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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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07/12/2004 Archived Entry: "Book review: The Classic Pin Up Art of Jack Cole"

The Classic Pinup Art of Jack Cole
Edited by Alex Chun
Publisher: Fantagraphics Books
Reviewed by Kathy LaFollett

I own a nice collection of art books representing talent from comics, graphic novels, magazines and fine art. Until recently I never realized that every artist I’ve chosen creates nothing but the exaggerated female form. Frazetta, Bizley, Ward, Mozert, Madureira and others grace my library shelves. As of this month, Jack Cole joins the grouping. I met Jack Cole at the tender age of 11 (if I remember right). I found a hidden stash of Playboy magazines in the basement, curiosity drove me to see what was behind the cover as I stumbled onto his drawings. These were old magazines and at the time I had no idea what they were FOR, but the cartoons struck hard and I just looked at the lines in wonderment. I ignored the jokes, mostly because I didn’t get the jokes. And I didn’t bother with the rest, because as a little girl, that was a bit WEIRD. Not too long after my discovery, the magazines disappeared. And I never saw Jack Cole again until I was old enough to seek his work out on my own.

The most striking part of this publication is the fact that historical background and biography is short, to the point and at the front of the book. 80% of the book is devoted strictly to Jack’s art. I appreciate that. Mr. Cole’s life ends by his own hands abruptly and at the epoch of his career in ’58. He was a young man who only shared his last thoughts with two people, his wife and Hugh Hefner. Alas, natural genius and talent seems to be joined hand in hand with personal turmoil. The biography is clear and well written, simplistic with no storytelling attached. I appreciate that. Once given the chance to “get to know” the artist the reader is allowed to spend the rest of the book’s time on “getting to know the artist’s art”. And it is a joy. Printed on semi glossy paper the black and white washes and line art jump out with fresh verve and intent. Binding and inner cover graphics are simple without a lot of fanfare. I found myself drawn to the inner graphics of scanned images of Jack’s scribbles and notes on an envelope. Some of the artwork features hand written “liners” rather than typed font. I believe the tone, feel, and layout of this publication reflects the artist very well.

There is sweetness to his humor. It is quite charming to be sitting in 2004 reading sexy gender humor of 1950ish. What was audacious then is absolute puritan now. Stereotypical assumptions and male body preferences haven’t changed these last 50 years or so, though. Simplistic, large breasted women seeking wealthy men of any age to pay their way through life, seems to be the flavor running through Jack’s humor. The men don’t necessarily seem to mind in his single pane moments. There is a reciprocal knowledge between male and female contained in his art and humor. Knowledge by the women that yes, the men NEED and WANT to look and touch and knowledge by the men that the women know it, and they’ll have to come up with some tricks to get that objective. Hence, Jack avails an infinite well of humor. There are a number of pieces though that transcend the gender play and go to the heart of human interaction. Couple those with Jack Cole’s art and you find the era’s standard bearer of pinup art and humor. Cole is at his best.

The reader is also introduced to his early works, attempts at comic art, and a newspaper comic strip. Jack was a man of many trades and obviously a master of all.

“The Classic Pinup Art of Jack Cole” is an essential addition to any collector who wishes to represent that era’s female found in art and humor. Jack Cole succinctly, with tongue-in-cheek and India Ink in hand lays out the female plight and the male’s hidden dreams of the 50’s. And really, when we get right down to it, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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