Aug 6, 2011

A Million Years Before Jack Cole's Playboy Comics - Dickie Dean and the Time Camera (1941)

Story presented in this post:
Dickie Dean (story, pencils, inks, and lettering by Jack Cole)
Silver Streak Comics #10 (May,1941 - Lev Gleason)

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Long before he became Playboy’s first premiere cartoonist and comic artist, Jack Cole started out in the four-color world of comic books. Most famous for creating Plastic Man, Cole also created numerous comic book series that are all but forgotten today. One of my personal favorites is DICKIE DEAN, BOY INVENTOR, which appeared in Silver Streak Comics. DICKIE DEAN sprang from Jack Cole’s own boyhood, in which he invented various gadgets, including a way to listen in on his big sister’s romantic phone calls. As you can see in the first 3 Dickie Dean stories (published in this blog, with commentary here), Cole started the series out in his hometown of New Castle, Pennsylvania.

Here, we present Jack Cole’s final Dickie Dean story, a wild, surreal crime story in which the past overshadows the present until Dickie’s time camera invention reveals the truth.

At it’s best, Jack Cole’s early work had a poetic, winsome quality, and was as bizarre as it gets. This was never more so than in his Dickie Dean stories, which were very likely fueled by melancholy memories of his childhood, contrasted with fantasies of what it could have been. Here, Dickie has a camera that looks into the past. In the first Dickie Dean story (you can read it here), he invents a similar device that reveals past crimes. The criminal's advantage? He removed his hair by electrolysis. Was any early comic book series ever more prosaic?

Cole gets a lot of mileage from Dickie’s sidekick comic relief character in this story, Zip, who at times prefigures the creation of his finest character, Woozy Winks, Plastic Man’s sidekick.
The art in this story is rushed, but still has moments of storytelling brilliance. Look at the bottom tier on the first page and see how Cole creates a sweeping cinematic camera movement from right to left and then into the sky.

One of the hallmarks of Cole’s imagery and storytelling is his gift for putting speed on paper. This story contains an early, iconic image of a car zooming into action in the climactic last page of the story.

On page one, Cole zoomed us into the air high above the characters, and on the last page, he shoots the speeding automobile from below. We see this image time and again in Cole’s early and mid-career comic book stories. Cole was an early master of dynamic “camera angles.”

The panel in this story also includes perhaps the first image of skyscrapers framed by a big yellow full moon. Cole was also quite fond using “celestial circles” as design elements in his early work. In fact, I’ve identified this as a “Cole-ism,” and one way to spot Jack Cole’s unsigned work. For more Cole-isms, see my article here.

Cole left his beloved creation behind when he joined Quality Comics and soon created Plastic Man, a series which owes much to Dickie Dean. Apparently, the publisher saw a lot of potential in the series. Lev Gleason published numerous Dickie Dean stories in Silver Streak 11-21, and Daredevil 1, 12-41. Some of the stories were drawn the Archie comics master, Bob Montana. Here's a delightful, patriotic 2-pager, "The Defense Bond Machine," by Bob Montana that first ran in Crime Does Not Pay #22 (July, 1942 - Dickie's only appearance in this title). I think it captures the spirit of Cole creation, showing that Montana was one of the very few people who could take a Cole creation and do it justice:

All text copyright 2011 Paul Tumey

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