Dec 24, 2012

Stretching Toward Playboy: Jack Cole Cartoons Grace a 1954 H-K Pulp

DAY 11  

 12 days of NEW Jack Cole finds! 
 Posted every day until Dec. 25th 

Recently, my pal the graphic novel author and comics historian Frank Young paid me a visit. I was showing him some of my latest finds and dug out the recent pile of 1950s humor digest magazines I bought from a collector. Many of these issues are marked up and have bits cut out. Some of the captions are rewritten. I suspect the collection once belonged to an aspiring cartoonist -- or even a pro who was ripping off old material.

The Paul Tumey pile of old humor mags , which includes some rare Jack Cole cartoons

I had gone through this pulpy pile earlier to sift out 11 "new" Jack Cole finds. I had a hunch that a second perusal might yield another Cole cartoon or two. Frank and I spontaneously sifted the pile, carefully reading each awful gag cartoon. Frank discovered some amazing early cartoons by Mel Lazurus, of Miss Peach fame. He also delighted in several early Thaves (Frank and Ernest) cartoons. After a dizzy hour or so, I lamented that there just wasn't any more Cole to mine from this vein. Just as I picked up an issue of Smiles and said this, I opened it at random and there, in front of me was Cole cartoon I had previously missed! I quickly sifted through the book and found two more! Score!

The cover to Smiles, Sept 1954 (Not by Cole)

I'm pleased to share with you today the three "new" Jack Cole cartoons found in the September 1954 H-K publication, Smiles. The date is interesting, because it's by far the earliest H-K Jack Cole publication date we've found, so far, about six months prior to the fabulous Cole bonanza of 23 cartoons published in March, 1955.

The first Cole cartoon in the book is unsigned, but undeniably Cole:

by Jack Cole, from Smiles, September 1954 (Collection Paul Tumey)
This sequential light beam cartoon is a concept we find in 3 other published Cole cartoons of the time., including one published in the January 1954 issue of The Saturday Evening Post (see here for that cartoon). It's a unique concept, and Cole spent some time and energy playing with it. He seemed to enjoy drawing beams of light. Many of his comic book covers and stories have light beams and pools of light used as strong design elements.

The second Cole cartoon in the book is one that cracked me up. The drawing is amusing, but the power of the gag is really in the caption.

by Jack Cole, from Smiles, September 1954 (Collection Paul Tumey)
I've read in a few interviews with Cole's colleagues that he imbibed himself. There's a letter from Cole (published in Steranko's History of Comics), written to his folks back home in which he assures them he is living clean and not touching a drop. This letter comes from early in his career, so perhaps Cole changed his ways in the years to come. he was, after all, hanging out with cartoonist Bob Wood, who was living high those daze. It's possible this cartoon is slightly autobiographical. In any case, it's a funny gag and I love the art.

The third and last Cole cartoon we find in this issue presents a performing duo and a typical Jack Cole gag drawn from a small detail of life. Fingernails, house lights, toasters and TVs -- all the common, everyday details of ordinary life were fodder for Jack's cartoon factory in the 1950s. The visual design of the cartoon, with a bold T shape and an artful line, foreshadows his Playboy cartoons.

by Jack Cole, from Smiles, September 1954 (Collection Paul Tumey)

Here's the full spread to help you appreciate how much better Cole's cartoons are than the rest of the material in these magazines:

That's all for today. Tomorrow, the last day of my 12 Days of Cole-Miss publishing event, will pull out all the stops and present a big pile of goodies. I hope everyone has a safe, sane, and enjoyable holiday season.

Paul Tumey

Day 10: Two 1939 Jack Cole Cartoons in Colliers

All text copyright 2012 Paul C. Tumey

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