Jack Ralph Cole (December 14, 1914 - August 13, 1958) is an American comic book artist and Playboy magazine cartoonist best-known for creating the popular and highly influential superhero Plastic Man. He was posthumously inducted into the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame in 1991, and the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame in 1999.

Born in New Castle, Pennsylvania, Cole — the third of six children of a dry goods-store owner and amateur-entertainer father and a former elementary school-teacher mother — was untrained in art except for the Landon School of Cartooning correspondence course. At age 17, he bicycled solo cross-country to Los Angeles, California, an adventure he recounted in his first professional sale, the self-illustrated non-fiction story "A Boy and His Bike", in the Boy Scouts of America magazine Boys' Life in 1935. By that time, he was back home and working at a factory job for the manufacturer American Can while continuing to draw at night.
In 1936, having married childhood sweetheart Dorothy Mahoney soon after graduating high school, Cole moved with his wife to New York City's Greenwich Village. After spending a year attempting to break in as a magazine/newspaper illustrator, Cole in 1937 began drawing for the studio of the quirkily named Harry "A" Chesler, one of the first comic-book "packagers" who supplied outsourced stories to publishers entering the new medium. There, Cole drew such features as "TNT Todd of the FBI" and "Little Dynamite" for such Centaur Publications comics as Funny Pages and Keen Detective Funnies. He produced such additional features as "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, where one of his first tasks was to revamp the newly created superhero Daredevil (no relation to Marvel Comics' same-name character). Other characters created or worked on by the prolific tyro include MLJ's The Comet in Pep Comics — who in short order became the first superhero to be killed — and his replacement, the Hangman.
After becoming an editor at Lev Gleason Publications and revamping Jack Binder's original Golden Age Daredevil in 1940, Cole hired on at Quality Comics. There he worked with future legend Will Eisner, assisting on the writer-artist's signature hero The Spirit — a masked crime-fighter created for a weekly syndicated, newspaper Sunday-supplement, with his adventures reprinted in Quality comics. At the behest of Quality publisher Everett "Busy" Arnold, Cole later created his own satiric, Spirit-style hero, Midnight, in Smash Comics #18 (Jan. 1941). Midnight, the alter ego of radio announcer Dave Clark, wore a similar fedora hat and domino mask, and partnered with a talking monkey — questionably in place of the Spirit's young African-American sidekick, Ebony White. During Eisner's World War II military service, Cole and fellow great Lou Fine were the primary Spirit ghost artists; their stories were reprinted in DC Comics' hardcover collections The Spirit Archives Vols. 5 to 9 (2001-2003), spanning July 1942 - Dec. 1944.

Cole's career by that time had taken on another dimension. In 1954, after having drawn slightly risqué, single-panel "good girl art" cartoons for magazines, using the pen name "Jake", Cole became the premiere cartoon illustrator for Playboy. Under his own name, he produced full-page, lavishly watercolored gag 'toons of beautiful but dim girls and rich but equally dim old men. Elaborately finished, they providing the template for similar cartoons in the magazine. Cole's art first appeared in the fifth issue; he would have at least one piece published in Playboy each month for the rest of his life. So popular was his work that the second item of merchandise ever licensed by Playboy (after cufflinks with the famous rabbit-head logo) was a cocktail-napkin set, "Females by Cole", featuring his cartoons.
In May 1958, Cole realized one of his life's ambitions when he created his own daily syndicated newspaper comic strip, Betsy and Me, which chronicled the domestic adventures of nebbishy Chester Tibbet, his wife Betsy, and their 5-year-old genius son, Farley. By the end of the summer, it was appearing in 50 newspapers.


Anonymous said...

Aw... the Jack Cole link doesn't work.