face-changing panel, which was one of Cole’s recurring visual motifs and story concepts.

Despite all this, something very important is lacking. Read the story and see for yourself.

Plastic Man chases bank robbers in this vintage golden age cartoon comic book page by artist Alex Kotzky.
This vintage old golden age comic page by Alex Kotzky from 1948 shows Plastic Man and Woozy Winks walking around  a city.
This old comic book page from th egolden age of age of comiccs by Alex Kotzky shows a short fat baling cartoon character and an apartment interior.
Plastic Man's fre4ind and sidekick, Woozy Winks wears a green blouse with polka dots and fights criminals in this vintage golden age comic book cartoon page by artist Alex Kotzky.
Vintage cartoon character Plastic Man turns himself into a bed in this classic page by artist Alex Kotzky.
A cartoon crowd and a cartoon staircase are shown in this vibntage golden age comic book page.
A cartoon criminal gang enagges in a gun battle with Plastic Man in this classic collector's comic book page by Alex Kotzky.
Cartoon character Plastic Man stretches his arms and chases crooks down stairs in a classic collector's comic book page from the golden age of comic books.
Cartoon character Plastic Man talks to a cartoon policeman in this golden age vintage comic book page by artist Alex Kotzky.
Cartoon characters talk in this vintage old comic book page by artist Alex Kotzky.
Cartoon characters slam a door on Plastic Man in a vintage old comic book page by Alex Kotzky.
Plastic Man changes his face and disguises himself in this cartoon comic book page.
Great comic book sound effects are seen in this golden age comic book page.

This story, for all it’s lively art and use of Cole’s patented graphic storytelling devices, just isn’t much FUN. It’s filled with logical inconsistencies in both the plot line (such as the usually impeccable law man Plas inciting gunplay into a crowd of innocents), and the art (such as the jumpiness of how Woozy discovers the crook’s lair in the top tier of page 3).

Now, for the real deal… here’s the great “Dictator of Dreams,” from Police Comics #78.

Police Comics #78 cover (Cole/Kotzky?)
A classic comic book cover showing Plastic Man saving his friend from a burning building in Police Comics 78 by artists Jack Cole.
Plastic Man has a nightmare in this vintage golden age collector's comic book by artist Jack Cole.
A cartoon ightmare is shown on this valuable comic page by Jack Cole.

A cartoon of a short fat man wearing a straw boater hat.
A cartoon drawing of a sexy red headed woman in a tight blue dress appears on this classic golden age comic book page by famous cartoonist Jack Cole.

A cartoon of a sexy woman in silhouette appears in this Plastic Man comic book page.
A cartoon nightmare from a Plastic Man comic book story by Jack Cole.
A cartoon nightmare drwan by Jack Cole.

Cartoon monsters drawn by vintage artist Jack Cole.

This story is filled with amazing elements. First, there’s the concept of the story itself, which falls in with Jack Cole’s recurring theme of crazy inventions and their equally crazy inventors. The story is highly entertaining, with a novel concept, a highly sexy female, great comedy bits, and a satisfying resolution.

After a compelling fake-out opener in which a dream is presented as reality, Cole invents a whole new page design to help the reader clearly know when we’re in the dream world and when the story takes place in the waking “real” world.

These pages are particularly beautiful, with organically shaped panels inhabiting black backgrounds, instead of the customary white. The astonishing splash page beautifully sets the tone with the organic black backgrounds and loose, almost Alexander Calder-like line work. These drawings don't look quite like normal comic book drawings, creating an otherworldly effect right away.

Pages 8 and 9 are compliments of each other, and work both as single pages, and as a double-page spread. Because Plastic Man and Woozy are dreaming the same dream, the design is particularly effective, because it effortlessly shows us this.

In the last sequence, when we shift out of the dream for the last time, note how Cole draws gradient lines in the background to transition into the bottom tier. Cole may have been influenced by similar techniques used by Will Eisner in his SPIRIT stories, but he made the device work in service of his story, which shows a certain mastery, and not just visual pyrotechnics for their own sake.

This story also includes some of C ole’s most risqué female drawings in is entire Plastic Man series. Lynette Lythe (love that name!) is a lovely character to look at. She is literally the girl of everyone's dreams in this story. The sexy silhouette of her going to bed in panel four of page 7 is especially strong, even for Cole, showing the influence of his work on the gag cartoons he was selling to men's magazines by this time.

Cole feels totally and completely invested in this story, as much as he was in his 1940 DICKIE DEAN stories, or his early MIDNIGHT stories. When you consider the career of Jack Kirby, who mostly only pencilled his pages and left the inking to Joe Simon and many others, it seems a shame that Cole couldn't have come to feel more comfortable with this arrangement. Perhaps, since he had been doing it all himself from the start, the shift to include other hands in his creations was just too difficult for him.

In a few cases, such as this outstanding story, Cole was able to make the new working arrangements -- in which he was no longer the dictator of his creations -- work for him. In future postings, we'll look at a few more of these gems.

Oct 13, 2009

WINDY BREEZE Part Two - 10 episodes 1942-44

Welcome to the second installment of Jack Cole's one-page stories featuring that lovable blowhard, WINDY BREEZE. If you missed the first 10 episodes, they are posted here. The next posting will be my 50th, and I've got something special planned for you, so stay tuned!

There are some gaps in the sequence presented here (such as nothing between issues 20 and 25). This is due to the fact that, as of this date, scans for these pages simply are not in circulation. This collection represents hours of digging around around the musty corners of the Web to assemble as complete a set of these rare one-pagers as possible. If anyone has scans to fill in the gaps, please share!

Also, in some cases, certain issues (such as National #22) didn't run a Cole WINDY BREEZE.

The image quality of some of these pages is, admittedly, quite poor. Some of the pages are from micro-fiche scans. I've touched up the pages to make them as readable as possible.

Reading these in sequence gives one a good sense of how Cole developed as a graphic storyteller. In these pages, his writing gets better and better, and his art is loose and confident.

National Comics #25 (Oct, 1942)
Jack Cole begins to deviate from his formula by having WINDY actually doing something instead of bragging about it. It's funny in a horrifying way that WINDY enthusiastically attempts surgery on a poor patient, with a comically disasterous effect!
A cartoon doctor appears in this vintage classic comic book page from the golden age.
National Comics #26 (Nov., 1942)

National Comics #28 (Jan., 1943)
This begins a beautiful sequence of winter/snow themed pages in which Jack Cole plays with postive and negative space.
A cartoon character in wintertime appears in this classic vintage old collector comic book from th egolden age by artist Jack Cole.
National Comics #29 (Feb,1943)
Another winter-themed page. Great last line.

National Comics #30 (Mar, 1943)
Yet another wintery page. Cole's use of negative/positive space resonates with similar images in Will Eisner's snowbound winter SPIRIT stories.

National Comics #31 (April, 1943)
Cole's comic book stories are filled with characters donning funny disguises. Cole ends on a meta-joke in which a character speaks directly to the reader.

National Comics #34 (August, 1943)
A nice meta-joke in which the characters become aware of their own speech balloons.

National Comics #36 (Nov., 1943)
The boy sidekick looks like Mr. Natural. Perhaps Cole was inspired by Gene Ahern's short, bearded cypher in his great screwball SQUIRREL CAGE strip. Years later, Robert Crumb based his MR. NATURAL character on the enigmatic bearded character in Gene Ahern’s strip.
The inspiration for the Robert Crumb cartoon character Mr. Natural appears in this panel from the vintage comic strip Squirrel Cage by artiost Gene Ahern.

National Comics #37 (Dec., 1943)
A cartoon golfer appears in this classic vintage old collector comic book from the golden age by artist Jack Cole.

National Comics #38 (Jan, 1944)
Here is a great example of Jack Cole's pet face-changing (shapeshifting) theme (see other posts on this theme here). This page is very similar to a BURP THE TWERP episode that was recently reprinted in Art Spiegelman and Francois Mouly's great TOON TREASURY, a highly recommended book.
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