Sunday, June 21, 2020

Number 2438: Jack Cole stretched the limits of comic art

Jack Cole had a long career for a man whose life ended at age 43. He was a gifted cartoonist whose magnum opus (as far as I’m concerned) was Plastic Man.

Cole began drawing for comics in the late '30s. After leaving comic books in the early '50s Cole drew sexy cartoons for Playboy as “Cole” and also for the digest-sized cartoon magazines made for men, full of sexist jokes and pretty girls as “Jake.” I knew none of that in 1956 when I found the last issue of Plastic Man, #64, on a comic book spinner. On the basis of that issue I became a Jack Cole/Plastic Man fan.

Cole stopped signing his name after awhile, perhaps because he didn’t want his name associated any more with comic books, under constant fire since their beginnings in the late '30s. But true Cole art comes out of each page that Cole had anything to do with.

Today I’m presenting the issue of Plastic Man #21 from 1950. I think Cole did most, if not all, of the penciling and probably the inking of the main characters in each of the three stories. I am not sure how it worked at Quality Comics in those days, and I admit that unlike some fans who know more than me, I am guessing based on my own observations of Cole’s artwork for over 60 years.


flash said...

I think you're correct that this is Jack Coles' work...At least the penciling, perhaps inks too. An artist named Al Bryant also worked at Quality and his work could be very similar to Jacks....But I think this is all Cole!

Pappy said...

Quality Comics had a top-notch art staff in the forties, especially, but Jack Cole may have been stretched (ho-ho)a bit thin. I just assume that other artists may have drawn using his roughs, or helped him with backgrounds, inking, etc. His work looks meticulous to me, and must've taken extra time to draw, which is why I believe he may have penciled the figures and let others do the grunt work, as most of the top comic strip cartoonists worked.

Daniel [] said...

I have read that Cole wept when he was told that he would no longer be solely responsible for pencilling and inking Plastic Man. And, as you surely know, when asked about his comic-book work after he'd left, he tended to speak somewhat dismissively. Perhaps he stopped signing his name in part because of a sense of alienation.

I think that this issue was a great choice, because it features yet another shape-shifter from Cole. I believe that Cole's first shape-shifter was the Defender, his knock-off of the Avenger (a pulp character who could mold his face to look like that of another man); Plastic Man was certainly not the last. Cole was obviously fascinated by the idea.

Too bad that Don Irish didn't gesture hypnotically.

I didn't buy Plastic Man #64 off the racks — it would have been very dusty! — but it is the only issue of the series that I own.

The one time that I spoke with Denny O'Neil, he was at Fairleigh Dickinson University in the early '70s. I asked him for his opinion as to why no one after Cole had done a proper job with the character; O'Neil said that he didn't know.

flash— When Bryant was at his best, he was wonderful. Some of his work that I've seen was rather crude, but he was apparently preserving the visual style of the artist who'd previously worked on the series.

Pappy said...

Daniel, an artist still working in comics is Hilary Barta. He did a Plastic Man mini-series a couple of decades ago I thought was more in the Cole tradition. But yes, your question to Dennis O'Neil is one I would also have. I think one of the problems was when Quality sold its catalog of characters (including Plastic Man) to DC Comics. DC Comics in the late '50s, with some exceptions, of course, had the most boring stories of any comic book line. They had some really good illustrators who could draw comic books, but it wasn't what I would call comic art, that comic exaggeration no-holds-barred artwork which Cole excelled in. I don't think they even attempted to do any Plastic Man stories or comics until the mid-'60s, as I recall. And they were as bad as I would have expected.

I remember Bob Oksner was working for DC at the time, doing Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis comics, and probably would have done a good job on Plastic Man, too. But DC Comics (or National Periodical Publications, their company name at the time...they even had a boring name!) was set up as editorial duchies, each editor had artists they usually did not loan out to other editors.

Another reason for Cole not signing later stories for Quality could have been an editorial edict that artists were not to sign their work.

Thanks for the link to Paul Tumey's Cole blog. I have read a lot of Tumey's posts, but I don't remember the one you linked to.

You have Plastic Man #64! I'm wondering, because I sold my copy, maybe as long as 50 years ago. It isn't in my collection now. Maybe you have my old copy. If you do I won't ask for it to be returned.

Manqueman said...

Pappy, I checked the all-knowing Grand Comics Database and, FWIW, credits all art in the issue to Cole/Cole. If anyone knows or can document otherwise, get in touch with the GCD so the listings can be corrected.
Me, I'm curious why Cole committed suicide when he did e.g. at the top of his career. IIRC, there may have been serious marital issues of some kind or another.

Daniel [] said...

DC acquired the rights to Plastic Man in 1956, but for a time DC forgot about their ownership of Plastic Man, which is why they created the Elongated Man in 1960.* (Mister Man Plasti— err … Mister Fantastic of course appeared in 1961.) I remember my father grumbling about the mid-'60s DC Plastic Man; I had no basis for comparison at the time.

I bought my copy of Plastic Man #64 about 45 years ago (from Books 'n' Stuff in Westerville, Ohio), so it might be the same copy.

Fred Azbell said...

The auto repair manual ad is a strange one. Odd usage of the word "meat".

Pappy said...

Manqueman, my experience with Grand Comics Database is that credits can often be updated as new information comes in, and I think they do a good job, all things considered.

I have also heard the theory that Cole's suicide was because of his relationship with his wife. Mrs Cole had the suicide note contents sealed by judge's order, but my feeling is it might not have helped their marriage when Cole worked for Hefner at Playboy magazine.