August 1958, his station wagon parked on a gravel road
in Cary, Illinois, the man sat.
He’d been seen acting drunk at the staff party in Chicago.
He never did that.
He’d left his wife Dorothy hours before
and had just called his neighbor to look after her
so Police Comic‘s Jack Cole, The Spirit’s ghost,
creator of The Comet,
the man who produced Exhibit A of Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent,
pinned a note to his jacket and placed the single shot into his newly-bought rifle.
That day was Jack’s last.
He shot himself at six o’clock,
and we don’t know why.
Though a writer, he didn’t describe his motivation.
Though an artist, he painted no picture to explain his end.
We have no idea
what was rattling in his head
besides the bullet.
Jack was the best.
He’d created Plastic Man and chronicled that hero’s adventures for ten years
before secretly working for Will Eisner on The Spirit.
He became the premier cartoonist at Playboy
– the second branded item from that mag was a collection of his strips.
He had successfully escaped the funny book ghetto,
creating the brand new comic strip Betsy and Me,
syndicated in more and more papers across the country.
A second strip had been sold. Cole was taking off.
Sure, his career had had some bumps
but he was making money, getting famous.
So what made Jack look at his life
and find it wanting?
At forty three, he had no children;
is that what crossed his mind in the car
before the bullet?
Three kids found him at six,
alive but bleeding.
He was taken to the hospital where he died almost immediately.
His boss got a letter, which apologized for the inconvenience.
His wife got a letter, which she never revealed.
Dorothy sold his stuff, remarried in a year
and never spoke to his relatives again.
We don’t know what drove Jack to the brink
– other than the Chrysler.
We don’t know why such a talented man
would end it all.
Maybe it was all explained
in that August letter to his lady.
Maybe the reason was on the tip of his tongue
right next to the barrel.
A Playboy cartoon from his last year
featured a be-busted blonde,
some Sugar Marilyn,
liking it hot,
singing “I ain’t got no body…”
and by the end of year
that was him.
He had no body.
Jack was disabused of mortality.
Jack was dis-corporeal.
Jack, you dead.
Did the comic strip provide a clue?
Was it evidence of his plans?
Does it show the story
of what went through his head
beyond the bullet?