December 14, 2010
Eel O’Brien fell into a vat of acid but his flesh wasn’t caustically scalded; instead, he gained the power of plasticity, and went on to become the loopiest (in all senses) of superheroes: Plastic Man. There was in JACK COLE’s (1914-58) work something both caustic and loopy, acid and infinitely plastic. He was the most playfully inventive artist ever to work in superhero comics, the poster-child for mid-1950s utraviolence in comics (his work was at the center of Frederick Werthem’s censorious Seduction of the Innocents), and he prototyped the Playboy luscious wash-style cartoon (with his one-panel gags). Even in his Playboy work, Cole had two distinct styles, the water colored gags, and his sharp, nervous, almost Feiffer-esque linework on the “Females by Cole” series. And then, in 1958, he realized his lifelong ambition with a hit syndicated comic strip: Betsy and Me, which was formally inventive, spare, ironic — a close match in tone and style to Peanuts. When we think of Jack Cole we think of the manic playfulness of Plastic Man, those masterful compositions strung together by the silly putty of Plas’ neck and rounded off by the magnificent gut of Woozy Winks. So his suicide confuses us. He was not beset by financial problems; he wasn’t an alcoholic or a chronic depressive. But something boiled in his veins, something caustic. And he could not bend to it.
On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Lester Bangs.
READ MORE about men and women born on the cusp between the Partisan (1904-13) and New Gods (1914-23) generations.
READ MORE HiLo Hero shout-outs.