Books Gift Guide
Betsy and Meby Jack Cole
Fantagraphics Books, 104 pp., $14.95 (paper)
When Jack Cole killed himself in 1958 with a .22 caliber Marlin rifle, he left behind an impressive artistic legacy. His most famous creation, Plastic Man, not only introduced arguably the first pliable superhero – decades before the Fantastic Four frontman, Mr. Fantastic – but also influenced generations of artists with his outlandish sight gags and superior draftsmanship. In the early 1950s, Cole left his zany stretchable character and joined the staff of the fledgling Playboy, where he pioneered the watercolor paintings that came to typify the publication's cartoons. Not satisfied with two iconic creations, Cole invented and sold a daily strip to the Chicago Sun-Times Syndicate in 1958. Betsy and Me collects for the first time the complete run of Jack Cole's final artistic endeavor.
In this domestic farce, Cole related the daily life of the nebbish narrator, Chet Tibbit, and his dysfunctional family, wife Betsy and genius 5-year-old son Farley. By using the then-radical approach of images that contradict the delusional narrative prose, Cole successfully created many humorous moments within the framework of a stereotypical 1950s family. Cole further demonstrated his artistic prowess by embracing a sparse ultramodern abstract style, deviating radically from his previous efforts. The resulting creation proved popular, running in more than 50 newspapers.
Betsy and Me offers an insightful snapshot of 1950s America through sequences such as the family's move to suburbia and their sudden "need" for a car after they realize everyone else owns one ("We were the last of a dying race"). Nothing more typifies the era than everyone's uncomfortable reaction to the supersmart Farley and their resultant fear of alienation.
In his excellent, informative introduction, R.C. Harvey explores the genius of Cole's talent and the mystery of his suicide in a scant 21 pages complete with many illustrations. One fact emerges from reading the introduction and the strips: This masterful collection of the extant Betsy and Me further establishes Jack Cole's reputation as one of the signature cartoonists of the 20th century.
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