Saturday, June 13, 2015
Forms Stretched To Their Limits - Jack Cole and Plastic Man is an absolutely delightful book, as unique as any I own, at once fascinating, bizarre, and abundantly vivid.
This book published in 2001 by Chronicle Books and designed by the creative and sometimes controversial Chip Kidd offers up vintage Plastic Man comic book stories and others created by the late great Jack Cole blended in with an essay written by Art Spiegelman for The New Yorker a few years before. You can read that essay (minus the art) here. That essay is presented on actual pages of plastic, the very stuff which gave Cole's hero his name.
Spiegekman reveals his lifelong fascination with the work of Cole, which dubs among the most peculiar and weirdly compelling in the long history of comics and a significant influence on the creators of MAD who followed him.
Spiegelman's essay follows along the broad contours of Cole's comic book career, following him from his early days in the Harry "A" Chesler shop and later over to Busy Arnold's Quality Comics line where he eventually created his signature hero Plastic Man. The success, both financially and artistically made Cole's reputation, Plastic Man made him famous.
His stint on True Crime Comics and in particular a yarn called "Murder, Morphine, and Me" made him infamous when a panel from that story became an evocative bit of evidence for Dr. Frederic Wertham in his notorious Seduction of the Innocent. That story is included here and is some relentless reading.
After leaving comics, Cole found enormous success as a cartoonist both with a syndicated strip and with Playboy magazine. But that didn't stop his successful attempt at suicide on a dusty road in 1954. The causes of Cole's suicide are unknown, and this essay doesn't answer the question, but reading such a heartfelt reflection on the life and career of Jack Cole gave me more empathy for an artist who despite success many in his field could only dream of did not find the peace of mind he needed.