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!

1 comment:

  1. Mike, I'm also a big fan of Fred Guardineer! I have a collection of Crime Does Not Pay #86-102 that features some great Guardineer artwork. Then I discovered something about it. If you're familiar with the artist, Charles Burns, famous for his Black Hole comics, you will see that Burns has copied, and often swiped Guardineer's artwork! I pointed this out to some artists at the Brooklyn Comics Festival a few weeks back and they agree with me. Am I the first person to discover this?


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