Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Jack Cole Week

Tuesday strip day.

Jack Cole had three distinct careers. He started as a comic book artist, creating Plastic Man and other stories for Quality. After that, he tried his hand at cartooning. He sold his first cartoons to Abe Goodman's Humorama line of saucy cartoon digests under the pseudonym Jake. After Playboy started, he saw an opportunity to get more and better exposure and went to see Hugh Hefner. Hefner, a comic book fan, knew Jack Cole and was happy to have him for his magazine. He soon developed into one of the most important cartoonists of the magazine, drawing at least one full color cartoon every issue and sometimes illustrating special satirical articles. In the late fifties he reached his lifelong career wish of having his own newspaper strip, Betsy and Me. After that strip was running for less then half a year, Jack Cole took his own life. The reasons for this tragic suicide have remained unknown, but seemed to have involved his personal life.

This is the brief version of his career of course. As I said yesterday, Cole started cartooning right along with his comic book work and it seems he was contributing to Playboy right up till the end of his life. Furthermore, some people have pointed out that getting a newspaper strip may have been his life long dream, but he didn't land one of the big syndicates and distribution of Betsy and Me was spotty at best. Cole would have known that (and it may have contributed to his depression).

For a long time Betsy and Me was not seen by most fans. Hogan's Alley's forerunner, Rick Marshall's magazine Nemo published most of the dailies, but that was a long time ago and not everyone has that magazine. Recently, Fantagraphic published a small book with all of Jack Cole's Betsy and Me strips as well as those that were drawn by Dwight Parks, who took over the strip after Cole's death. Even the Sundays were included.

Yesterday I have said some nice things about Fantagraphic reprinting of the Cole Jake cartoons. Today I am going to be less generous about this Betsy and Me reprinting. Granted, it is designed beautifully, no pretensions, just the gags with a clear and insightful introduction by R.C. Harvey. And I don't mind that the Sundays were reproduced in black and white. Doing anything else would have made the book unnecessarily expensive. And nowhere on the book it says that this is a complete reprinting of the strip. But those words, or words of that meaning were used in the advertising of the book and that just isn't true. Betsy and Me reprints all of the dailies, but it skips over nine of Cole's Sundays and all of Parks (if there were any). There is no accounting of this in the books, so we don't know if those Sundays couldn't be found, what the start date of the Sundays was or if Parks drew any Sundays at all. Additionally, the two Sundays that are reprinted in color in the back of the book are two tiers instead of the three tiers that are shown for all the Sundays that are included in black and white.

Problem is, that Fantagraphics is a great publisher for this kind of stuff (and I admire them for it), but it seems to me that they don't want to bother to do the research necessary to do definitive editions. The cartoon books they publish are based on the private collection of the editor. Alex Chun for the Jake book as well as the subsequent Humorama collection of the work of deCarlo, Wenzel and Ward. For the book with early cartoon work of Hank Ketcham (which I will come back to later) they used the colelction of Chun and Shane Glines. What they used for this book I am not sure, but it is clear they didn't get a complete collection and didn't bother to look around for more. Too bad, because a year ago, when one of the Fantagraphics editors told a Yahoo group about the book, I offered the use of one of the Sunday pages I had in my collection. When the book finally arrived I was surprised to see that my page was one of the ones missing from the book.

Since then I have been able to collect two more missing pages (and possibly others, but they still have to arrive). When I started this blog, I knew that one of the things I wanted to do, was share with you these pages. I still believe they should have been in the Betsy and Me book and I certainly think that whoever made the Preview ad for the book should be reprimanded for being a bit to loose with the truth. But if we can get all of the nine missing pages up here on this blog, you can all save them on your own computer or print them out and keep them in the book or at least have a look at them.

I think they are a lot more important they may seem at first glance. At least one reviewer has taken the lack of humor in the Betsy and Me dailies to float the idea that Cole's suicide was inspired by the fact that he knew he wasn't as successful at this as he was at all the other things in his life. But if you look at the Sundays, you'll see how great this strip really was. Most strips in that period were far better in the Sundays than in the dailies. At least, that is where they found their true form. As I see it, Cole was well on his way of doing that, when he decided to quit it all.

I know someone at The Comic Journal is sometimes linking this blog to their readers. I wouldn't mind a reply from some of the people involved with this book. as I say, I believe it is a great reprint book, beautifully designed. Fantagraphics is one of the most important 'nostalgia' publishers at the moment. If there is any way I can help their product be even better, I'd be very pleased.

Here's the list of reprinted and 'missing' Sundays from the Betsy and Me book.

The start date of the Sunday is unknown. The strip started 25th of May 1958. So in theory it is possible that the first Sunday was May 24th. Or possibly June 1st. The first Sunday in the reprint book is the two tier color Sunday for Aug. 7th. My earliest Sunday is for July 22th. The last Jack Cole Daly appears on Sept. 6th. Sunday were often produced more in advance than dailies (because they have to be colored) so it is not strange that two more Sundays appear in the book after that date. After that, there are no more Sundays, even though the Parks version of the strips runs for ten more weeks.

5-26 maybe first Sunday
6-1 maybe first Sunday
6-8 Sunday unknown
6-15 Sunday unknown
6-22 first Sunday in my collection
6-29 Sunday missing
7-6 color Sunday in two tier version in book
7-13 second Sunday in my collection
7-20 Sunday missing
7-27 color Sunday in two tier version in book
8-3 black and white Sunday in book
8-10 third Sunday in my collection
8-17 black and white Sunday in book
8-24 black and white Sunday in book
8-31 black and white Sunday in book
9-7 black and white Sunday in book
9-14 black and white Sunday in book
9-21 last black and white Sunday in book
9-28 no Sunday known
10-5 no Sunday known
10-12 no Sunday known
10-19 no Sunday known
10-26 no Sunday known
11-2 no Sunday known
11-9 no Sunday known
11-16 no Sunday known
11-23 no Sunday known


Unknown said...

Actually, in small print on the back cover it says "complete".

Ger Apeldoorn said...

Yeah, it's a shame. Actually there are different ways of counting how many Sundays are missing. I say in my post it's nine, but that depends how you count and when the starting date is. If it's the first date mentioned there are nine missing, otherwise it's eight. Otherwise it's eight and six. But you have to add the two incomplete two-tiers to that. And there may even be more beyond the last one in the book.

I have put this information out here, not to shame Fantagraphics, but to invite anyone who has one of these missing sundays to send it to me, so we can collect them all. I already have found one more.

I also would love to hear from anyone who knows the date of the first sunday. And fvrom Fantagraphics to see where they got their collection. On second view it seems they had some sort of syndicate prints for the sundays. These are not decolorized. This may have contributed to their misunderstanding about the completeness.

Joakim Gunnarsson said...

Thanks for showing these missing sundays. :)

Ger Apeldoorn said...

I found three Sundays by Parks from October,which I willbe showing soon