Obituary: Stan Drake

Stan Drake was one of the most surprisingly versatile cartoonists in the history of the American comic strip, and at the same one of the least known by name in Britain.

His talent in drawing newspaper strips stretched from the daily soap-opera The Heart of Juliet Jones to the joke-a-day domesticity of Blondie, two strips so vastly different in art technique that in appearance it seems impossible that they have stemmed from the same pen. Jay Kennedy, the current comics editor at King Features Syndicate, paid an extraordinary tribute to Drake's drawings when he said that Drake's craftsmanship was outstanding.

"His control of the pen was so great," said Kennedy, "that you could enlarge one of his two-inch drawings to a poster the size of the door, and every nuance would be there as if he had drawn the poster that size to begin with."

Drake was born in Brooklyn in 1921, later moving with his family to New Jersey. After college he attended the Art Students League in New York where he studied anatomy under their famous tutor George Bridgman. Drake was 18 years old, but was already a published black-and-white artist turning out illustrations for the 10-cent pulp magazines Popular Detective and Popular Sports. He had also started to contribute strips to the ballooning comic-book industry, writing, drawing and lettering for the munificent sum of seven dollars per page. He also worked for the young Stan Lee, later the fabled editorial impresario of Marvel Comics but then a simple strip-writer.

Drake joined the army just before America entered the Second World War, and was duly discharged in 1946 after active service in the Pacific theatre of war. Immediately returning to commercial art, he joined the Perlowin Advertising Agency on Madison Avenue, later transferring to the Johnstone and Cushing Agency, which specialised in producing strip- cartoon advertisements for the Sunday newspaper supplements. Success prompted him to set up his own agency in collaboration with two former cartoonist friends from the comic-book field, Bob Lubbers and John Celardo, who would later take on the Tarzan strip. The volume of work was so great that, despite enlarging the agency to 12 artists, Drake quit from exhaustion.

Wishing to try his hand at newspaper strip work, but realising that the writing of a daily serial was beyond him, he contacted Eliot Caplin. Caplin was the younger brother of the top American strip cartoonist, Al Capp, who drew the hilarious hill- billy strip Li'l Abner. No artist, Caplin had become an expert writer of strips, and had created a highly popular romantic series entitled Abbie & Slats, which was drawn by the brilliant stylist Raeburn Van Buren. This strip contained a sprinkling of comedy, and Caplin was keen to attempt a more serious romantic drama that would latch on to the then popular soap-opera serials of American radio.

The result, Drake drawing, Caplin writing, was The Heart of Juliet Jones, which made its daily debut during March 1953. It opened with a record starting sale to 90 newspapers, eventually rising to over 600, and won the National Cartoonists Society Best Story Strip Award in 1969, 1970 and 1972. The sophisticated story-line was matched by Drake's artwork, which was not only realistic, but frequently used differing art techniques, including unusual tinting.

With the decline in popularity of dramatic newspaper strips, Drake switched his style completely when the artwork of Blondie became available. This famous strip, created by Murat (Chic) Young in 1930, was the epitome of home-spun humour, built around the suburban family Bumstead; smart wife Blondie, half-daft hubby Dagwood, and their kids, Baby Dumpling and Cookie. Written by the late Chic Young's son Dean, Drake illustrated the gags to perfection as befitted the most frequently filmed strip in history; 28 features between 1938 and 1951. Blondie was played by the pretty actress Penny Singleton while the comedian Arthur Lake played Dagwood. Drake's expert artwork helped maintain Blondie as the highest syndicated strip in the world, touching on 2,000 newspapers a day.

Drake was an expert hobby golfer, and turned his favourite pasttime to profitable use by drawing instructive illustrations for Golf Digest, but he will be remembered best as a cartoonist whose talents spanned the two extremes of the strip cartoon.

Denis Gifford

Stanley Drake, cartoonist: born New York 9 November 1921; died Norwalk, Connecticut 10 March 1997.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick