Friday, September 11, 2009

Stan Drake (1921-1997)

The most stunningly beautiful of all “illustrated” comic strips began on March 9, 1953. The strip was “The Heart of Juliet Jones,” by 31 year old Brooklyn-born artist Stan Drake, son of famous radio actor Allen Drake. Drake, who had been doing illustration for pulp magazines had a chance to enter the movies but World War II came along and he joined the United States Army instead. His tour lasted 3 years.

He was born November 9, 1921. Drake spent his growing years in River Edge, N. J., and at sixteen had a job as an usher in a Hackensack movie theatre. He spent two years at the Art Student League. Soon he was illustrating for the pulps and comic books, and then moved to Hollywood in search of an acting career.

Following the war Drake took a job in an ad agency and then tried running his own ad business with a co-owner. The business gave him a case of “overworked nerves” and a friend suggested he try his hand at a comic strip. At that time King Features was negotiating with Margaret Mitchell, author of “Gone With the Wind,” for a cartoon strip based on a love story. Mitchell died in a car accident in 1952, and Stan Drake showed up at King Features with samples around that time. King asked him to prepare a love story strip and “Juliet Jones” made its debut in March 1953.

The strips three main characters were Juliet, an attractive eligible lady of a serious bent, her spoiled and rather wild younger sister Eve, and their father Howard “Pop” Jones, who lived in the small town of Devon. Mrs. Drake, the former Betty Lou Smith, served as Stan’s model for Eve, Juliet’s younger sister in the comic strip.

“Juliet Jones” was a remarkable achievement. By 1976 the strip was syndicated in 450 newspapers, in 35 languages, in 19 countries, including France, Pakistan, China, Sweden, Japan, and Australia. In 1958 the number of subscribers had been 600 but a spate of newspaper closures brought the numbers down. ““The Heart of Juliet Jones” is supposed to have between 25 and 30 million readers daily round the world,” said Drake, “it’s unbelievable!” His peers in the National Cartoonist Society named him “Top Story Strip Cartoonist of the Year” in 1969, 1970 and 1972.

Drake objected vehemently to being termed a newspaper cartoonist. “I’m a newspaper strip illustrator. The strip “Juliet Jones” is an illustrated soap opera. I can draw cartoons but I don’t. I illustrate a story realistically. I’m not a cartoonist.”

The drama and realism exhibited in “Juliet Jones” was the result of the artists’ use of models and photographs. He borrowed the techniques from his advertising days, when he noticed that all the major illustrators used models and photographs for their work on popular magazines like Collier’s, The Saturday Evening Post, and Cosmopolitan.

“Photography gives a realistic quality which is the hallmark of my feature. I use Polaroid film and everything is right there. It takes all the guesswork out of it. I use photography as an aid. The drawings are so much easier and look so real. I could not depict characters or a farm scene background for example, as easily. It’s a real tool for getting things done quicker.”

“When I took on the comic strip I felt I would do something no one else had done. I would be one of the first in this profession to use photographs to make people look more real.”

Stan Drake died March 10, 1997. Photos and an Interview with Stan Drake can be found HERE.

*Original artwork Don Kurtz collection.

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