Glamourpuss series review by Brad Barnes

GLAMOURPUSS: What’s It All About, Stan Drake?

Issues 1-26
By Dave Sim

By Alex Raymond and Fred Dickenson

By Stan Drake and Eliot Caplin

By Dave Stevens

GLAMOURPUSS is a Funny Valentine to the lost era of Photo-Realistic art that was pioneered by Alex Raymond in his RIP KIRBY (1946) newspaper comic strip and perfected by Stan Drake in his THE HEART OF JULIET JONES (1953) strip.

On September 6, 1956, Alex Raymond and Stan Drake were involved in a fatal car crash that killed Raymond and temporarily put Drake into severe shock for several days after, although Drake soon recovered and continued to work in comics until his death in 1997.

What, exactly, is photo-realism and why does Dave Sim care so much about this particular 1956 car crash?

Photo-realism is used today by artists like Bryan Hitch (CIVIL WAR), Greg Land (X-MEN) and Butch Guice (CAPTAIN AMERICA) to add authenticity to their comic books, mostly for facial features.  For my money, the best photo-realistic comic book ever produced is THE ROCKETEER:

THE ROCKETEER created by Dave Stevens in 1982 is the best Good Girl Art you can find in a comic book and is illustrated by Stevens with masterful Art Deco touches!  Stevens painstakingly used photo reference to make his characters look lifelike, modeling daredevil pilot Cliff Secord after himself, as well as the airplane mechanic Peevy after his neighbor and great Western comic artist Doug Wildey.

However, Stevens’ most impressive artistic trick was modeling Cliff’s pin-up girlfriend Betty after the FACE of pin-up queen Bettie Page and the BODY of his ex-wife and B-movie queen Jewel Shepard!  Good Girl artist Bob Oksner once said that “Oksner Girls” had “Sunday morning faces and Saturday night bodies”, well, Betty in THE ROCKETEER was “Saturday Night Fever” from head-to-toe under Stevens’ killer brushstrokes!  “WOW!,” indeed!

As to that 1956 car crash, Dave Sim sees this as equivalent to the Day The Music Died, when Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper died in an airplane crash in 1959!  Alex Raymond, Hal Foster (PRINCE VALIANT) and Milton Caniff (STEVE CANYON) are the Holy Trinity of comic strip artists among the true believers!

Raymond is the only man to create four successful syndicated comic strips: SECRET AGENT X9, JUNGLE JIM, FLASH GORDON and RIP KIRBY!  Stan Drake’s THE HEART OF JULIET JONES had the most successful launch of any syndicated newspaper strip in history until STEVE CANYON and made Drake a very rich man.  That these two talented men almost died in one stroke, one car and one crash is a legendary story among comics fans, but Sim has uncovered an intriguing secret about the creation of JULIET JONES which led to GLAMOURPUSS:

The Eve Jones character in THE HEART OF JULIET JONES was modeled after a 15 year old Sara Jane, who was Drake’s receptionist and eventually his 2nd wife, and who was 20 years his junior!

Holy rock the cradle of love, Batman!

Margaret Mitchell (GONE WITH THE WIND) created THE HEART OF JULIET JONES in 1937, but nothing was done with her 30 page proposal until after her death in 1949 and the newspaper strip was launched in 1953.  Sim does an impressive job of explaining why the long delay!  Also, Sim’s overview of prominent comic strip artists is as good as any I’ve seen in print!  While it is difficult to explain the difference between a writer and an artist on a comic strip to the general public, the circumstances behind the creation of THE HEART OF JULIET JONES gives Sim a unique opportunity to define the process in deceptively simple terms!

I consider THE HEART OF JULIET JONES VOL. 1 1953-1955 by Classic Comics Press to be the best moments of the strip and the best work of Drake’s long career!  The stories have bite and his art shows care that subsequent years on the strip fail to deliver.  Inversely, Raymond ended stronger on RIP KIRBY than he had begun a decade earlier!  I believe that Raymond’s work ethic was truer than was Drake’s, which allowed Raymond’s work to mature while Drake’s approach led to a loss of intensity!

Sim is also expert at critiquing Alex Raymond’s art technique, how Raymond achieved his effects and why artists like Al Williamson (who followed him on SECRET AGENT X-9) revere him, still.  (Honestly, IDW’s reprint of RIP KIRBY 1954-1956 contains some of the most beautiful sequential art I have ever seen, and Sim’s essays helped me to appreciate them, more!)

Sim enjoys sticking it to Raymond as a slightly vain man who was by his death effectively a commercial has-been thanks to Drake’s runaway success with JONES, but clearly Sim knows through the process of recreating Raymond’s panels for GLAMOURPUSS that Raymond’s artistic achievements are beyond approach!

Stan Drake is more problematic for Sim.  While Drake’s 40 years on JONES gives Sim a pretext for giving him an iconic status in GLAMOURPUSS, Sim must realize that comparing Drake to Raymond is like putting Dean Martin up against Frank Sinatra on vinyl: like, are you KIDDING ME?  Not that Sim doesn’t try to make it an aesthetic matter, but it is the SUBTEXT of JONES where GLAMOURPUSS succeeds in staging an effective argument!

JONES is a harmless soap opera set in a small town.  Eve Jones is the little sister of the title character.  Why, then, are there multiple storylines where Eve is romantically involved with much older men?  I believe that every such provocative storyline over JONES’ 40 year history was cited by Sim for GLAMOURPUSS, and it is Sim’s compulsive fascination with this tawdry aspect of JONES which reveals why he did GLAMOURPUSS in the first place!

Sim did it all for the nookie, baby!

In GLAMOURPUSS #10, Sim confesses that he had a 15 year old girlfriend when he was 29 years old.  It follows that Sim found a kindred spirit in Drake, who married the 20 year old Sara Jane when he was a 40 year old divorcee with 2 teenaged sons in 1961.  However you slice it, Sim began mixing conjecture with speculation as GLAMOURPUSS progressed into dangerous psychoanalytic territory!

Having brilliantly explained the difficulty of Alex Raymond’s illustration technique, Sim then goes to great pain in GLAMOURPUSS #11 to excuse the variability of Drake’s draftsmanship on JONES as a form of “theatrical exuberance”.  Excuse me?  Drake was inconsistent on his use of shading, often had no background details in his panels, and used exaggeration in place of well-executed staging!  Drake used every imaginable shortcut on JONES, while Raymond unfailingly maintained his artistic integrity on RIP KIRBY: there is no comparison!  When it comes to sheer artistic prowess, Raymond is the WINNAH!

Sim then turns himself into a pretzel attributing a quote that Drake’s “great expressions” led to his being frozen-out of any editorial guidance from King Features Syndicate during his long tenure on JONES, and that this quote was obviously a criticism from Alex Raymond himself to inflict maximum harm to Drake’s reputation and legacy, falls short on several fronts!

I would simply say that Sim’s artistic defense of Drake is disproportionate to Drake’s efforts on JONES and that whomever criticized Drake’s technique was merely speaking “truth to power”, not “tugging on Superman’s cape”: Drake was the first among second-tier artists but he was never better than the Holy Trinity!

Without any compelling biographical information to bring Raymond down to Drake’s level, Sim exercises himself vigorously to make Raymond a sneaky bully who made Drake’s professional life a living hell!  GLAMOURPUSS in its’ early issues celebrated Raymond’s artistic achievements in the final two years of his RIP KIRBY strip, now Sim is ripping apart Raymond’s “bad” behavior the day of the fatal car accident in 1956 because, because, because, because… what?

Because even though Drake was a notorious raconteur and an admitted user of “ghosts” on his JONES strip, he shared with Sim an inescapable weakness for teenage girls and Sim cannot bring himself to find Drake guilty of anything substantive beyond that!  Drake must be innocent of any crime concerning that 1956 car crash, further, Raymond must have intended for Drake to have died that day, and only bad luck prevented Drake from being killed by a jealous rival behind the wheel!

Sim is committed to making Raymond the villain and finding Drake blameless, but even the respective comic strips fail to support his premise!

At this point in JONES, Drake was basically manipulating head shots and keeping the details of this sleepy community in Connecticut correct, which is all the strip required, but it was by no means a display of artistic virtuosity!  Compared to Raymond in RIP KIRBY, who in the final 9 stories:
Found a way to depict the smoldering remains of a destroyed house in STARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL
Took us to the royal intrigues on exotic Mythania to rescue an infant in TWO MEN AND A BABY
Created an excellent femme fatale in THE EYES OF KISMET KILDARE
Delivered a female lion tamer from a traveling circus in CARNO’S CARNIVORES
Showed Rip’s piano playing prowess to “cool cat” advantage in HEP TO THE JIVE
Gave us an adorable tiny dancer and a robust Barbershop Quartet in THE LAUGH’S ON GIGGLES
Depicted an enchanting sailorwoman reluctant to claim her inheritance in BRAIN VS. BRAWN
Had the malicious Mangler impersonate a devoted daughter’s compromised father in DOUBLE ON DIAMONDS
And for his final story uncovering a swindler who was peddling a false Fountain of Youth in ZERO TOLERANCE!
Raymond was driving on all cylinders in these stories, creating scenarios with high style, introducing memorable characters with flair, finding razor sharp new ways to bring oxygen to the air and flames to the frame!
Sim drew a number of panels from these above stories in the early issues of GLAMOURPUSS, as well as the story that Drake worked on in JONES just before the accident of 1956, so he knows that Raymond was working at an entirely different level than was Drake at this period!  Drake was doing donuts in the desert, while Raymond was flying to the moon!  Sim desperately wants Raymond and Drake to be equally excellent at the time of this 1956, but it simply wasn’t so, Sim!
Sim completely lost his objectivity at GLAMOURPUSS #10, when he conflated Drake’s (unproven) romance with teenaged Sara Jane with his own admitted seduction of a 15 year old when he was a ripe 29 years old!  Sim is hell-bent for leather to prove that Drake was a victim of an unyielding society (represented by Raymond) that frowns upon the appetites of a healthy man who just can’t say “no” to a pretty young thing!
I’m sorry Sim: in my country you committed statutory rape, though maybe not in your native Canada!  What were you thinking?  Bad boy, Sim, what’cha gonna do?
GLAMOURPUSS has published its last issue, so we may never know what layers are left in Dave Sim’s meta-argument against Alex Raymond and for Stan Drake, but this bumpy ride drove me to better appreciate what Raymond accomplished with RIP KIRBY!  I am grateful for that and wish Dave Sim all the best!  Aloha!
The End!

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