The supremely versatile Jack Cole could always be counted on to inject a bit of sinister ambiance (or over-amped sensuality, depending on his mood) to mix up the generally humorous proceedings of the stretchy exploits of the former Patrick “Eel” O’Brian. At times, things got pretty grand-gignolesque, as in the following case.
By the 1950s, Jack Cole had moved on to other pastures and projects, but Plastic Man kept right on stretching, one of the few superheroes flexible enough to withstand the horror boom. But not without a few alterations to fit the times, as evidenced by the following pair of samples.
It must be stated that, even without the masterly Jack Cole, Plastic Man clearly brought the best out of the rest of Quality’s admittedly admirable bullpen, so his adventures remain worth reading… which is certainly not the case with most subsequent revivals, with the exceptions of DC’s 1976-77 mostly-ignored Ramona Fradon run and Kyle Baker‘s award-winning 2004-06 outing.
With every passing year, I have more and more trouble getting into the spirit of Christmas (especially since all the snow has now melted). An early present of Rodney Crowell’s Christmas Everywhere helped a bit, but to speed things along some more – and before Christmas Eve takes me by surprise – I’d like to titillate everybody’s taste buds with this spread of Playboy Christmas cartoons.
« I tell ya, Spirit… this neighborhood is like a lit firecracker… »
I’m surprised that it took us this long to get to Will Eisner and his signature creation, The Spirit. Is it perhaps too obvious a topic? Nah. Though the ink and the pixels may flow, and even if everyone and his chiropractor has already waxed rhapsodic about old Will, the subject retains its depths of evergreen freshness.
For most generations of cartoonists, Eisner is an irresistible influence. My own initial encounter came in the early 1970s, when I glimpsed ads for Warren’s Spirit reprints in the rear section of Famous Monsters of Filmland. And then I was introduced to his groundbreaking style and storytelling approach… only it wasn’t, in this case, quite his.
In 1975, I had stumbled upon a Dutch collection of WWII-era Spirit newspaper strips (The Daily Spirit, Real Free Press, 1975-76… a publication designed by none other than Joost Swarte), and I was captivated… by the ghost work of no less than Plastic Man creator Jack Cole!
I won’t go over the action-packed history of the character… what I’ll focus on here instead is inextricably linked to Eisner’s terrific business acumen: having held onto his character’s ownership, he could shop him around the publishing world, a process still unfolding to this day, well beyond his own passing.
The Spirit, that well-travelled rascal, has witnessed his exploits bearing many a publisher’s imprint, from Quality to Fiction House, through I.W. (naughty, naughty!), Harvey, Kitchen Sink, Warren, and DC… so far. And the coolest thing is that Eisner was along for most of the ride, creating glorious new cover visuals for the venerable archives.
Today, we’ll focus on Quality’s output (1942-50), which alone was contemporary to the strip’s tenure. About half of it was Eisner, but I’m no purist: the man hired some of the finest ghosts in the medium’s history, when it came to both story and art. To name but a few favourites: Manly Wade Wellman, Jerry Grandenetti, Jules Feiffer, Wally Wood…
As for the insides… I’m tickled to inform you that all of Quality’s issues of The Spirit are available gratis on comicbookplus.com. Enjoy!
I can’t help but be reminded, by that final piece, of Jack Cole‘s rather more trenchant take on a similar power imbalance, published a year earlier.
A postscript: in March, 2022, Ms. Shermund was the subject of an article in the New York Times’ ‘Overlooked No More’ series, comprising belated obituaries for notable folks whose departure flew under the radar, so to speak. In this case, we learned that:
« Shermund lived out her last years drawing at her home in Sea Bright, N.J., and swimming at a beach nearby. She died on Sept. 9, 1978, at a nursing home in Middletown, N.J.
In 2011, a niece, Amanda Gormley, decided to research her family’s history and was surprised to find that Shermund’s ashes had been left unclaimed in a New Jersey funeral home since 1978.
In May 2019, Gormley raised money through a GoFundMe campaign and, with the contributions of many artists and cartoonists, saw to it that Shermund’s ashes were buried alongside her mother’s grave in San Francisco. »
« What are you mumbling about? »
« Oh, nuthin’! … just that my false teeth get loose an’ make a lot of noise! »
Today marks the one hundred and third anniversary of the enigmatic Jack Cole (December 14, 1914 – August 13, 1958) a man embodying, in equal parts, hilarity, talent and torment. Just when everything seemed to be going his way, he took his own life in 1958, for reasons still surmised about. His widow was the only one to know, and she took her secret to the grave.
Let’s move past this morbid stuff and concentrate on the man’s creative legacy, shall we?