The World’s Strangest Writer: A Tribute to Arnold Drake
The Bill Finger Award for Excellence in Comic Book Writing is an annual award given to two comic book writers — one living and one deceased — who are judged not to have received their rightful recognition, and when it was established in 2005, the inaugural award for living writer was given to Arnold Drake. Despite this official acknowledgment of his achievement in writing, you may still not recognize his name. But I guarantee, whether through comics, the small screen, or the big screen, you know the characters he created: the Doom Patrol, Deadman, Havok, Polaris, Beast Boy, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and more.
Arnold Drake was born on this day in 1924 in New York City, the third child of a Manhattan furniture dealer. His two elder brothers, Ervin and Milton, would go on to become notable songwriters (if you are a fan of American standards). At the age of 12, young Arnold would contract scarlet fever, and, spending a week in bed with nothing else to do, began drawing his own comic strips on pads of paper given to him by his mother. He realized he was more interested in writing than drawing, as with each successive strip, the figure drawings got smaller and the word balloons got larger.
After studying journalism at the University of Missouri and NYU, Drake was picking up writing assignments wherever he could get them. But even in doing this, he made history by collaborating on what is recognized as one of the earliest graphic novels, It Rhymes With Lust, a digest-sized comic magazine co-written with Leslie Waller (under the pseudonym Drake Waller) with art by Matt Baker.
At some time around this point, Drake learned that his brother was neighbors with Bob Kane, the credited co-creator of Batman. Kane would introduce Drake to editors at DC, which began years of work for Drake across a wide variety of titles.
Drake would cut a wide swath across genres: adventure features in Showcase, science fiction in World’s Finest and Tales of the Unexpected, horror in House of Mystery, and a large number of humor books, some funny animal features like The Fox and the Crow, but perhaps more notably, licensed celebrity books like The Adventures of Jerry Lewis and The Adventures of Bob Hope, for which he introduced cult character and favorite of the comics blogosphere, Super-Hip.
But it would be after being given a rush assignment to create a new feature for the anthology series My Greatest Adventure over the course of a weekend that Drake would devise perhaps his greatest creation: the Doom Patrol. Together with artist Bruno Premiani, Drake created the ultimate team of outcasts and misfits that make even the X-Men look like regular Joes. (Bob Haney is often credited with the co-creation of the team, but I suspect his contribution was more or less limited to a script assist due to the deadline crunch.)
While the Doom Patrol — touted on its covers as “The World’s Strangest Heroes!” — is variously compared to rival publisher Marvel’s Fantastic Four or the X-Men, which debuted at nearly the same time, Drake and Premiani managed to combine some of the best elements of those premises — the bickering family dynamic of the FF, the protection of a society in which they would never be allowed to take part — and somehow manages to make them even weirder, in an absolutely delightful, brilliant way. Say what you will about the X-Men, but they never fought the Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man, the Mutant Trio, or Monsieur Mallah, the best gorilla in a medium packed to the gills with rad gorillas.
His tenure at DC would also see him introduce beloved characters such as Beast Boy (who originated on the Doom Patrol, with artist Bob Brown, before moving to the Teen Titans later) and Deadman, created with Carmine Infantino. In some of his humor work, he also introduced Stanley and His Monster, a feature about a young boy and his pet monster, which presaged Bill Watterson‘s Calvin and Hobbes by some twenty years, but which today is probably best known for its surprise inclusion in Kevin Smith‘s inaugural Green Arrow story.
However, when the final issue of Doom Patrol appeared, it featured in-panel appearances by artist Bruno Premiani and editor Henry Boltinoff, but no sign of Arnold Drake. The official reason for his omission is that he was moving over to work at Marvel, but historian Mark Evanier suspects that Drake’s vocal support for better pay and benefits for freelance creators might have played a role as well.
While Drake wouldn’t have as sustained a run on any Marvel title as he did on Doom Patrol, his impact there can still be felt: while working on X-Men, he introduced major characters Havok and Polaris, as well as oddball favorite villains such as Mesmero, Erik the Red, and the Living Monolith. Also in 1969, together with artist Gene Colan, he created a team you might have heard of called the Guardians of the Galaxy. While not the version of the team seen in the movies today, plenty of concepts from that original team have crossed over into the modern, Hollywood version.
Drake would go on to write a number of comics at Gold Key, including a notable run on Little Lulu, as well as contributing more stories to DC, the humor magazine Sick, comics magazine Heavy Metal, and writing scripts and music for movies and musicals. He would pass away of pneumonia in 2007, less than two years after being the first living recipient of the Bill Finger Award.
So the next time you see Yondu in Guardians of the Galaxy, or Deadman on Batman: The Brave and the Bold, or Havok in X-Men: First Class, or a really unsettling piece of Beast Boy fan art on Google Image Search, take a moment to appreciate the man who made it possible. Happy birthday, Mr. Drake.