Every week on “Sunday Page” an author has to choose a single page from a comic book. It could be for sentimental reasons o for a particular technical achievement. The conversation could lose itself in the open water of the comic book world but it will always start with the questione: «If you had to choose a page from a comic book you love, what would you choose and why?».
This Sunday I’m out with comic book writer John Arcudi. Arcudi has worked on a number of comic books based on films, including RoboCop, Terminator, Predator, Alien, and The Thing. For Dark Horse Comics, he worked on developing the second incarnation of the character The Mask and on the series B.P.R.D., which he writes with Mike Mignola.
Here is the page — from the Midnight story (Woodland Boy) by the great Jack Cole. Published in Smash Comics #82, Quality Comics, April 1949. Known for his creation of and work on Plastic Man, his lesser known creation — Midnight — offered him plenty of opportunities for inventive storytelling. Quality publisher Everett “Busy” Arnold asked Cole to come up with a character similar to Eisner’s Spirit (which was featured in another Quality book, Police Comics) because Eisner owned the Spirit and Arnold wanted to have a character to exploit should Eisner leave Quality. It could have been just a bland clone, but Cole made it into something special. He left if for a few years and when he came back, the Midnight strip was burdened with a lot of silly characters, but Cole still managed to make great comics with them anyway.
So, right off the bat: why this comic book? and why this page?
The story is a parody of Eden Ahbez’s success in late 1949. He was the writer of Nature Boy, a huge hit for Nat King Cole.
As for the page, it’s brilliant! You go from one locale to another in one page, very cleverly using a single panel to show us the trip. The transition feels neither hurried nor crowded. Plus, Cole still has room for plenty of gags. The itching from fleas and the DDT spray bit. We learn that Woodland Boy has fleas on the previous page and everybody gets them from him, but the DDT gag also makes it clear as to why they’re itching in another little bit of incredibly efficient storytelling at the same time as making a good gag. Then you got Woodland Boy reading a Nature Magazine with his feet like a monkey, reinforcing his “wild” nature. And in that same panel, Woodland Boy imagines being back in the woods again, his face melancholy. Even though he’s been gone less than a page from his forest, we easily buy that he already misses it.
Beyond the gags, the storytelling density is killer, as exemplified by that last panel. Starting with WB hilariously dreaming of better times you’ve got two main characters running top speed out of the room while a third doubts if that’s the best idea in the world. Most cartoonists would take at least two panels for all this, but Cole does it one, clearly and humorously. And, of course, it’s all so gorgeously, perfectly drawn!
You actually used Midnight in a story of yours, ‘JLA: Destiny’.
That was just coincidence. I needed character names that DC owned that I could play fast and loose with for the Elseworlds story. I have no real attraction to the character at all; only to Jack Cole’s masterful handling of the material.
When did you discovered this character and Cole’s work in general?
I was pretty young, couldn’t give you an exact date, when I discovered Jack Cole’s work on Plastic Man. I found it in a few old reprint books by DC — especially a Plas collection in something called DC Special. After that, anything by Cole interested me.