Jack Cole .com


Jack Cole (December 14,1914 - August 13,1958 ) was a comic book artist and Playboy magazine cartoonist, best-known for creating the popular and highly influential comics superhero Plastic Man.

Born in New Castle, Pennsylvania, Cole was the third of six children of a dry goods store owner and amateur-entertainer father and a former elementary school teacher mother.

Except for a brief mail correspondence course with the Landon School of Cartooning, he was totally untrained, a force of nature with an inborn talent for art.

But before he hit the drawing boards seriously, at age 17 he bicycled on a solo cross-country tour to Los Angeles, California, an adventure he later recounted in his first professional sale, the self-illustrated non-fiction story "A Boy And His Bike." It was published in 1935 in Boys' Life magazine (the official publication of the Boy Scouts of America). At that time, he was working at a factory job for the manufacturer American Can while also drawing at night.

The following year, having married his childhood sweetheart Dorothy Mahoney shortly after graduating high school, Cole moved with his wife to New York City 's Greenwich Village area. After spending a year trying to break in as a magazine/newspaper illustrator, Cole was hired by the Harry Chesler studio , one of the first "comic book packagers."

They supplied outsourced stories to publishers entering the new medium of comic books, which were at the time a radical departure from the decades-old tradition of the "Sunday funnies" in most newspapers.

At Chesler, Cole drew such character-driven stories as "TNT Todd Of The FBI" and "Little Dynamite" for such Centaur Publications comics as Funny Pages and Keen Detective Funnies. He also produced additional features that included "Circus", "King Kole's Kourt" (under the pseudonym Geo. Nagle), "Officer Clancy," and "Peewee Throttle" (under the pseudonym Ralph Johns).

Lev Gleason Publications hired Cole in 1939 to edit Silver Streak Comics. In 1941 he was given the task of bringing to life a superhero known as Daredevil, which had been created the previous year. Technically, it was not an early incarnation of the Marvel Comics version of Daredevil started in the 1960s, but then Marvel did become known for "revamping" several characters from the 1930s and '40s (and not just including their own old Timely ones.)

With this first Daredevil, the Gleason studio had merely come up with a circus sideshow character name and a crude costume, but frankly they didn't know what to do with it.

It had been conceived by fellow Gleason employee Jack Binder (the brother of brilliant sci-fi novelist and prolific comic book script genius Otto Binder) but he had become too busy with other projects to develop it. So it was all up to Cole to show them where to go from there.

Thanks to Cole's efforts, Daredevil soon became a hit, putting Silver Streak on the map, echoing the landmark success of what Superman had done for Action comics over at rival DC Comics.

Most comic scholars would therefore agree that Cole at least certainly qualified to be credited as Daredevil's co-creator.

Other characters that Cole either created or worked on included MLJ 's The Comet in Pep Comics, who became the first superhero to be killed. (He also illustrated the Comet's replacement, known as the Hangman.) After becoming an editor at Gleason Publications, Cole moved on to Quality Comics.

There he worked with future legend Will Eisner, assisting on the legendary writer/artist's signature hero called The Spirit, who was a masked crime-fighter created as a weekly syndicated newspaper Sunday-supplement. His adventures were also reprinted in Quality Comics.

At the request of Quality publisher Everett "Busy" Arnold, Cole later created his own satiric, Spirit-style hero, Midnight - which first appeared in Smash Comics #18 (Jan. 1941). Midnight, the alter ego of radio announcer Dave Cloark, wore a similar fedora hat and mask.

Cole and fellow artistic icon Lou Fine were the primary Spirit ghost artists during Eisner's later World War II military service. That work was also reprinted much later by DC Comics in hardcover collections called The Spirit Archives Vols. 5 to 9 (2001-2003), spanning July 1942 to Dec. 1944.

The Chesler/Gleason years

The Playboy years

Police Comics 10
Copyright © 1942 Quality Comics
(Click Pic To Enlarge.)

But was Cole done yet? Not a chance! He somehow stretched himself even further (pun intended) by creating his ultimate character, which started out as a backup feature for Quality's Police Comics #1 (Aug. 1941) - he called it Plastic Man!

Like Daredevil, once again a freakish circus sideshow attraction was tapped - this time a version of the generic "Indian rubber man." Timely Comics had even come up with something called Flexo The Rubber Man a bit before Plastic Man, but it was very weak and became quickly discontinued and forgotten.

In the '60s, both DC and Marvel would also offer similar tries at this type of character (DC with The Elogated Man, and Marvel with Mr. Fantastic of the Fantastic Four). But Plastic Man made the earliest hit with the concept. It became Police Comics' lead feature with issue 5.

Cole's offbeat humor combined with Plastic Man's odd-looking ability to take virtually any shape gave the cartoonist enormous opportunities to experiment with text and graphics in many groundbreaking ways. Within two years of his introduction, Plastic Man was given his own comic book title.

As the '40s flew by, Cole got more and more help grinding out the many adventures of "Plas" and his taxi-driving pal Woozy Winks, until finally the feature was being created entirely by anonymous ghost writers and artists, including Alex Kotzky and John Spranger, although Cole's name was properly being listed as creator.( Such printed credits were a rare thing at the time, and would not become common until Marvel pioneered artist and writer credits in the '60s.)

His story "Murder, Morphine and Me," which he illustrated (and probably also wrote) for publisher Magazine Village 's True Crime Comics Vol. 1, #2 (May in 1947), became a centerpiece of psychiatrist Dr. Fredric Wertham 's "anti-violence in the media" crusade during the '50s.

Wertham, author of Seduction of the Innocent, a hysterical smear campaign against comics, singled out Cole's art for its raw power - pointing in particular to an image of the story's dope-dealing narrator about to be stabbed in the eye with a hypodermic needle.

And Cole's career expanded even more - in 1954, after having drawn some spicy "gag strips" (single-panel cartoons, often containing "good girl" art) under the pen name "Jake," he became the premiere cartoon illustrator for Playboy. Cole's art first appeared in the mag's fifth issue. He ended up having at least one piece published in Playboy each month for the rest of his life.

His work became so popular that the second item of merchandise ever licensed by Playboy (after cuff links with the famous rabbit-head logo) was a cocktail-napkin set called "Females by Cole, featuring his cartoons. (These were later published in their own book.)

By the late '50s, one of the few things in the cartoon world that Cole hadn't done (excluding working for an animation studio, which usually frowned on overly sexy depictions of women), was to create his own daily syndicated newspaper comic strip.

But in 1958 he also accomplished that goal, with the popular Betsy And Me, which chronicled the domestic adventures of nerdy Chester Tibbet, his wife Betsy, and their 5-year-old genius son Farley. By the end of the summer, it was already appearing in 50 newspapers.

But then soon-after there came the very strange part of Cole's career (as if sketching toons for decades wasn't strange enough). Shortly after getting Betsy And Me launched on its way to success, for some reason Cole suddenly grew depressed and decided to end his life. However, we will not fill this page further by dwelling on that separate subject, and those interested can easily find such details elsewhere on the internet.

Cole was posthumously inducted into the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame in 1991, and into the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame in 1999.

Related Reading:

The Classic Pin Up Art Of Jack Cole
Edited By Alex Chum
(Click Pic To Enlarge.)

Jack Cole And Plastic Man:
Forms Stretched To Their Limits

By Art Spiegelman And Chip Kidd
(Click Pic To Enlarge.)


Gallery Of Favorite Cole Tales
Cool Cole Comics Blog
Jack Cole On Google

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