In this week’s edition we take a look back into the golden age of comics and two series featuring the art of artist L.B. Cole.
In the early 1990’s the Gerber Photo Journals were published – concentrating on the golden age of comics in the first two editions. This was a huge undertaking by Ernie Gerber amassing complete runs of books from private golden age collections to be photocopied. I think it was a labour of love for Mr. Gerber and all of the golden age collectors who participated in the undertaking. The advent of the internet may have taken away some of the relevance of the books in terms of the pictures. The Gerber scarcity index for the books is still a valid tool, maybe going hand in hand with the CGC census. They are beautiful books and I would still recommend them to any collector of comic books. Two Marvel focused journals followed the golden age books. Unfortunately, no DC book was ever made.
The initial journals were a revelation for many silver and bronze age collectors, including me. I had never seen a lot of these covers. I believe these journals brought a whole new legion of golden -age collectors in to the market. Many genres benefitted: War, Super-Hero, Crime, and Romance, but I think the genre that got the biggest boost from the journals were pre-code horror comics. These were risqué/graphic depictions of violence covers, the kind Dr. Fredric Wertham didn’t like and fought to remove from the news stands. National (DC) and Timely (Atlas/Marvel) publications. There were also so many comic publishers that had ceased to exist. St John, Magazine Enterprises, EC, Harvey, Fiction House Street & Smith to name but a few of the companies that were represented in the journals.
Many artists also received new and additional recognition for there work from those days. Today we will take a look at the work of L.B. Cole and a couple of the series of books he is most known for as well.
Leonard Brandt Cole was an artist and publisher through the 40’s and 50’s working mostly with small publishers, He drew a few stories but was mostly known as an cover artist Contact, Blue Beetle, 4-D star and many other. He eventually moved to Dell comics and Classic Illustrated Junior. I have a copy of the Overstreet #11 Price guide and his ultra-cool cover from 1981. Mr. Cole passed away in 1995 just after the Photo Journals had hit the market. I had always hoped he had a chance to see them and his work being showcased there before he died.
One of the most unique things I had noticed about L.B. Coles work was his use of primary colours in depicting what is usually dark subject matter on his covers. Red, yellow, blue, and green are the colors that are featured most prominently. He uses them to great effect. His devils looked great and he displayed a real love of the macabre in his work.
I first encountered L. B. Cole’s artwork on our featured series today: Suspense Comics. To be specific it was Suspense Comics #8 which at certain points in my comic collecting life has been my favourite comic cover of all time. I love the noir-ish style of the cover, with a femme fatale behind a spider’s web, and big trouble in the forefront. It was at a Motor City Comic Con in Detroit and priced way beyond my means. I have been very close to obtaining this book four times in my life since I first saw it in 1997. I’ll get it yet!
Before we get to the books we also need to give a tip of the cap to another artist Alex Schomburg of Timely comics fame who contributed only one cover to our piece today, but it was a biggie: Suspense Comics #3. Not many comic books got a bigger boost in popularity and price appreciation due to the exposure from the Photo Journals than this book. The cover depiction of a young woman about to be sacrificed to demonic hooded Nazis is a classic. If you can’t get enough of those hooded Nazis, Schomburg used them again in a title he is better known for Marvel Mystery Comics #45. The Human Torch battling the Red Skull and his thrall of hooded Klansmen -like goons.
On to Suspense (Continental Publishing) and Mask Comics (Rural-home publishing). We will not be reviewing these books for the stories inside them. The books are 52-60 pages in length with multiple two-seven pages stories. Most of the stories are of the horror-suspense-adventure variety with the odd comedic pc. A super-hero story with the lead character- Grey Mask (a very Witness looking type character) is in all of the books. Grey Mask also finds his way on to a few covers of Suspense Comics.
L.B. Cole draws a story in all of the Suspense comics books and began drawing all the covers starting with issue #4 thru the end of the run at issue #12. Mask comics #1 & 2 were both drawn by L.B. Cole. I include the small two issue run on Mask for the astonishingly beautiful art. The inside could be blank pages (or slabbed) and I wouldn’t really care on these two books.
The old adage a picture is worth a thousand words fits here. I’ll let the covers speak for themselves.
Here are the 47th Overstreet Price guide values for the books we viewed today.
|Mask #2 (Fall 1945)||$452||$678||$1446||$2475||$3500|
Note: a second printing of Mask #2 followed the initial publication in April/May.
You can see by these prices that Suspense Comics #3 pretty well stops most people from collecting this entire run. A lot of these books stand up well on their own merit. I really can’t say there is a dog in any of the L.B. Cole covers, just some I love more than others. I’ll get one someday…. Good luck in your comic searches!