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The Classic Pin-Up Art of Jack Cole
posted October 12, 2004


Creators: Jack Cole, Alex Chun (editor)
Publishing Info: Fantagraphics Books, $19.95, 104 pages, 2004
Ordering Numbers: 1560975598 (ISBN)

The Classic Pin-Up Art of Jack Cole is the second of writer, lawyer and art collector Alex Chun's books for Fantagraphics on the great pin-up artists of the 1940s and 1950s. This book spotlights the phase of Cole's career when he had downshifted out of comic book and before he became the top artistic dog at the publishing sensation that was Playboy. In his very concise and sharply written history, Chun notes that Cole basically put in his dues, using chances to publish through the cheaper, not very well-regarded, but always-buying Humorama magazines to learn the field and improve his skill with wash techniques. By focusing on that one phase of Cole's long career, Chun sidesteps the usual problems displayed by the new breed of comic art books because he evades any responsibility to act as the definitive statement on an entire career. Chun doesn't have to build this material up until it's worth a $60 purchase; he assumes its value and Cole's importance in a way that's confident and reassuring. Combined with a sharp design by Jacob Covey that emphasizes the beauty of wash art, this is a nice little book of the kind I almost never have the desire to buy. Chun even includes a few originals for comparison and contrast.

The work is lovely, too, of course. Cole used basically two kinds of gags. Most were about men falling over themselves in order to provide help or even outright sexually manipulate these fantastically super-voluptuous women. The other, perhaps slightly more interesting major set of jokes involves the women as forces of nature that alter reality with their beauty. Throw in a few "She's so vain" gags and you pretty much have the entire book. This gets dull after a while, but the book is concise enough to mitigate that problem. What I found interesting is how Cole managed to work the humor while putting the female figure on central display - the gags don't even have to be read if you simply want to ogle. The idea of geographical regularity as a creative straitjacket means this book can be read as an exercise in problem solving, proving once again that some of the more interesting tricks in art can come in the most restrictive circumstances.

Creators (Cole, Chun)