Jack Cole's Higrass Twins 1940: Money Madness!

It's been far too long since I've posted anything new here at Cole's Comics. Most of my comics scholarship and writing energy has been directed towards books and magazines. As some of you may know, I am now a regular columnist and reviewer for The Comics Journal. I also recently co-edited and wrote essays for The Art of Rube Goldberg (Abrams ComicArts, 2013). Just recently, I completed an introduction to the upcoming book, The Bungle Family 1930 (IDW Library of American Comics Essentials). Doing this work gets me a broad readership -- but mostly it pays money, hoo hah!

Speaking of money, here's a great example of Jack Cole's screwball comics that revolves around the theme of money. As a near-starving artist in New York City at the time he created this story, Cole no doubt had his money on his mind, and his mind on his money, as the song goes.

These scans are generously provided to us by the gifted artist and Jack Cole fan Ryan Heshka, who scanned them from his own very rare copy of Target Comics #3. Be sure to check out Ryan's super cool art at his website (and I'm not just saying that because Ryan was nice enuff to supply scans -- I really DO love his art).

Cole did four of the curiously named Higrass Twins stories. He drew these while he was working at the Harry "A" Chesler shop, and they were sold to Novelty Press, who published them in issues one through four of their new title, Target Comics. For the other three Higrass Twins stories, see this earlier post.

Here, now, are three pages of insane comics from the early years of comics master  Jack Cole, originally published in Target Comics #3 (Novelty Press - April, 1940).

That is All,
Screwball Paul

Dark Plas Halloween 2013: Plastic Man Stakes Out A Vampire!


For the last 3 Halloweens, I've posted about the strange, dark last comic book stories of Jack Cole's career as a comic book artist.

This year, I present to you "The Evil Terror?" from Plastic Man #43 (November, 1953). This 10-page saga fluttering around a bat-winged vampire in the best Universal-Studios-Bela-Lugosi tradition is one of the last Plastic Man stories -- perhaps the very last one -- that Jack Cole appears to have created.

As I've written about earlier, the comic book stories Jack Cole wrote and drew in the early 1950s embraced the horror genre with the same verve and intensity that his 1940s comics embraced screwball humor. A strong argument can be made that Cole's 1950s horror stories reflect the undercurrent of anxiety and terror present in Cold War America. These stories are filled with images of people cowering in shadows, frozen with terror.

At some point in the late 1940's, Cole sat down at his drawing table and drew a three panel sequence (one of the many delights that will be found in The Blighted Eye, the upcoming volume by the legendary comics historian, archivist, and collector Glenn Bray) that represented a startling departure from his popular bigfoot-superhero style employed to great success in his Plastic Man stories. The drawings were realistic, not rubbery. In the sequence, a man and a woman embrace in a passionate kiss. The scene is set in a luxuriant, modern city apartment. The panels are filled with delicious black shadows that define the many objects in the room, the drapery of the character's clothes, and even the strands of their hair. On the extreme right side of the sequence, Cole drew a small caricature of himself and penned a note to his Quality Comics publisher, "Busy" Arnold: "Romantical stuff, huh, Busy? Just wondering if you'd like to give me a trial on a serious strip, for a change? Yes? No? I await! Jack"

Cole, an indefatigable innovator, had become interested in creating a new style of comics, with a more realistic feel. Arnold and his editors did give Cole more serious strips -- but instead of romance, they made Cole the signature artist of their new horror title, Web of Evil, where Cole wrote and drew one or two stories for the first dozen or so issues.Some of those stories are reprinted and discussed on this blog. A new volume collecting some of these stories has just been released from IDW, edited by Craig Yoe.

Cole also transformed his Plastic Man stories from baroque screwball comic operas to nightmarish, anxiety-ridden dramas of dread. It was as if Plas and Woozy suddenly began to know the future held nothing but horror -- and they dreaded it with existential despair. Many readers, including me, have missed that these last Plastic Man stories are sometimes (not always) by Jack Cole (often with others finishing the art and inking). In earlier posts, I have explained why I think that certain of these stories, including the Plastic Man horror stories, which I call "Dark Plas" are indeed the work of Jack Cole.

In "The Evil Terror?" Cole once again invests his masterpiece comics creation with some of his trademark screwball humor. It's as if, for this last effort, he had come full circle from goofy humor comics, to dark parables of horror and dread, and then back to humor. As a creator of sequential graphic narratives, Jack Cole was something akin to a roller coaster speeding across the tracks, veering from side to side from light to dark, humor to horror -- and we see that happening in the span of this story.

As a result, "The Evil Terror?" reads overall like an episode of Scooby Doo. As with the popular animated series, it turns out there is a mundane explanation for the seemingly supernatural element in the adventure. The scene on page 8, where Woozy Winks raids the fridge is a parallel to the pothead Shaggy who is eternally cursed with the munchies.

Nonetheless, the story is filled with potent, masterful images of existential terror that are worth your time to peruse, especially on Halloween!

"The Evil Terror?" by Jack Cole - Plastic Man #43 (November, 1953)

More Dark Plas!

All text copyright 2013 by Paul Tumey.

It's Jake With Me - Stretching PAST Playboy in 1963

Here's three of Jack Cole's sexy vintage girlie cartoons, signed as "Jake." These were drawn in the mid-fifties, either just before or in the first years that Jack Cole provided cartoons to Playboy magazine.

Cole's mid-fifties "Jake" cartoons are looser than his Playboy material, but no less remarkable for the astonishing visions of feminine beauty they capture. As always, there is a rich subtext in Cole's work, usually built on the chaos in men's souls that these estrogen confections cause.

Cole died in 1958. However, his cartoons continued to appear on the newsstands for years after his death -- usually reprints, but in some cases first publications of stockpiled inventory. I recently grabbed three lovely and funny Jake images from online auctions of 1963 "Humorama" digests.  

The first is a back cover of a February, 1963 Laugh Digest. Cole's original cartoon is done in gray ink washes. The publishers have ham-handedly added in a semi-transparent red in the background and on the flower that sits in the woman's hair. Nonetheless, the gag is funny and the cartoon is fascinating for the portrayal of the terrified soldier. Our brave, tough men could face down commies, but when it comes to lustful beauties in low-cut dresses, that was another matter entirely!

February 1963 - Back cover of Laugh Digest

A Cole classic appeared on the cover of a Humorama digest dated September 1963, making two very good points:
September, 1963 
Everything in this clever composition (again clumsily colored by someone other than Cole) points to the woman's breasts: the gaze of the three figures, her arm and legs, and even the sign in the background. A looser Cole composition, with a typically offbeat gag, appeared on the first page of a Humorama digest dated December, 1963:

December 1963 - Laugh Digest

This cartoon is supposed to feel a little looser, to help convey the gyrations and jounces of the dancer. Look at the study in contrast Cole gives us between the sexy dancer and the sexless women of charity. The dancer is all curves and decorative patterns -- the charity workers are sagging lines and dull costumes. The joke is read and felt in a second, as it should be.

The editor(s) of these pulpy, sex-drenched digests appear to have valued their stock of Jack Cole cartoons, judging by their prime placements on covers, back covers, and splash pages. Even five years after his death, Jack Cole was "Jake" with the public.

Thanks for stopping by. Be sure to check out my column at The Comics Journal, Framed! -- in which I pull together some of this blog's work on Jack Cole as well discuss many other interesting things.

- Paul Tumey

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