Stanley Albert Drake was born November 9, 1921 in Brooklyn, NY. His thirty year-old father was Allen Drake, a British vaudevillian who eventually found a career as a character actor on 1940s radio shows, such as Gangbusters, Young Widow Brown, Second Husband, Helen Trent, Backstage Wife, Stella Dallas, and The Kate Smith Hour. While the father struggled to make a living, the mother worked as a nurse in a hospital in Hackensack, New Jersey, where the family moved to a tenement building on Lehi Street. He dropped out of high school in the 8th grade to man the counter on Dugan's Doughnut Truck for a dollar a day and to work weekends as an usher at the local movie hall.
According to the artist, "I was looking at pulp magazines in 1937 like Cowboy Stories, Love Stories, Breezy Stories - and they had these little black-and-white illustrations. At age sixteen I decided to do some illustrations like the ones I saw, so I did half a dozen, took them into a publishing company in New York, and managaed to sell them. Speaking of the pulps, I had a theory that the men who made these beautiful-looking drawings knew what they were doing, and they looked good, so I used to take tracing paprer and trace the lines. In this way I thought I would get a feeling in my mind as to how to draw people. After doing hundreds of tracings of heads, say, I would try it on my own, freehand. By doing this so much, I came to realize how heads were constructed."
In 1939 he studied the human figure at the Art Students League with George Bridgman's life drawing classes, where he met other artists who drew interior story illustrations for Fiction House Publications, where he soon submitted his own work. His interior story illustrations for pulp magazines are sometimes signed "S. A. Drake"
He even sold a few freelance pulp covers to Personal Adventure Stories, Detective Book, Exciting Detective, Popular Sports, and Western Aces, which are credited on the contents page to "Albert Drake." He even painted the cover of Volume 1 Issue Number 1 of Planet Stories, which he signed in the lower right corner, "A. Drake."
He was drafted in 1942 and served in a camouflage unit of the Army Corps of Engineers and specialized in painting airfield runways. While stationed in South Carolina he met and married Betty Lou Smith. In 1945 he was sent to the Marianas Islands in the Pacific.
According to the artist, "World War II had drained the artist pool from New York, and when I got out of the service in 1946, there was literally one artist for every hundred slots. You could find work without any training. I learned on the job."
He drew interiors and painted pulp covers for Action Stories, Detective Tales, Dime Detective, Exciting Detective, FBI Detective, Fifteen Mystery Stories, North-West Romances, Ten Detective Aces, 10-Story Detective, and Western Trails.
By 1950 his major income was line art for advertising. "There was so much line art work that eventually I started my own studio. Our slogan was, 'The Best In Line!' I had ten people working for me and we did nothing but line art for ad agencies." The Drakes had moved out to Levittown on Long Island, New York, where their sons Lance and Gary were born.
In 1953 he started a successful and long-running King Features syndicated newspaper comic strip, The Heart of Juliet Jones.
In 1960 he divorced and moved to Westport Connecticut.
His second wife was Sara Jane Strickland.
His third wife was Lainie "Bunnie" Drake, whose two sons, Chris and Todd were adopted were adopted by Stan Drake.
He was an avid golfer. He contributed drawings to Golf Digest and illustrated the 1976 book, The Touch System for Better Golf.
In 1979 he started the strip Pop Idols for Universal Press Syndicate, and in 1980 he started the Kelly Green strip for Dargaud International Publishing, a French comic syndicate.
In 1984, a few years after the death of the original creator of Blondie, Stan Drake was asked to take over the classic strip for King features, which benefited from Drake's sensuous line quality until 1991.
According to the artist, "I have always been able to draw, but not well. At the first stage in my career, boy, was I learning! I didn't know anything about how to draw. I had this basic gut talent, but a professional I was not. I learned on the job and I learned what I had better learn how to do by looking at other guys' stuff."
Stan Drake died of a coronary failure in his sleep at age 75 on March 10, 1997.
© David Saunders 2009