Monday, June 30, 2008

Jack Cole Week.

Monday cartoon day.

For years Jack Cole was mostly known for Plastic Man. Some collectors knew he was the same guy who did those wonderful wash cartoons of sexy ladies in Playboy, but many didn't make the connection. In fact, Jack Cole had always done cartoons. When he came to New York in the late thirties, he soon found work in the comic book industry, but the fact is that he would have liked to have been a cartoon artist all his life. Most biographies mention the fact that he started selling cartoons to Abe Goodman's Humorama empire under the alias Jake in the late forties, when his interest in comic books (and his own creation Plastic Man) seemed to be diminishing. Most of these cartoons were collected in Fantagraphics excellent black and white collection a couple of years ago. If you can hold of a copy it's still worth it. It has most of not all of Cole's Jake cartoons, some sketches and originals and a great commentary. But Cole drew and sold cartoons long before that. He started selling his first cartoons in the late thirties. In collecting humor magazines from those periods I have come across some of those rarer cartoons and will show them here. There must be more out there, but I don't get the impression he had some sort of regular contact. He probably just drew batches of gags whenever he had the time and sold them to whomever would take them.

The earliest I have is from the September 1938 issue of Judge. I have seen the same cartoon on the cover of a joke book from the early forties, but alas I didn't win that book so I couldn't check if there were more of his early cartoons in there. This was the signature he used for his earliest cartoons, dispelling the myth that he used the name Jake because he was ashamed of his cartoon work.

Cole turns up at Judge again after the war. It seems to me he redesigned the Judge character that was used on the cover for at least a couple of issues. From what I have seen, he didn't stay very long. The Judge character disappears by 1946.

In the same issue there is this great Judge cartoon with a typical Cole lady. She doesn't have the torpedo bosom his later Playboy girls have, but with her hair and eyes she seems to have come directly from Cole later Quality work. Coincidentally, this is the earliest wash drawing by Cole I have seen.

In the early forties Harry Chesler put out a whole line of digest sized cartoon books aimed at soldiers, sailors and other enlisted men. In these pockets, he claimed to collect cartoons and humor columns from army papers and other syndicated efforts. I greatly doubt that any of these features were actually syndicated. My guess is, Chesler tried to start a military syndication effort and failed. So he dumped the work in books like these.

One of the artists he lured into contribution material was his old employee Jack Cole. The style of the art shows that he was already working at Quality when he did these, so they must have been done by special arrangement. These three gags are from an issue of Myrth of a Nation. There are a couple more in this issue, but I seem to have mislaid it so you'll have to make do with what I scanned earlier. I bought a lot of other similar magazines (including several issues of Myrth of a Nation) but there is no Cole in any of them. This clearly was a one off thing.

Also in 1941, Cole suddenly appears in a single issue of Gags (a oversized magazine of cartoons and pin-ups). As I said, I think he just had some time on his hands and a couple of gags, drew them and sold them. I am sure that he would have sold any others had he made more.


Karswell said...

Awesome stuff Ger! Been waiting for these posts...

Rod McKie said...

Wonderful subject and great post Ger.