Jan 9, 2012

Jack Cole's King Kola Ads 1941-42

For all his talent and ambition, it's strange that Jack Cole didn't create more advertising art.  Here's two rare 1941 ads with Jack Cole art -- perhaps the only examples of advertising art in his entire career.The ads are from late 1941 and early 1942 books published by Harry "A" Chesler, Cole's first employer in comic books. The ads are for a product called "King Kola."

King Kola was supposedly made by the King Cole Beverage Company. A  little research on the Web turns up this tidbit, from a collection of 1941 copyright notices:

Thus, King Cola equals Harry Chesler, the comic book publisher!

A similar cola caper is much more well-known. In 1941, the grandiose comic book publisher Victor Fox began to promote a cola of his own, called "Kooba Cola." Here's the back cover of an unidentified Fox comic, circa 1941:

Fox pitched the cola hard, with interior ads and schemes:

What is brilliant and delightfully screwed up about all this is that the product was never manufactured! Fox, who owned the brand, was using his publications to create demand for a product that didn't exist. He planned to license the brand to a manufacturer, thinking the pre-loaded demand would make the licensing deal attractive. As far as we know, no manufacturer took him up on the deal.

In late 1941, Harry "A" Chesler made the move from packaging comics to publishing his own. He launched four titles: Yankee, Dynamic, Punch, and Scoop. He must have seen what Fox was doing, and thought it a great idea. Chesler seems filled with ambition in 1941. he named his cola after the hoary nursery rhyme figure, Old King Cole. For years, a 2-4 page comic series had come out of his shop called "King Kole's Kourt." This series was sometimes drawn by Jack Cole, bit he didn't create it -- despite the obvious connection with his name, and other artists worked on it seemingly randomly. Here's a couple of examples of Cole's work on the series. You can see the similarity between the cartooning style in these pages and the King Kola ads.

By Jack Cole. Blue Ribbon Comics #1 (MLJ/Archie, Nov 1939) 

By Jack Cole. CoCoMalt Big Book of Comics (1938)

As far as I can tell, there were only two house ads created for "King Kola." Here's the first, appearing on the inside front cover of Yankee Comics #2:

The art, though unsigned, is unmistakably by Jack Cole. It has Cole's exaggerated perspectives and frantic energy. The comic over-reaction of the doctor and the skinny patient wearing saggy socks held up by garters is pure Jack Cole. It's the humor of impotence he would soon wield in Plastic Man. The name on bag, 'Doc Smith," may be a tribute to science fiction writer E.E. "Doc" Smith, who had published his highly popular "Lensman" series in 1941-42 pulps (and we know Cole read and enjoyed the pulps). 

I don't think the lettering in the speech balloon is by Jack Cole. We do often see a jagged edged balloon in his work, but the lettering isn't his style. It's my guess he left it blank so Chesler could fill in whatever slogan he decided upon.

This advertising art is more polished than Cole's usual comic book art, and he may have lavished time on it. Perhaps he was paid well for the art, and that was a motivation. Here  it is looking even better in color, from the back cover of Dynamic Comics #2 (circa 1942):

One wonders if Jack Cole himself colored this ad. It's got a certain something to it. Here's the second King Kola ad, this one from the back cover of Yankee Comics #3 (1942), also with nice coloring:

Again, the ad is unsigned, but there's no doubt in my mind this is art by Jack Cole. The gasoline splash drops, the cartoony figures, the lettering, and the overall tight composition. The concept of a gag cartoon approach is also very much Jack Cole, who jam-packed his work with creative ideas. In this case, the very idea of drawing a service station team swarming over a customer and car is so very much like Cole. 

The ads appeared long after Jack Cole had left Harry Chesler's studio and was working at Quality Comics. In fact, it's entirely possible that Jack Cole drew the art for these ads close to the same time he created the first Plastic Man story (which was published in August 1941). However, maybe Chesler lined up the ads earlier than this, perhaps even when Cole worked for him. We know from the copyright notice that he filed the paperwork on October 1, 1940, about a year before he rolled the ads out.

As far as I can tell, King Kola was never manufactured. After these two ads, it seems that Chesler dropped the scheme. Still, we can't be certain. Here's a collector's photo in which the middle bottle of King Kola is dated from 1939. 

The bottles look very different from the one in the ad, and I doubt that this is Chesler's product.

In fact, one wonders if Chelser really intended to sell the licensing at all, since his ad so clearly defined the look of the bottle. It seems odd that he would pick such a distinctive-looking bottle instead of letting a manufacturer/distributor design the packaging.Could it be that Harry Chesler planned to make the cola himself? Or, perhaps he was merely running fictituous ads in his magazine to perhaps attract other advertisers. One wonders if he was onto Fox's scheme, or if he saw soft drink ads suddenly appearing on Fox's comics and thought, "Hey, if he can get an advertiser to go for a full page color ad, so can I!"

In any case, whatever the true story of King Cola may be...

These are rare examples of Jack Cole advertising art and delightful to peruse. Perhaps, if he had lived longer, Jack might have been lured into the lucrative world of advertising, as many of his peers were in the late 1950s, early 1960s. The mind reels...


  1. Although the two products were intended to have rather different effect (or, at least, to be perceived as having very different effects), I cannot help but be reminded of the Dr Seuss ads for Flit™, and their catch-phrase, “Quick, Henry! the Flit!”

    Historically, there have been multiple products named “King-Cola” or “King Cola”. The earliest of which I am aware was handicapped after Coca-Cola successfully prevented its originator from registering a trademark, and fizzed-away in the early '20s. The most recent appeared in 1996, and seems still to be out there.

  2. One can trace the history of Kooba Cola (via press releases) up to the time it was to be put on sale. Fox obviously meant it - and hired professionals to do it. However the press releases all stop just as it was to be place in production.
    There was a lawsuit "King Kola Mfg. Co. v. Coca-Cola Co." which tells us that this use of King Kola started on July 20, 1934. King lost in court in November 1938, but the appeals kept on till 1944. The case involved the use of the name "King Kola". There were both earlier (1910s) and later (1980s) King Kolas. Would Chesler have had a separate King Kola while the right to legally use the name was in court is an interesting question.

  3. The first story in Punch Comics #1 is about Mr. E, who got his powers from 'the strange god, King Kolah, remnant of an extinct civilization...'


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