Jul 11, 2012

Jack Cole Gets A Cloo: Racism, Morbidity, and Great Screwball Comics

Jack Cole wrote and drew about 700 one-pages for Quality comics, mostly from about 1940 to 1945. Some of these I've shared in this blog: Burp the Twerp, Dan Tootin, Windy Breeze, and Slap Happy Pappy. It's time we rolled out the last of Jack Cole's great one-pager series, Wun Cloo, The Defective Detective. Cole did not create the character -- that dubious honor goes to Gill Fox, who also created Windy Breeze. When Fox moved up through the ranks to become an editor at Quality, Cole took over many of his one pagers.

The premise of the Wun Cloo one-pagers is to present a screwball (and unknowingly racist!) send-up of detective stories. It was likely inspired by the Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto books and movies featuring Asian detectives. I have put off posting anything about Wun Cloo because, by today's standards, the comic is painfully disrespectful to people of Asian descent. Fox and Cole don't even have the excuse that we were at war with Japan, since the character was created before Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor.

In their feeble defense, such stereotyped portrayals were pretty common place and their comic was just one of many. Here's a comic from the same period, Ching Chow:

Ching Chow by Stanley Link offered daily pearls of wisdom

Amazingly, Ching Chow, which started in 1927, lasted until 1980! 

Nevertheless, some of the Wun Cloo pages are still of interest of to Cole fans -- if you can peel away the racism, there's some mighty fine screwball cartooning. This is something that modern fans of American Golden (and earlier) comics and pop culture have become expert at -- looking past the outrageous racism in the works. Plastic Man was also a humorous version of crime and detective stories, so Wun Cloo could be seen as a testing ground for what Cole later used in his Plas stories.

In fact, months before he created Plastic Man, Cole used the concept in a landmark morbid Wun Cloo 2-pager:

from Smash 17 (December, 1940)

As he did with many of his one-pagers, Cole played with his drawings and had fun. I've read that he would start his work session knocking off one of the one-pagers as a warm-up. Whew! This was a hard-working guy! In our next example, you can see Cole indulging his love of visual patterns...

Smash Comics #20 (March, 1941)

Despite his appearance, Wun Cloo often came out on top:

Smash #24 (July, 1941)

 For some reason, Cole seems to have populated Wun Cloo with a great deal of his darkly comic imagery, as in this next page:

Smash #29 (Dec, 1941)

 This next Wun Cloo one-pager features both a rare Jack Cole caricature of Adolf Hitler, and an example of his patented face-changing trick, which Plastic Man used on numerous occasions. The page is also looney as hell...

Smash #32 (March, 1942)

That's all for now! More Wun Cloos to come at a later date!

Thanks for reading and be sure to visit my NEW BLOG all about cool screwball comics, featuring original paper scans from my collection of Milt Gross, Rube Goldberg, The Squirrel Cage, Smokey Stover and more! This is the stuff that inspired Jack Cole. You can only find this stuff at The Masters of Screwball Comics!

Stretchily Yours,
Paul TwoClueMe


  1. Imagine that Caucasians had been a minority victimized by discrimination, and consider how you would interpret their depiction here.

    There is a sort of racism to these comics, but it is not a racism that portrays one race as superior to another. Everyone in these stories is a goofball.

  2. Hi, I came across your site and wasn’t able to get an email address to contact you about a broken link on your site. Please email me back and I would be happy to point them out to you.




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