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.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

A Pound of Flessel

Sunday Leftover Day.

Earlier this week I showed some advertising work by Greig Flessel. Flessel had a long career in comics and is still doing commissions. Belgian fan Dominique sent me two of the recent commissions Flessel did for him. I hope he wil add some comments about how he got them in the comments section.

Flessel is 93 years old and still doing commissions... here are a couple more, I have borrowed from the Comic Art Galery. I love the fact that his ink line is still as lively as it is. That is often the first thing to go with elderly artists but Flessel still has everything it takes.

As I said earlier, Greig Flessel was one of the contributors to the Boy's Life comcis section that was produced by Johnstone and Cushing. In fact, Fleissel was involveld from the first issue in september 1952. Boy's Life had been around for a couple of years by then and it had always had comic pages, but in 1952 they decided to introduce a color comic section. Since Boy's Life had the same size as the Saturday Evening Post, this resulted in a tabloid sized section, with funny strips, adventure strips, illustrated true stories and illustrated boy scout tips. In the first issue Flessel contributed an illustrated bible story.

In the fourth issue he did the Dickens stoy I showed earlier this week and in the second issue there is another bible page, illustrating the story of David and Goliath that I would have assumed was Flessel, if I didn't see while scanning that it was signed in a way that looks a lot like Irv Novick's signature. Novick was another frequent contributor, although I had always assumed he staretd later in the fifties. He signe dmost of his stories with his destinctive signature... an I and an N melted together with the right hand leg of the N continuing into a circle around the whole thing. The siganture on the David and Golaith story has the same circular thing. But... when I enlarged it, I couldn't find the I and N... and had I not seen a similar signature recently? Then it came to me... this was a slightly cut off version of Greig Flessel's signature, as can be seen in the Earthquake Eveready story I showed last wednesday.

Finally, here's another illustration he did in 1960. I hope to be showing more of Flessel's work in the future.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Juicy Jaffee

Saturday leftover day.

I got a very friendly e-mail from Al Jaffee about my monday post, which I am sharing with you here.

Thanks for your wonderful e-mail. You have been kind and very supportive of my work. Your help with TALL TALES is deeply appreciated. The sample book I received recently looks wonderful. Charlie Kochman at Abrams publishing did a super job. It is in hard cover and will be out end of summer. It is perfect for foreign distribution since it is basically all pantomime.

I would love to go to your blog but I'll have to get someone to show me how. So far all I really know is how to e-mail.

Thanks again for helping TALL TALES on your blog. I am grateful. The TT format came about because the unspoken rule in US newspapers in the 1950s was that to get a new comic in it had to knock a current one out. I decided that the only space available is the vertical area. That worked.

Willie Weirdie was not named after my dear old pal Willie Elder (although he was always weird in the funniest most entertaining ways). I actually adopted it from a MAD story by Larry Siegel in which he had a throwaway character named Aunt Weirdie.

My playboy work was a one shot move. I was unemployed after HUMBUG failed so I did a dozen or so pieces that I sent to Hefner and he bought all of them. Them came MAD with steadier work and I stopped speculating with magazine submissions.

I doubt Stephen Colbert will review TALL TALES. After all, how can you quote a wordless book?

Best Wishes,

al j

The Playboy remark is concerning a cartoon by his hand I had found in an early sixties Playboy. Apparently there are more, although Al didn't say how many were finally sold. I hope Steve Colbert will have Al Jaffee on again when the book comes out. He can always use it to assume it's a debunking of Obama's campaign promises.

Friday, June 27, 2008

King Cole

Friday Comic Book Day

When I started this blog, I knew I wanted at some point to do a whole Jack Cole week. I have samples of his work from most of my normal categories, except advertising. Next week, the last week before my two weeks holiday in France, I will devote to this comic genius. I will guarantee you you won't have seen most of the material.

To start things off, I have an 11 page Mr. Midnight story from Smash #75. Mr. Midnight is one of the best know of Jack Cole creations, but it is rarely seen. Recently people have discovered Cole rare stash of horror stories (some of which can be seen at the deliciously daily The Horrors Of It All, which I have added to my favorite links), but he did some great humor stories in the same period. Cole started out at Quality in the late thirties. After creating Plastic Man, he sort of lost interest or had a slow period in the mid-forties. In the late forties and early fifties, he returned with some of the best material of huis career. This included his second run on Mr. Midnight.

Mr. Midnight was created for Smash Comics when editor Everett Arnold asked Cole to do a stand-in for Will Eisner's The Spirit in case Eisner left with his creation or was called to war and had to stop drawing him. Cole asked his old pal Eisner for his permission and one of them said the best idea was to create a funny version of the masked crime-fighter (just as Cole's Dead Squad was a funny version if The Blackhawks). And so Mr. Midnight was born. This was not a normal crime-fighter. It had a talking monkey (which can be taken as a parody of the Spirit's sidekick Ebony, making the reprinting of this series even less likely), a bearded weird scientist and lots more weird stuff. After a couple of stories Jack Cole left the series to concentrate on Plastic Man. When he returned to it for a short run in the late forties, he took his earlier everything buit the kitchen sink approach even a notch further. These stories are so filled with comic artistry and gags, that is is almost impossible to read. On one page we can even see two characters through the opened mouth of a third one. Now that's a use of negative space I have never seen before or since.

So sit back and enjoy.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

One Walker Special

Friday comic day.

Tomorrow I have a very special comic book story for you. But I am feeling a bit restless tonight, so I am adding a bonus story to tide you over. This is the first story in Four Color #469 from 1953. As far as I can see it's the first Beetle Bailey comic. Some of the licenced books in this Dell series were produced at the Western ofices without any influence from the original creator. These books were clearly done by Mort Walker himself. I don't know how much of the writing and drawing he did himself, but judging from the art he either had an assistant who could mimic his style very well or he did have a hand in it.

Jeanie baby.

Thursday story day.

Continuing my run of Gill Fox and Selma Diamond's Jeanie, here are two complete weeks from august 1952.