Robot 6

Collect This Now: Jack Cole’s Plastic Man

I know what you’re thinking. “Didn’t DC already collect Jack Cole’s run on Plastic Man?” The answer is well, sort of.

For those who don’t know, Jack Cole is considered one of the true greats of the Golden Age era, alongside folk like Will Eisner and Jack Kirby, and with good reason. After spending a number of years at Lev Gleason’s studio on characters like The Claw and the original, boomerang-throwing Daredevil, he created the rubbery, shape-shifting superhero in 1941 for Quality Comics.

Though it started out as a somewhat conventional superhero comic (albeit it rather gruesome as villains met some rather ugly ends), it rather quickly became one of the most visually inventive and utterly dynamic comics on the stands. Influenced no doubt by his friend and occasional boss Eisner, Cole constantly switched up his page layouts, and filled Plas’ world with a host of garish, cartoonish caricatures that would give the cast of Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy a run for their money in the ugly department.

He left the series in 1954  for the more lucrative career of gag cartooning for such magazines as the Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s and, eventually Playboy. Plastic Man limped along without him until 1956, when his comics were finally cancelled. In 1958 Cole got the much envied spot on the newspaper funnies pages with his fitfully amusing family comic strip Betsy and Me. It only lasted a few months, however, as Cole — for reasons that are still a mystery — committed suicide soon thereafter.

So much for the history lesson. Since his passing, Cole’s stature has only grown, but attempts to collect his work has been fitful at best. Fantagraphics has put out books collecting the Betsy strip and some of his pin-up art, but the most comprehensive attempt so far has been from DC, which, starting in 1998, collected his influential run of Plas stories as part of their ultra-hardcover DC Archives line.

Unfortunately, they only got as far  as Volume 8, whether because of poor sales or due to a corporate decision to rethink the whole Archives line is unclear (at least to me). To make matters worse, that final volume ends in April of 1948, leaving a good six years of material uncollected, much of it featuring some of Cole’s best work on the title, when he was at his zaniest and most unrestrained. Later sories like “Sadly Sadly” and “The Plague of Plastic People” feature Cole at his most manic and in many ways hint at the sort of shenanigans Harvey Kurtzman would soon get up to in Mad.

The DC Archive line has been roundly criticized for its garish coloring and scan quality, a criticism I can understand (the stories vary in quality from crisp and lovely to blurry and indistinct), though ultimately it doesn’t bother me as much as I imagine it does some of the more devout historians.

So, since I’ve got those first set of volumes and would hate to break up the set, I guess what I’d like to see is DC finish what they started and complete their Plastic Man run, though preferably in a somewhat more affordable, less high-glossy format. Barring that though, even a simple “Best of Plastic Man” collection would be greatly appreciated. Moreover, let’s bug Hugh Hefner to release a definitive collection of Cole’s Playboy work, and have someone collect all those Daredevil and other stories Cole did. In this alleged golden age of reprints, Cole has been ill-served and it’s about time someone – especially DC — rectified that situation.

For more information about Jack Cole and his work, visit the Cole’s Comics blog.

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Comments

9 Comments

I would love to read them, but… there has got to be a cheaper format than the archives.

I can’t imagine being wealthy enough to afford these $50 and $60 collections. I guess I am glad they are published, but who can afford this stuff?

I do buy them when I can get them at 60% off (used), when it is a collection that I really want. However, they are not even cheap at that price….

This is a great hobby, but the costs are too high nowadays….

Cole Moore Odell

March 11, 2011 at 3:47 pm

Not only am I waiting for DC to finish out this series, I have a 12-year-old who has nearly worn out all of the Archives volumes from reading them so much. Yes, the books are expensive, but these particular comics are actually worth it–especially considering how much my family has gotten out of them.

I’ll take a Plastic Man Chronicles collection, please.

Another terrific resource about Cole is Art Spiegelman’s essay “Jack Cole and Plastic Man,” which was published in a gorgeous book complete with snippets of Cole’s art and a couple of complete comics. It’s a perfect introduction to his work, which you can find for cheap on Amazon: http://amzn.to/hVVErM

A collection of his Playboy work has been published, mid-last year I think.
I’ve toyed w/ getting it, but really what I want are good affordable collection of his work, or a couple of nice “best ofs” like you say.

would love to see dc give another go at putting coles plastic man run back in print this time not as the way expensive archives. but as its own thing. like a line of trades that those who really can not afford the big archive run. can enjoy a much forgotten and seldom credited legend like cole.

The Classic Pin-up Art of Jack Cole
9781560975595 / 9781606992845

Betsy and Me
9781560978787

Spirit: July 3 – December 31, 1944
9781563898365

The Spirit: Two Hundred Dailies
9780912277165

Playboy Cover to Cover — The 50′s: Searchable Digitial Archive–Every Page, Every Issue
9780979526114

THE BEST OF JACK COLE
1566850320

Jack Cole and Plastic Man: Forms Stretched to Their Limits
9780811831796

As a kid of the Seventies, I enjoyed the relaunched series. That would make a fun Showcase collection!

I can find no listing for a Playboy collection of Jack Cole.

Cole Moore Odell

March 14, 2011 at 12:52 pm

Can somebody well-versed in Cole’s Plastic Man detail how much material by him is left to be reprinted after where the last Archives leaves off? I think I remember someone saying that DC could carry through a 13th volume in the Archives format, but was he consistently writing and/or drawing the strip that entire time until he left it? Are any of the post-Cole strips worth looking at?

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