Mask & Suspense

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.

4.0 6.0 8.0 9.0 9.2
Mask #1 $600 $1200 $2800 $4900 $7000
Mask #2 $580 $870 $1858 $3178 $4500
Mask #2 (Fall 1945) $452 $678 $1446 $2475 $3500
Suspense #1 $1136 $1704 $4146 $7323 $10500
Suspense #2 $600 $900 $1920 $3310 $4700
Suspense #3 $15000 $22500 $45000 $77500 $110000
Suspense #4 $580 $870 $1856 $3178 $4500
Suspense #5-6 $478 $717 $1530 $2615 $3700
Suspense #7,9,10,12 $362 $543 $1158 $1979 $2800
Suspense #8 $918 $1377 $3350 $5925 $8500
Suspense #11 $742 $1113 $2600 $4550 $6500

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!

Mike Huddleston
Mike Huddleston

Mike was born and raised in Cambridge, Ontario. He has read and collected comics for over 40 years. A Marvel Zombie specializing in the Silver, bronze and early copper age of comics.

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6 years ago

L B Cole is an a amazing artist whose distinctive style and multi-genre subject material epitomizes the golden age for me.
I just wish wish I had the time and money to be a Cole completionist.
Mask 1 and 2 are two favourites that I have yet to hold in my hands as bids seem to always be ahead of mine.

He has done so many genres and set the bar for amazing covers in each of them.
Some say other artists may have done some under him. Have you seen any info in your research that supports this?

Which book on L B Cole would you consider the best read for learning more in depth info about Leonard?
I’ve seen a few but I want to know what, if any, delves into his upbringing, religion, schooling, medical conditions, substances,travels and whatever else that might have created his unique style, rather than just a book of mostly cover scans.

Great topic.

6 years ago

One of my all time favorite Golden Age artist. Most of his covers are the most classic of the genre and very popular with comic collectors. So far I’ve only been able to add just one of them to my collection.

6 years ago

Hi Mike (and Scott)

Please read my comments from yesterday at 1455 since they won’t be published until tomorrow.
Apparently and their parent site WordPress has a problem with both my credentials to their sites or CBDs until Scott raises the gate.

I’ve got 2 to 3 dozen books Cole books but I wish I had more.
He was our Michelangelo without a ceiling to paint on.

Scott VanderPloeg
6 years ago
Reply to  activejim

Hi Jim,
First time commenters are held for moderation. You decided to use the name “activejim” instead of the previously approved Jim Finlay so the comments were held until approved.


Jim Finlay
6 years ago

Thanks Scott for clearing that up. My Id for the ill fated forum for the Canadian Comic Price Guide Group from a few years ago had the same avatar as my login for this sites comments too and I chose that.
I was really interested in hearing Mike’s reply before my off day was over and time ran out.

Any book recommendations, Mike?

mel taylor
mel taylor
6 years ago

Hi Mike
It’s times like this when I wish I had never parted with a single comic. I used to have a beautiful copy of Shocking Mystery Cases #56 with the criminal crashing through a plate glass window. A tough call in any grade because of the white cover and mine was almost perfect, which is why I sold it for an exorbitant amount of money, and promptly began to kick myself. Hey, sometimes you need that cash for frivolous things like food and rent.

I was particularly disappointed when I consulted Maurice Horn’s World Encyclopedia of Comics (one of my go-to reference books) only to find that he was left out of both the first and second editions, and that’s just ridiculous! Thank goodness he’s well-represented in Gerber

And, Mike, I can honestly tell you that if I was forced to sell that book today, you would be first on my list. If I was forced to sell it.

cheers, mel