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Jack Cole

COLE, JACK - Betsy and Me Sunday REF Book

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Artists: Jack Cole All

Cartoonist Jack Cole had enjoyed considerable success in the comic book industry in the 1940s, scripting and drawing the exploits of such characters as The Claw, Daredevil, The Comet, Midnight, and Plastic Man, as well as (under the pen name Ralph Johns) producing humorous fillers featuring the detective Wun Cloo and the superheroic Burp the Twerp, among others. Then, in the fifties, he broke into the lucrative "slick" magazine market, turning out highly regarded cartoons for Hugh Hefner's Playboy, and some of that work was either collected into a book or separately merchandised. But his lifelong goal had been to create a newspaper comic strip, the so-called "ultimate achievement" of most cartoonists. Finally, in early 1958, he sold Betsy and Me to Chicago Sun-Times Syndicate, which had distributed Invisible Scarlet O'Neil and Claire Voyant nationwide and whose primary strip was Milton Caniff's Steve Canyon.

As the story goes, Cole finished a meeting at Playboy one day and just walked into the Field offices with several weeks' worth of penciled installments and a few completed ones of a strip that fit into the domestic-comedy genre but which looked different from most else in that category because Cole adopted an economical, minimalist style similar to that used in Charles Schulz's Peanuts or the UPA cartoons (According to Publishers Weekly, "Chet [the main character] has the face of a Muppet, but with '50s design charm.". The artist was totally unknown to the staff, but they found the new feature so "fresh and exciting" that they offered him a contract within a few days. Only after Cole signed did they learn that he was a comic-book veteran and Playboy superstar. Editor Dorothy Portugais claimed that Field was the first place where the new strip was submitted, but modern commentators such as Allan Holtz have cast doubt on that assertion, stating that Field Enterprises had such a "pathetic track record for selling strips" that the well-known Cole must have tried other, stronger syndicates but got no buyers, suggesting "that Betsy and Me was not cut out to join the pantheon of Cole's greatest creations."

The strip made its debut on Monday, May 26, and was immediately successful, according to the editor, steadliy picking up papers and running in more than fifty by summertime.
Then, on August 13, the "pleasant, easygoing" Cole, whose forty-three-year-old life was described by pop-cuture historian Ron Goulart as "outwardly the stuff of which Jimmy Stewart movies are made," shot himself in the head with a .22 caliber pistol. He had mailed one letter to wife Dorothy which has never been made public, and one to Hugh Hefner which stated "I cannot go on living with myself and hurting those dear to me." The last strips he produced were run until September 7 (daily) and September 21 (Sunday). Chicago commercial cartoonist Dwight Parks, who had been trying to sell his own strip, was hired by Field to continue Betsy and Me through the end of 1958. The final installment was published on Saturday, December 27.

Reference for the very rare Sunday art

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