Don Markstein's Toonopedia: Betsy and Me
Chester, Betsy and Farley. Artist: Jack Cole.

BETSY AND ME

Medium: Newspaper comics
Distributor: Chicago Sun-Times
First Appeared: 1958
Creator: Jack Cole
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Cartoonist Jack Cole is well remembered by cartoon buffs for his many outstanding comic book creations, such as The Claw, The Comet and, of course, Plastic Man. He isn't remembered for the newspaper comic Betsy & Me. Even his tiny …

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… humorous fillers, such as detective Wun Cloo and all-purpose superhero Burp the Twerp, are better known. This, despite the fact that he would very possibly have considered Betsy & Me the apex of his career.

The main reason Cole had gotten into comic books in the first place was, they were easier to break into than slick magazines or newspaper syndicates. He finally did get into magazine cartooning, with some very lucrative gigs such as full-page, full-color, monthly cartoons in Playboy magazine. He left comic books and never looked back.

In 1958, he achieved the other goal, which many comic book artists of his time considered the ultimate achievement. He sold a daily and Sunday comic, Betsy & Me, to The Chicago Sun-Times Syndicate — a very minor outfit compared to, say, King Features (The Phantom, Blondie) or even Newspaper Enterprise Association (Red Ryder, Herky), but still capable of giving it nationwide distribution. The syndicate's earlier successes include Invisible Scarlet O'Neil and Claire Voyant. Reportedly, it was the first place he'd tried to sell his new creation. It began running on Monday, May 26 of that year.

"Me" in the title was Chester B. Tibbit, who functioned as both the leading male character and the strip's first-person narrator. Sometimes, his narration painted a rosier picture than what was actually going on in the panel.

Chester and Betsy had been married a few years, and had a young son, Farley, who was a genius. This put the strip squarely within the domestic comedy genre, alongside The Bungle Family, Foxtrot and Keeping Up with the Joneses. But being by Jack Cole, it had a unique flavor, setting it apart from anything else on the comics page. Cole did it with an economy of line similar to that of the contemporary Miss Peach and Peanuts, making it different from all his previous work, as well.

Less than three months after the strip began, for reasons we can only speculate on, Cole, just starting a new phase of his career after proving himself one of the greatest geniuses ever to work in comic books, shot himself dead. And that's why Betsy & Me, innovative as it was, even while rising steadily in popularity, lasted only 15 weeks.

— DDM

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Text ©2006-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © estate of Jack Cole.