Dec 22, 2011

Cole in Your Stocking - 12 New Cartoon Discoveries!

The Jack Cole Christmas Cartoon Roundup: A Sprinkle of Playboy and a Dollop of Mirth!

A post made just 2 days prior to December 25th is the ideal place to share a Jack Cole Christmas story. After all, in his hundreds of comic book stories created in a 16-year career, there must be at least a handful of Christmas stories. 

Right? I mean, the man was born in December (December 14th).

At least one Xmas story. Santa's gotta be in here, somewhere, right?


To my knowledge, Jack Cole did not create a single Christmas-themed comic book story. Yet, he worked in an industry that delighted in exploiting the holiday for all it was worth, with numerous Christmas-themed stories and covers. What in the world does this say, if anything, about our friend and hero, Jack? Was he a bit of a humbug? Or, as a Methodist, was he reluctant to do much with the holiday out of respect? Perhaps Jack Cole was simply too much of an original to follow the pack and instead developed his own themes and subject matter. 

Whatever the reason, Cole and Christmas just don't seem to mix. Take a look at this 1939 one-page Christmas cartoons, the one piece of Christmas-themed comic book work by Jack Cole that I have found:

Funny Pages Volume 3, Issue 10 (Dec 1939)

It's not very warm and fuzzy, is it? This is from a black and white photocopy, by the way. Even so, you can see that Jack Cole's take on Christmas humor was not that inspired. This page seems to want to go into his penchant for funny crime situations, instead of Santa, North Pole, and well, all the tropes of the holiday.

As far as I can tell (somebody prove me wrong, please!), Cole doesn't touch on Christmas in his work again until 16 years later, after he's completely left comic books. In the December, 1955 issue of Playboy magazine, we find a Christmas card of sorts, by Jack:

It's one of five, and no doubt, Cole drew it as an assignment. Note that his card is accompanied by four others, all done by different Playboy artists. 

Aside from the sprig of mistletoe at the top right corner of his card, and the understated hues of red and green (the colors of Christmas), there doesn't seem to be anything Christmas-y at all in the visual aspect of Cole's piece. This is even less enthusiastic about the holiday than his early 1939 page above. Nonetheless, his art leaps out of the pile of rather wooden art examples, and his concept is extremely clever and sexy. Here's the original art for this piece, a thing of beauty that celebrates the feminine, rather than the holiday:

Art Spiegelman, perhaps the most insightful critic of Cole's we have, has said somewhere that the key to understanding Jack Cole's work is to see that his main theme is impotence. My studies of Cole's work bears this out, and we'll see some examples of that later on in this posting. 

However, it's worth noting that the above Playboy Magazine cartoon by Jack Cole is a rare portrait of masculine empowerment, rather than impotence. For this reason, it's always been a personal favorite of mine. A rare moment when Jack Cole stood up for his gifts and his own considerable power as an artist and generative human being. 

In the image, the artist paints a slightly Christmas-y tie on the topless beauty. However, the image also looks a bit like the artist has created the stunning model of feminine sexuality with his brush and paints. And, of course, this is exactly what Jack Cole has done. In fact, in the original art scan, you can see his raw brushstrokes and paint daubs on the bottom edge of the board. Nice stuff. Thus, the image (especially the image of the original art) becomes a meta statement about the redemption Cole found in creativity, and perhaps in creating these ultimate images of the Feminine. 

I also have in my files a lovely image of original art by Cole that looks as if it was created for a New Year's piece. I don't know if it was ever published. It's a lovely piece, a dazzling light and luscious vision.

In their terrific book, Forms Stretched to Their Limits: Jack Cole and Plastic Man, Art Spiegelman and Chip Kidd publish a very rare, delightful Christmas card drawn by Jack Cole in the mid 1940s for his New Castle, PA family (note the name on the mailbox of the home the singing letter is being delivered to):

Again, there's a fascinating dearth of traditional Xmas art. I'm not sure if this type of approach to a "Christmash" greeting is typical of the time. Perhaps, in the ensuing generations since the 1940s, us Americans have built up the Christmas tropes - Santa, reindeer, a manger, 3 wise men, Frosty the Snowman, and so on. I'm not sure. But even so, there seems to be something a little off about Cole's black-drenched celebration of the season of light. 

That's about all the Christmas-themed Jack Cole stuff there seems to be. However, let's not end this post on a note of lack and darkness. In fact, I say let's let Jack Cole do what he did best, and cheer us up with some great cartoons. 

I just yesterday discovered on scanner superstar Bchat's blog, M.O.D.M a curious little humor digest from March, 1955 called Mirth

As you may recall, in the last few months, I've developed a theory that there are a lot of Jack Cole cartoons in 1954-55 publications that we have yet to discover. This was the period where Cole left a 16-year career in comic books and focused on magazine cartoons, which was a sort of parallel lesser career of his up until the mid-50's. Sure enough, this humor digest, scanned and shared by bchat (thanks!) has some Jack Cole in it.

In fact....

It's got TWELVE (!) Jack Cole cartoons in it! I could scarcely believe my eyes when I first paged through the book. This was a lovely gift from the Universe  and I thought it would be nice to share these cartoons with everyone, as a sort of holiday offering.

In the inside front cover, we find this delightful captionless cartoon:

This is a super-clever use of negative space, and obviously the editor agreed, giving it the place of honor on the magazine, and choosing it out of the batch of 12 Cole gems he had in front of him. How in the world 12 Jack Cole cartoons were published in one emphemeral, vernacular bon bon is a mystery that will likely never be solved. My guess is that these cartoons of Cole's are mostly rejects from higher markets, and that Cole shoved an accumulation of these rejects into an envelope and mailed it to an editor with a smaller budget who knew a good thing when he saw it and snapped up the dozen gems.

Speaking of cartoons that -- um -- don't speak, here's another captionless cartoon by Jack Cole that I love:

Cole has wandered into the same territory as more gentle, observational cartoonists, such as Charles Schulz (Peanuts), and offers us a fascinating glimpse of what a mature Jack Cole could have done with cartoons, had he not gone the Playboy route. 

Note the cartoons are all signed by Jack, in the same style signature he used for his Playboy cartoons. During this time, we find a number of "Jake" cartoons in the same sorts of magazines ("Jake" being Cole's pen name). Such as this beauty, also from bchat's website:

A-Laugh-A-Minnit #8(Toby Press/Minoan, circa 1955, exact date unknown)
Note that this art looks similar to Cole's virtually unknown Millie and Terry comic strip, but it's also looser and more "arty."

Another interesting aspect to the Jack Cole Mirth cartoons is that they are not "Jake" cartoons. They reach out to other topics and situations, with grounded, more domestic humor instead of a frothy chiffon of sex. Consider this sitcom of a cartoon from the Mirth series:

This is truly inventive, clever, engaging stuff. It is very similar to Cole's Saturday Evening Post cartoon published about a year earlier:

Both cartoons are sequential multiple images, and both are about domestic squabbles involving lights at night. For more analysis of this particular cartoon, see my post here. Jack Cole liked drawing splashes of light and shadow, and we see this in a comic book work a lot:

Here's another cartoon from Cole's Mirth series that seems delightfully different from his men's magazine work; almost a George Price New Yorker style cartoon.

Here are the remaining delightful  half-dozen Jack Cole cartoons from Mirth #36 (March, 1955). Thanks, Jack. Enjoy!

Cole's Comics wishes you all a happy holiday and a great 2012! Here's a silly card I drew for the kids and humbly offer.

Dec 14, 2011

An Interview with Mike Kooiman, Quality Comics Scholar and Author

Mike Kooiman has created, with Jim Amash, The Quality Companion, a terrific book that has just been published by TwoMorrows. It's on sale at the TwoMorrows website, where you can get a paper or a digital edition (I got both!) -- click here to preview and buy

I got my paper and my digital copy three days ago and WOW, is this a fun book for a golden age comic book geek like myself! Of course, there's a lot about Jack Cole in this book. I'll have more to say in the coming weeks as I digest this massive tome of information, but overall I just want to say that I am really impressed with the job Mike Kooiman and Jim Amash did in researching all things Quality, compiling the various pieces of information we have about Quality Comics into a smooth narrative, and then assembling it into a beautifully laid out book filled with fascinating photos and art.

Mike and I have been emailing the last few weeks. As soon as he heard about Cole's Comics, he offered me the special fonts he designed for The Quality Companion, which he based on Jack Cole's hand lettering (used in the new masthead, above - thanks, Mike!). Mike graciously consented to a little interview that reveals some fascinating behind-the-scenes information on the creation of The Quality Companion.

The Quality Companion reprints in high resolution
nine extremely obscure and fascinating stories
from Quality  in a special full-color section that includes
the amazing Jack Cole Midnight story from
Smash Comics #32 (March, 1942)

The Quality Companion is stuffed with fascinating stuff
about Jack Cole, including some insight into
Cole's last "Dark Plas" work for Quality

What inspired you to make The Quality Companion?

My site, Cosmic Teams (Paul's note: be sure to visit this cool site here), has been active for over a decade, and my love of the Justice Society led me to even more interest in DC's Golden Age properties. In particular, I like Quality because these characters had been so largely overlooked. Sure you can say the same for Fawcett, but I felt that the Marvel Family had such a fan base, and Quality's was much more forgotten. When I realized that I could download all the comics for free, I began to write all of the character profiles, hoping to assemble the definitive set and site on the matter. I quickly realized this was a huge project and approached Roy Thomas about doing a book. Roy and Jim Amash had already discussed such a thing, and a year later they officially asked me to write it.

The Quality Companion is chock-full of smart stuff,
such as a Quality Comics family tree, a map of
key locations of Quality offices and artists' homes
(including Jack Cole's NE homes), archival photos,
and tons more.

How long did you work on the book, and can you share a little bit about the research you did?

The book took a year to write, and I wish I'd had another three months (not necessarily to write more, but to read through and edit one more time). My research began with a reading of the Quality archive, and in familiarizing myself with Jim Amash's interviews (something which had already piqued my interest). This led to any kind of research I could muster. The next logical research steps included reading major volumes most related to my subject, namely Steranko's History of Comics, A Spirited Life and Spiegelman's Jack Cole book. When I began knitting these things into a linear history, that's when I began Googling and digging and searching for missing bits of information, wherever it was needed. The book has a full Bibliography that lists every resource I consulted.

Mike's book has lots of helpful information, including
in-depth studies of the Quality characters and titles.

The book is co-authored by Jim Amash, who has made a huge contribution to the study of golden age comics by personally interviewing many of the artists, writers, and publishers. What was Jim's involvement in The Quality Companion?

Jim was Quality control! After I fashioned his interviews into a different form, he read my work, spotted inaccuracies, and filled in gaps occasionally where it helped the story. Jim even roped in Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr. to put his keen eyes on the Artists section. Our discussions were detailed on certain subjects and I they greatly aided the fairness of the text. There are even a couple of tidbits that were too late to make the book that Jim learned from having re-contacted the likes of Dick Arnold. I very much hope that I did Jim justice and encourage everyone to see out those original issues of Alter Ego (available for preview and purchase here) , because my narrative only cherry-picks from those.

Mike Kooiman's exhaustively researched and annotated
golden age comics website, Cosmic Teams

Earlier, you mentioned your website, Cosmic Teams. Can you share a little bit more about that, and the Quality Comics blog you've started? 

Cosmic Teams was a simple extension of my fandom for JLA and Legion, really. When I found myself making lists of members and stuff, I thought "why not put it online?" This was in the mid-90s when HTML was all-new. Then I simply began adding everything that struck me as a fan, things that other fans might like to read. I've always written Cosmic Teams as a reference volume, and accuracy was important. It was there that my citation style was invented (when you see an issue number in parentheses) (something I highly applaud - Paul). I did that because I was tired of everyone claiming crazy things and not being able to point anyone to the correct issue. I debunked a lot of errors while doing my own reading and research, and I'm pleased to see that even Wikipedia comics entries are now heavily footnoted. Long after me, natch. Yep, I'm gonna claim that.

The Quality Companion Companion has a singular focus: to supplement the book and target readers interested in that publisher. Longer articles like the Blackhawk profiles are "teased" on the blog and then linked to Cosmic Teams, where the permanent article resides.

Mike Kooiman created two fonts based on Jack Cole's
hand-lettering especially for The Quality Companion

I know you created two special fonts for the book, based on Jack Cole's hand lettering. Did you also do the layout and production work on the book yourself?

My day job is that of Art Director/graphic designer, so I did indeed do all those things. Initially, TwoMorrows was going to use their go-to guy, Eric Nolen-Weathington, but he was forced to withdraw. Creating fonts is something I enjoy when the opportunity arises. I noticed immediately the potential for fonts based on Jack Cole's lettering.

A typical mixture of controlled weirdness by
Fred Guardineer, also a favorite of mine,
from Crack Comics #20
What's your favorite Quality series and artist? Favorite series? 

That one's hard because the features were all distributed across seven anthology titles. The ones that had the most super-hero bang for the buck were Feature, Smash, Crack, National and Police. Indeed, maybe Police was my favorite because you got classic Plastic Man, along with Phantom Lady, Human Bomb (drawn by another favorite of mine, Paul Gustavson), and loads of other heroes.

Personally--and I'm going to go out on a brittle limb here--Lou Fine is not one of my favorites. (not one of mine, either - sez Paul) I appreciate his work, but at the end of the day I find myself seeing Will Eisner's (sour-grapey) point of view: Fine wasn't a cartoonist or a storyteller, and those things show pretty heavily in his comics work. 

My favorite artist is one who gets little press: Fred Guardineer. Something about his unique style really thrilled me. There are some panels in his art (he drew many many features) that would just stop me in my tracks and I'd pore over and over them with wonder. Wait! I was supposed to say "Jack Cole" here, wasn't I? :; Naturally, I appreciate all the other greats, but I could go on at length about who and why forever!

The Mouthpiece was, like Jack Cole's Midnight,
a clone of Will Eisner's Spirit. Publisher Arnold tasked
his best artists to create Spirit-like characters to
capitalize on the character's popularity, and to provide
a little insurance in case Eisner defected Quality,
or didn't return from his wartime service. Like Jack Cole,
Fred Guardineer was too much of an original to
create an out-and-out copy, and invested his
Mouthpiece stories with his own brand of
wooden weirdness, as shown in this
splash page from Police Comics #13.

Any special thoughts on Jack Cole you'd like to share? Any insight into the relationship Busy Arnold had with Cole and his other artists? Did Arnold regard Cole as his top artist?

It's clear to me that Arnold regarded Cole highly. The Quality publishing record clearly demonstrates Arnold's choices about what and whom to promote. Those artists who became popular rose very quickly, and I know in my soul it was because they were noticed by Busy Arnold, either personally or in response to reader feedback. In regards to Cole, it was another case of the "fast track to exclusivity." Once Arnold wanted you, he kept you so busy that you didn't work for anyone else. Busy played the "pal" and let his editors be the task masters. It says something of their relationship that so many key artists and staff moved to be near the publisher's Stamford, Conn. office in 1939. 

Jack Cole's funny depiction of Quality Comics publisher Busy Arnold from
the Plastic Man story that appeared in Police Comics #20

I didn't unearth any anecdotes not already found in Jim Amash's discussions with them, but I was amused by Cole's portrayal of Arnold in Police Comics #20. I think  Cole's depiction of Arnold was equal parts good fun and subtle dig at him for being a slave driver. There seems to be more mention of artists than Cole, by Arnold. Perhaps Arnold got along personally a bit better with Fine and Crandall.

The Quality Companion is filled with information and rare photos,
such as these little seen photos from Jack Cole's life
Did Jack Cole's brother, Dick Cole, lend you the rare, seldom-seen family photos used in the book, or did those come from another source?

Jim Amash spoke directly with Dick Cole and told me that all those images were from him, yes. Lucky guy!

Augmenting The Quality Companion is Mike's new blog.
Visit it at

In your book, you have an interesting side article about the recent phenomenon of digital comics and their influence on studying comics history. I think the sudden availability of this rare, previously impossible to see material has led to a much deeper understanding and appreciation of American comic books in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, resulting in terrific books like The Quality Companion. Any thoughts on that?

I can only speak for myself, but heavens yes I hope so! I think people are only starting to realize that this resource is available. Now, I'm not talking about the legions of extant Golden Age fans. I've found that my blog article about "reading The Spirit for free" was quite popular and I have a hunch that spelling this out to new readers was enlightening for some. I look at G.A. fandom and hope that a younger generation will unearth all these gems. Tablet computers are going to expand this audience. I definitely had my own impressions --which sometimes differed GREATLY from what gets repeated over and over, like my appreciation of Guardineer, who is never mentioned anywhere. 

Thanks, Mike, for the interview! You did a marvellous job and I hope the book sells well. The Quality Companion: Preview and purchase here!

Dec 6, 2011

Sexy Nurses, Jive Genies, and Innocent Racism in Jack Cole's 1944 Private Dogtag Screwball Adventure

Story in this post:
"Private Dogtag: Aladdin's Lamp" (story and art by Jack Cole)
Military Comics #30 (July, 1944 - Quality)

(Special note: Buy my Jack Cole eBooks! Beautiful comics, digitally restored -- only $3.99. Details here.)

In 1944, the United States was all about fighting the war against Germany and Japan. Please keep this in mind when you read the extremely insane story in this post.

American comic book sales boomed during World War Two as cratefuls were shipped to American G.I.'s overseas. Comic book publishers like Quality altered their content to appeal less to the kiddies and more to the soldiers. PRIVATE DOGTAG was one of a fleet of comics about inept soldiers. From SAD SACK (begun in 1942) to BEETLE BAILEY (begun in 1950 and still running today), the concept was -- and has been -- enormously popular among U.S. military and civilians alike.

Jack Cole was one of the few healthy top comic book artists in America who wasn't called up to serve in the military effort (although his brother, Bob, served in the Coast Guard). 

As such, Cole had all the work he could take on. And take it he did, perhaps building up a cash reserve in case he was drafted. This was the year PLASTIC MAN got his own book, with Cole penning virtually every page of the first three issues. If you take a look at my year-by-year page count of Jack Cole's work (read the whole post, wit6h additional charts and interesting stats on Cole's career, here), it becomes clear that 1944 was a peak production year for the prolific Jack Cole.

In Military Comics #30 alone, Jack Cole not only contributed a wonderful 4-page Death Patrol story (which you can read on this blog here), but he also tossed in a terrific nine-page Private Dogtag adventure that features sexy nurses, a Zoot-suited jive talking genie, a plethora of Japanese stereotypes, and our hero impersonating a female!

I've restored the art to this story, for your reading pleasure. It begins with a great, bizarre splash panel that gives us a healthy dose of sexy army nurses...

From Military Comics #30
(July, 1944 - Quality Comics)

Note the story is signed by Bart Tumey. PRIVATE DOGTAG was primarily drawn by Quality staffer BART TUMEY, who had a pleasant cartoony style. Tumey worked in comics longer than Cole did, starting out in the mid-1930s and lasting until the late 1950s. He also penciled and inked several Plastic Man stories.

As some readers of this blog may know, my name is Paul Tumey. As far as I know, there is no direct relation between me and Mr. Bart Tumey. I wish there was, but we will have to simply be connected through an interest in comics and Jack Cole. 

There is no doubt that this Private Dogtag story is written, penciled, inked, and even lettered by Jack Cole. When you compare how Jack Cole and Bart Tumey drew Private Dogtag, there are several marked differences:

Tumey tends to draw Dogtag's huge, comical cowlick wider and fuller than Cole. Jack Cole's character design seems more organic and graceful, even though he is basically replicating a design someone else created. Tumey also structures Dogtag's head with a larger cranium (although the brain inside is probably fairly small!). In fact, the "bighead" style of cartooning was embraced by Tumey in some very odd and strange images:

Aside from the obvious differences in cartooning styles, we can identify the Private Dogtag story in Military #30 as being by Jack Cole (even though it is signed by Bart Tumey) from several "tells." First off, there's the Cole women. Jack Cole's mid-1940's women had a very distinctive face:

Also, the character of Sheik Bey Rum in the Private Dogtag story reminds me a lot of a character from the Woozy Winks origin story:

Comparing the two images above, it's clear that they were both penciled and inked by Jack Cole (as he did the vast majority of his work), which means we can probably eliminate the possibility that Tumey penciled and Cole inked this Private Dogtag story, or vice versa.

The mystery remains: why is this story, which is so clearly by Jack Cole, signed by Bart Tumey? Was this simply an editorial screw-up? Perhaps it's simply because the Death Patrol story in this same issue is signed by Jack Cole:

For some strange reason, it seemed to be an editorial policy at Quality that each story in a comic book of theirs needed to appear to be created by a different person. We also know that Cole was fond of using pen names, such as Ralph Johns, Jake, and Robert Bruce -- so perhaps it was Cole himself who drew Bart Tumey's signature to his wacky gem, lost for 60 years in the "cole mine."

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