NCS Spotlight on… Stan Drake

November 18th, 2010

Stan Drake is often remembered as the artist of Blondie, which he drew from 1984 until his death in 1997.

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But for many of us the name Stan Drake is synonymous with beautifully rendered ink line drawings of gorgeous gals and handsome men, as featured in Drake’s seminal romance comic strip, “The Heart of Juliet Jones”. Surprisingly, in an interview in issue #72 of CARTOONIST PROfiles magazine, Drake spoke candidly of what might be called his true cartooning style:

“I really am a cartoonist,” said Drake. “I had to work hard at drawing straight, illustrative type stuff. I started out with Johnstone & Cushing (the advertising cartoon firm) right after the war and my bent was really towards the semi-funny stuff.”

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“When I got into advertising, an art director told me, “If you want to make out in this business, you must learn how to draw pretty girls and handsome men.” So I recall that I bought copies of ‘Vogue’, ‘Harpers Bazaar’ and ‘Mademoiselle’, and when I got home, I’d place some vellum over the heads of the pretty girls in the magazines, and I must have traced seven or eight hundred heads in this way.”

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“Every night I’d practice drawing pretty girls and handsome guys and finally I got to the point where I knew what made a face pretty and what the proportions were. Soon I was drawing them without having to trace them.”

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Around 1950 Stan Drake left Johnstone & Cushing to form his own art studio, Drake-Kittelsen, with a lettering man named Harry Kittelsen. During this period Stan Drake continued drawing advertising spots and strips – and even did story illustrations for what was at that time a popular men’s adventure magazine called Blue Book.

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In Comics Interview magazine Drake talked about that period in his career: “I got so busy,” he told interviewer, Shel Dorf. “I was getting better and better in my techniques and my methods. Everybody was buying my stuff. I was deluged with work. I’m talking about 1950… I was making $1500 a week. You’re talking about making $5000 a week today – with inflation and stuff. But, I was working 20 hours a day. I had a nervous breakdown. Well, I don’t know if it was a nervous breakdown. It was a physical exhaustion.”

“I just absolutely could not get out of bed one morning, and I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t move my arms. It was nature saying, “You are immobilized.” The brain was saying, “I’m not gonna do this for you anymore.”

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“I was like this from all this work – just work work work work work – and Bob Lubbers, my old friend from art school, called me up one day, he was doing TARZAN at the time, and he said, “Listen, why don’t you get smart? Don’t commute to New York from Long Island anymore. Don’t go through that rat race. You’re killing yourself already, at age thirty!” And he said, “Why don’t you take some of those samples up to King Features? It’s the biggest syndicate in the world. Get a comic strip. You could do a comic strip, and you could work at home, and you could relax. So I took his advice.”

The result, of course, was Stan Drake’s masterful The Heart of Juliet Jones, which he co-created with writer Elliot Caplan. It was an instant success. Drake said, “Before it was published we had 98 papers. But, it kept going up and up and up. I was getting a report every month on sales and I was picking up 20 and 30 papers a month. And it went up and up. It went up to 100 – 200 – 300 – 400 – 500 – 600 papers.”

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Drake continued, “I finally figured, at age 30, that I’d hit the jackpot. “I’ve got “The Heart of Juliet Jones” and it’s gonna go on for 20 years.”

In fact, Stan Drake continued producing ‘Juliet Jones’ for 36 years! He received the National Cartoonists Society’s Story Comic Strip Award in 1968, 1970 and 1972. Drake left the strip in 1989, and it was continued by Frank Bolle from 1982 through New Year’s Day 2001.

* You’ll find both Stan Drake interviews, art and photos of the artist at drake.org

*Thanks to Armando Mendez for his scans of the two Stan Drake Ipana ads near the top of this post and to Heritage Auctions for the Juliet Jones Sunday strip scan directly above.

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