Sep 12, 2011

There was Playboy and also... The Army? Jack Cole's Unknown Comic Strip

Playboy Magazine's great cartoonist of the 1950's, Jack Cole, wrote and drew a great, sexy, Playboy-like girlie comic strip called Millie and Terry... and almost no one knows this!

The comic was published in a Sunday funnies format for a  package syndicated by W.B. Bradbury Co. called American Armed Forces Features. This was an 8-page color newspaper that was available at stores on US military bases. The comic section included Al Capp's Dick Tracy parody, Fearless Fosdick, and several Sad Sack type strips. Cole's cartoon - the best one in the lot -- was the only sexy, girlie, pin-up comic strip in the paper.

 Jack Cole's first published PLAYBOY cartoon was in the April, 1954 issue. His last comic book story was dated two months earlier, in February 1954. This was a turbulent period in Cole's career, as he left comic books after a 16 year career. At the time, in the early 1950's, the American comic book industry was imploding due to changing public taste, and the widespread (and incorrect) perception that comics were corrupting children. Comic book artists who had paid off mortgages and raised families on their work were scrambling to make ends meet. In 1954, Cole had a very brief stint of 3 weeks at Charlton (I have yet to locate any published work of Cole's at Charlton). He probably contracted with Bradbury for the Millie and Terry strips, spent a week writing and drawing a batch of perhaps 5 or 10 episodes. As the Millie and Terry strips were published monthly, Cole moved on to other magazine markets. Very quickly, of course, he found steady work with Hugh Hefner as PLAYBOY took off.

It may very well be that there are several undiscovered Jack Cole cartoons (perhaps even comics!) from this 1954-55 scramble for work. In fact, here is the cover to Army Laughs #9 (Dec 1954/Jan 1955), another Army gag magazine that, according the eBay seller, has at least one Jack Cole cartoon in it:

Earlier, I posted a Millie and Terry comic at this posting. I am indebted to my pal and fellow comics historian, Frank Young (see his great comic blog, Stanley Stories), for discovering this unknown Jack Cole comic, which he found tossed out in someone's trash. A wonderfully kind soul posted a very informative comment about this strip that gave me information to locate another issue of this rare, virtually unknown comic section... and so, I proudly present to you a second installment of Jack Cole's great "lost" comic strip, Millie and Terry!

Millie and Terry  - November, 1955 - American Armed Forces Features #9

Isn't this great stuff? I love the the opening drawing, of the two women curving together. This sensuous image can be appreciated separate from the narrative, and reminds me of the Females By Cole series that became a staple in Playboy Magazine. Cole truly had a gift for drawing the female form!

The gag in strip is genuinely funny, and the drawings manage to be both cartoony and graphically sophisticated at the same time. By this time, Cole had written and drawn about 600 similar one-page filler strips for Quality Comics, so he had the pacing and style of the "short form" of the comic strip very well worked out.
Now that we have two installments of this strip, which I believe had at least 10 episodes, we can see that it really is a sort of missing link between Cole's sexy Playboy work and his 1958 nationally syndicated comic strip, Betsy and Me (personally, I prefer Millie and Terry). The drawing style Cole uses in Millie and Terry is very similar to the style he would use in his comic strip about a comically overwhelmed new father. Here's a couple of examples, to compare:

Betsy and Me - July 13, 1958

Betsy and Me - August 10, 1958

Betsy and Me  has more graphic invention, but we can see the similarity in character design. In the call-out below, a face from Millie and Terry (on the left) has a very similar rendering, facial expression, and head-tilt to a typical figure from Betsy and Me (right):

Cole is also using some of his tried-and-true techniques that he brilliantly employed in PLASTIC MAN and his other comic book work, including the artful use of fabric patterns. Terry's blouse has bold stripes, while Millie's dress has a tasteful polka dot pattern. Note that the dress is colored green, which makes it very similar to the blouse worn by Plastic Man's sidekick (and perhaps Jack Cole's most brilliant character), Woozy Winks:

This suggests that Cole may have colored this strip himself. One can also appreciate Cole's artistry and attention to details when you realize that his polka dots for Woozy's blouse are perfectly round and all the same size, suggesting a clown's costume. Millie's dress is less garish and comical, with more delicate dots of varying size and shape. Crass versus Class; both are funny. Cole put a great deal of thought into his seemingly simple cartoons, and this is just one example of that!

Jack Cole's work is filled with terrific women's outfits. In a Comics Journal interview with a fellow golden age comic book artist and colleague of Cole's, Craig Flessel relates: "(He was) very much in love with his wife. He bought all her clothes. He worshipped her. " Perhaps Cole's knowledge of women's outfits came from his clothes-buying trips for/with his wife. It's  charming to imagine the shy, quiet, tall and lanky Jack Cole in a ladies' wear store secretly taking mental notes for his comic book stories!

As more examples of Millie and Terry surface, I will share them in this blog!

Text and scans copyright 2011 Paul Tumey


  1. But.... but... what a find! I didn't know it even excisted! One way to find more is to try artists who are in there. Could you publish that or send me a list so I can persue that angle? Or even better, if you do Cole, can I publish the rest? Have you spoken with Alan Holtz about this?
    I believe the Gooch strip could be by Howard Nostrand and isn't that Vic Martin I see in there? Vic Martin is still alive, I believe. I will email my friend Mike Lynch, who is chairman of the New York chapter of the NCS and may know him.

  2. Looking for rare material from 1954/5 I came across this listing on ebay: Look Magazine April 19, 1955 Humor: Beauty And The Beach, by Jack Cole

  3. Hey - don't know if you saw this and I didn't see an email for you anywhere, so I'm posting it here:

    FYI - Love your blog and I try to share it whenever Jack's work comes up.

    Thanks! - Jamie

  4. After reading Cole's last Betsy and Me of 8-10-1958 it's evident that he was suffering a deep depression. The character is forcing his way through his days with a pasted on smile, as more and more is demanded of him. Most haunting is the third to last panel when he has the EXIT sign with a small arrow above it. As one who has felt this creeping dread, the desperation is all in there. Thanks for archiving his work, by proxy you archive his life.


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