Sep 16, 2012

Two Rare Jack Cole Cartoons for Stamp Wholesaler Mag (circa 1954)

In the mid-1950s, Jack Cole was starting over, at the bottom. After 16 years of hard work and success, creating comics such as Plastic Man that were read by millions, he changed careers. As the comic industry collapsed, Cole -- like several other comic book guys -- decided to see if a living could be made selling gag cartoons to magazines.

As we've seen in earlier postings, Cole was no stranger to the magazine market. His first professional sales were to a national magazine, Boy's Life, in 1936 (you can read my article and see over 20 rare Cole cartoons here). He continued to place cartoons in magazines through at least the early 1940s. Then, he became so successful and busy with his comic book stories that he stopped pursuing the magazine markets for about a decade. So it was that Jack Cole returned to selling cartoons to magazines around 1953 or so, with rusty chops and an outdated style.

Although he had a few promising sales to the higher markets, such as The Saturday Evening Post in 1954, and Look in 1955, Cole discovered that, if he wanted to pay the bills, he had to set his sites lower. And so he did. Most famously, Cole published sexy girlie cartoons in the Martin Goodman "Humorama" line of cheap digests. His mid-50s cartoons turn up in the darnedest places, In a March, 1955 issue of Mirth, we find a stunning 12 great gag cartoons (you can read them here). He had a sexy, and genuinely funny color comic strip in a Military newspaper (read that one here).

One of the "low" markets Cole submitted cartoons to was a brand new, obscure magazine called Playboy. In short order, his star rose again, even higher than with Plastic Man, as he became the signature star Playboy cartoonist and smack dab in the middle of a major cultural phenomenon. You can read Cole's Playboy cartoons here.

While recently in New York, I was lucky enough to visit a noted Cole scholar and discovered, with delight, the original art for two Jack Cole gag cartoons hanging on his wall! Both cartoons were previously unknown to me. I was fascinated to see that both cartoons had a "Stamp Wholesaler" slug pasted on them. These are clearly part of Cole's mid-50's climb to establish himself as a magazine cartoonist.

There's an entire secret history of cartoons and comics in America that can be found in specialist trade and hobby magazines such as the Stamp Wholesaler. Plumbers, electricians, and even hardware retailers all had trade magazines with cartoons. So why not stamp collectors?

Here's the first Cole cartoon. I apologize for the fuzziness. This is a camera photo taken in low light, but still clear enough to read and appreciate:

"Oh, all right, if it'll make you feel better, I'll burn Russia and her satellites."
The cartoon is a clever reference to the anti-communist movement in America led by Joseph McCarthy. The composition is exquisite, with the wife's body forming almost an arrow pointing out the window. We naturally see her figure first, and then trace back to the husband and his stamp album.

I did a little research and discovered that the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library at Ohio State University has a collection of over one thousand original cartoons published in The Stamp Wholesaler. Cole's name is not listed, but the collection is not extensively cataloged. Here's some information about the Stamp Wholesaler found on the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library blog:

The magazine, published by Lucius Jackson until the late ’70s, was (from what we can gather) much beloved in the philatelic community and ran articles on stamp collecting, as well as cartoons, among their ads for dealers. Contributing cartoonists included Bill Bobb, Joseph Serrano, Bert Gore, John Dunnett, Roy O. Carling, John Dawson, Cairo Sturgill, Lowell E. Hoppes, Bill Newcombe, Brad Anderson, C. K. Weil, Joe Bresch, Jim M’Guinness, Tony Saltzman, George L. Stewart, Bob Rieker, Doug Baker, and H.B. Harn.

I also discovered, on the Comics DC blog, the existence of a 1951 collection of cartoons from The Stamp Wholesaler. There's very likely no Jack Cole cartoons in this collection, since he was submitting cartoons to niche markets like this mostly from about 1953-56.

Amazon currently has a copy for sale for a mere $40, if anyone wants to check it out, just to be sure. . Here's a scan of the center spread:

These cartoons are decent enough, but Cole's work is far superior to these. I have no idea if the cartoons I saw were ever actually published in the Stamp Wholesaler, but they'd have been crazy NOT to take these gems!

Here's the second Jack Cole stamp collecting cartoon:

"But how can you make a living at it if you won't let anything go?"

I imagine that many collectors (stamps, comics, or you name it) out there can relate to this scenario. I can't tell you how many times I found a treasure in a dusty, dank corner of a comics shop and when I asked about the price, the owner furtively said, "Oh this -- it's not for sale."

Cole was letting go of a lot... and his cartoon draws on his experience. These two cartoons both are drenched with anxiety, as with his last comic book stories and his comic strip, Betsy and Me, from a few years later.

Again, we have a masterful composition, with the anxious stamp dealer backed into a corner. The perspective focuses the eye on the dealer, and then, as with the anxious wife in the cartoon above, we trace back to the customer. Perfectly done. 

I also love the organic shapes of the blacks, and the thin, perfectly controlled brush line. It was a treat to find these gems. Many thanks to the art's owner, who generously allowed me to share these with ya!

Always unhinged,

Paul Tumey
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