Oct 26, 2011

Dark Plas: Special Halloween Post!

It's that time of year where we don colorful costumes and share spooky stories. To mark the occasion, and since our hero, Jack Cole, was an early master of the comic book horror story, here's a special Halloween / Day of the Dead posting.

Of course, us comic book, convention-going people don't limit ourselves to just one day a year to dress in colorful costumes. The impressive images below happily show that Jack Cole's beloved creation, Plastic Man is still alive and well! I hope this guy won the costume contest at that convention... he certainly deserves it!

Along the same lines, here's a Plas costume kit for the general populace:

So that's the costume part of our Halloween post. And now, as far as scary stories go, there are fewer more disturbingly dark comics that I know of than Jack Cole's last comic book stories from 1953. Check out these images:

These are from Cole's 1952-54 Plastic Man stories, not -- as you might first guess -- from his horror genre Web of Evil stories. As we see from the Comic Con photos above, Plastic Man is generally regarded to be a cheerful, happy-go-lucky fellow. Not just funny, but fun. So, how do we explain the images of the worried, despairing Plas we see above? Plastic Man started out funny and carefree, laughing at crime. As time went on, he became covered in shadows, and lines of stress and worry ravaged the face that bullets could not alter:

Around 1952-53, the world of Jack Cole's Plastic Man stories became considerably darker and creepier. And deeper. Like the Plastic Man convention-goer above, most people remember Plas in his light-hearted incarnation. But there's also a fascinating, darker version of the character. At first, I didn't even think the later Plas stories were done by Cole. They are so different in tone and appearance. In fact, years ago, I rather turned my nose up and thought to myself, "Idiots! They ruined a great character!"

Today, after having drenched myself in Jack Cole's work for the last two years towards, hopefully, someday creating a book with some new insight into his work, it's not only clear that the later "dark" Plastic Man stories are all Jack Cole's work, but also that there is much of interest to be found in them (if you can stomach the darkness). Suffering is often a prelude to spiritual growth, and there are  many moments in these dark stories where Cole's drawings suggest a spiritual awakening. These images, for example, from the story you are about to read have a certain power:

Amid the shadow-drenched tableaux of despairing heroes and victims, Cole sprinkles moments of illumination, such as this. Interestingly, even the women of these stories have a considerably less sexual, more spiritual aspect than we would normally expect to see in the work of Playboy's first signature cartoonist. In contrast to the the cheesecake, beauty poses Cole is known for, his females in these 1952-4 dark stories are shown in mature relationships with men. You can look at these images and sense a connection beyond sexual between the women and the men. Was Cole portraying the maturing marriage of himself and his wife, Dot?

It's dangerous, of course, to read too much into a commercial artist's work done for hire. However, there certainly seems to be a strong connection between Jack Cole's extremely dark last comic book stories and his own life. Just as Cole's early 40s work reflected the strength of the war effort, his early 50s work reflects America's descent into cold war atomic age madness. 

In a strange sort of way, the darkness invigorated Cole's work. Once you breach the shock of the darkness, these stories are as amazing as anything Cole created. It was a new phase of inspired creation that has largely gone unnoticed and unexplored.

Here then, are two remarkable, anxiety-drenched deliciously black stories from Police Comics 39, published in January, 1953. Happy Halloween! Brrrrrrr........

Oct 21, 2011

New Midnight Collection - Just Released!

As part of my ongoing Jack Cole Research and Restoration project, I've just released...

The Complete Jack Cole Midnight, Volume 2
ONLY $3.99!

I'm very excited to share this collection, as it contains some amazing stories and art by the great Jack Cole. In this book, Midnight encounters insane Nazis in Iceland, a lost tribe in the Florida Everglades, real-life Hollywood starlets, human-made freaks, and even the Devil himself!

This 115 page eBook in .CBR format provides all the Midnight stories of 1942, along with all the covers of Smash Comics from 1942, including two great covers by Jack Cole himself! In addition, the book includes two of Jack Cole's extremely rare Dickie Dean-Boy Inventor stories from 1941, which show Cole's rapid development in 1942.

The book includes a 5-page introduction and 14 pages of detailed story notes by me. I've taken some time to create attractive layouts and organize my analysis so that it's informative and enjoyable to read (hopefully!).

In 1942, Jack Cole came into his own as a master of the medium of sequential graphic storytelling. No longer jumping from publisher to publisher, Cole had found a stable berth at Quality Comics, and even moved to Stamford Connecticut, where the Quality offices were located (my intro includes a rare photo of the building that housed the Quality offices). Within this framework of stability and rising success, Cole developed confidence and deepened his skills.

However, even as Jack Cole and American comic books gained a solid footing in 1942, the world was facing the de-stabilizing spectre of Nazi Germany and Hitler. Even though Jack Cole was not political, the menace of the Nazis pervades his work of 1942. In one story, Midnight goes to Hell and rouses the "inmates" there to overthrow a Nazi invasion of the United States.

This book also includes 3 extremely rare anti-Hitler cartoons from Picture Scoop, October 1942. This was a leftist magazine published by Cole's former employer, Lev Gleason (Silver Streak, Daredevil, Crime Does Not Pay).

I've spent weeks restoring these pages to make them as clear and readable as possible. My goal has been to remove the obstacles of age and deterioration so that these amazing stories can be easily enjoyed by all.

I have some great new Cole finds to share soon. Stay tuned!

Oct 18, 2011

Jack Cole's Roots: A Rare Wild Early Comic Story and a Documentary!

Jack Cole's work had -- and continues to have -- appeal in part because his work is a heady combination of screwball comedy and the darker side of human nature. It's a mix that shouldn't work, but somehow this one great cartoonist pulled it together.

The Landon School of Cartooning was a prime influence on Jack Cole's development as a screwball, "bigfoot" cartoonist, as we've previously noted.

Below, you'll find an informative and insightful 2009 10-minute documentary  well worth watching about the Landon School and it's influence. The documentary, produced by Enchanted Images, Inc., notes that Jack Cole, among many other notable American cartoonists, took the 28 lessons of Landon School of Cartooning's correspondence.

The documentary, created by artist and writer John Garvin at Enchanted Images (check out his new book, After Carl Barks), points out that the Landon course presented a practical approach to newspaper cartooning, so that "a young kid, working from home, could become a famous cartoonist with nothing more than Landon's lessons, some pen and ink, paper, sweat, and a little talent."

According to Jim Steranko's History of Comics Volume 2, Jack Cole did just that. Seeing an ad for the course, Cole asked his father, who was a hard-working father of 6, to pay for the course. When his Dad refused, the endlessly inventive Cole found a way. He began to sneak down to the kitchen in the middle of the night and quietly make a sandwich to take to school the next day. Cole smuggled the sandwiches to school in a hollowed-out textbook. In this way, Cole was able to save up his lunch money and eventually pay for the course, which, according to Cole's colleague and editor at Quality, Gill Fox, cost around $8 -- or $20 if you wanted to send your work in and get Landon's notes on it.

Garvin's documentary explains how Landon's method of cartooning differed from previous approaches and textbooks on cartooning. Instead of basing the figure drawings on a careful study of human anatomy, Landon developed a way to create humorous pen-and-ink drawings of people with stick figures and basic shapes. It seems to me that learning to cartoon using the Landon method may have freed Cole (and others) from focusing on representational images, allowing him to stretch and distort his figures, as he did so brilliantly, particularly in his Plastic Man stories.

In 1937, Cole created a rather brilliant one-sheet summation of the Landon approach to cartooning:

It's my theory that Cole may have created this one-sheet to self-publish and sell to make a few bucks. In 1937, he had moved from his home town in New Castle, PA to the big city -- New York -- with his new wife, to make a career. This instant cartooning course may have been an attempt by Cole to create an income. If so, it appears to be the only known time that Cole dallied with publishing, as the rest of his known career was as a freelancer and staff artist.

Here's a wonderful 4-page Jack Cole comic book story, appearing for the first time in this blog. It's taken from Ron Goulart's book, Focus on Jack Cole, hence the black and white printing. The influence of the Landon School of Cartooning is very evident in this early work by Jack Cole:

Star Ranger Funnies #1 (December, 1938 - Centaur)

Lest you think this is just too danged weird, a mainstream US television show watched by millions built an episode around a similar concept. "The Darling Baby" from The Andy Griffith Show has the 10-year old Opie Taylor (Ron Howard) narrowly escaping wedlock to a 3-month old baby. It's just them mountain folks' ways, I reckon! You can read a second HOME IN THE OZARKS story, in full color, by Cole from one year later, here.

Cole's cartoon work here is loose and fast, and delightful. The baby reminds me of Swee'Pea, from  Segar's Popeye, another prime influence on Jack Cole.

Cole, by all accounts, was a funny guy. In an Alter Ego interview from a few years ago, Alex Kotzky, a terrific cartoonist who worked with Cole on Plastic Man and the True Crime comics, provides a fascinating insight into Cole's demeanor: "You know who Willard Scott is? Physically, Jack could have been his twin brother. And he was the type of jokester that  Willard Scott is."

File:Willard Scott Crop.jpg

Enchanted Images, the creator of the informative documentary, has brought the Landon course back into print, and you can buy it from them for $24.95 at their website.

Oct 5, 2011

A Lost Jack Cole Cartoon from the Playboy Years!

In my last blog entry, I posted a new "Millie and Terry" comic strip by Jack Cole and theorized that he may have placed several items in various publication in 1954/55, the years that he left his 16-year career in comic books and transitioned to becoming the first star cartoonist at Playboy magazine. 

Fellow comics scholar, Jack Cole fan, and curator of the marvelous Fabuleous Fifties blog, Ger Appledoorn was inspired by my discovery to look around for other "lost" Jack Cole work from this period and made this wonderful discovery, from Look Magazine, the April 19, 1955 issue!

It's a wonderful example of how far Jack Cole developed his talent and style to fit a more sophisticated market. Could this strip have been a reject from Playboy, or did Cole create a sexy gag cartoon in a more mainstream, less sexual style for Look

In any case, be sure to look at the great expressions on the character's faces in the background. It's very nice piece that shows off Cole sexy gag work in a slightly different light than Playboy. Thank you to Ger for kindly sharing this scan with me and giving his blessing to post it here first. Enjoy!

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