Today would have been the 90th birthday of writer Arnold Drake, who was born on March 1, 1924. Drake, with co-writer Leslie Waller and artist Matt Baker, created It Rhymes With Lust, a noir “picture novel” released in 1950 by St. John Publications. Some historians consider it to be the first American graphic novel. Long out of print, It Rhymes With Lust was finally republished by Dark Horse in 2007.
Drake was a prolific writer in the comic book field, penning numerous scripts at DC Comics from the mid-1950s through the late-1960s. Probably the most significant of Drake’s contributions to the DC universe was co-creating the bizarre, offbeat cult classic the Doom Patrol with Bob Haney and Bruno Premiani. The Doom Patrol made their debut in My Greatest Adventure #80 (June 1963), a sci-fi anthology series. Drake and Haney co-wrote the DP’s first two stories, after which Drake took over as the sole writer, paired with artist Premiani. The characters became quite popular, and My Greatest Adventure was officially re-titled The Doom Patrol with issue #86. The series lasted until issue #121, published in 1968.
Drake deliberately set out to make the members of the Doom Patrol the antithesis of the clean-cut, conventional superheroes DC was publishing. Drake witnessed the early success that Marvel was already experiencing through the formula of “heroes with problems.” With Haney and Premiani, he conceived a group of characters who were regarded by so-called normal society as “freaks.”
Cliff Steele, aka Robotman, had his human body completely destroyed in a race car accident, and his still living brain was transplanted into a clunky metal form. Larry Trainor, aka Negative Man, had his form co-habited by a bizarre energy being which he could control, but which also resulted in him becoming highly radioactive, necessitating he be wrapped up in specially-treated bandages, looking much like a mummy. Rita Farr, aka Elasti-Girl, was exposed to strange volcanic gasses, which enabled her to dramatically grow or shrink in size. Although Rita remained an attractive woman, her new abilities also attracted considerable attention & publicity, and she was not happy with her notoriety. Bringing the group together was Niles Calder, aka The Chief, a wheelchair-bound scientific genius.
(Keep in mind that The Doom Patrol predates X-Men by a few months, and to this day a hotly debated question is whether this was an amazing piece of synchronicity, or if Marvel “borrowed” the concept of Drake’s series.)
The Italian-born Premiani had an understandably European style to his artwork, which was definitely of a very high quality. I think that this helped to further distinguish The Doom Patrol from much of DC’s other output at the time. As Drake himself would comment to Premiani, “You draw with an Italian pen.” Certainly Premiani did a wonderful job rendering the beautiful Elasti-Girl, giving her a look Drake described “as quite European-Mediterranean.”
Drake and Premiani also created a bizarre rogues gallery for the DP. The centuries old General Immortus sought to maintain his longevity, regain his youth, and conquer the world. The Brotherhood of Evil was made up of the disembodied Brain, the French-speaking machine gun wielding gorilla Monsieur Mallah, and the shape shifting Madame Rouge. Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man, as his name implies, could transform into weird, gigantic combinations of animals, plants, and rocks.
Later on, in The Doom Patrol #99 (November 1965), the hotheaded green shape-changing teenager Beast Boy was introduced by Drake and artist Bob Brown. Years later Beast Boy (sometimes also known as Changeling) would become a member of Wolfman & Perez’s ultra-popular New Teen Titans. I actually acquired a rather beat-up copy of DP #99 at a comic show in Westchester back in the mid-1990s for a whopping nine bucks. That was a cool find. I still have that one floating around somewhere.
Also at DC, Drake co-created supernatural hero Deadman with artist Carmine Infantino, and the horror comedy feature Stanley and His Monster with Winslow Mortiner.
After a dispute with DC over better pay rates & benefits in 1968, Drake left that company and headed over to Marvel Comics. During his brief time there, he worked on several series, including (ironically enough) X-Men, where he introduced Cyclops’ brother Alex Summers, who was shortly after turned into the superhero Havok by Roy Thomas & Neal Adams. Drake, paired with artist Gene Colan, created the original Guardians of the Galaxy, who made their debut in Marvel Super-Heroes #18 (January 1969).
Drake penned numerous stories while at Gold Key in the 1970s. He was a regular contributor to mystery / horror titles such as Boris Karloff’s Tales of Mystery, The Twilight Zone, and Dark Shadows. Having previously penned numerous humor comic books at DC, the versatile Drake also had a lengthy run writing Little Lulu for Gold Key.
One of Drake’s last comic book stories for many years was “G.I. Samurai,” which was published by DC in G.I. Combat #276 (April 1985). I actually have vivid memories of reading this story when I was nine years old. Drake told the story of Mike Mabuchi, a Japanese-American soldier struggling to find acceptance among his comrades while fighting in World War II on the European Front. It was a very thoughtful piece of writing by Drake about the bigotry which was sometimes present on the American side of the conflict.
After an 18 year absence from the biz, Drake collaborated with Argentine artist Luis Dominguez on “Tripping Out,” a 13 page story that appeared in the January 2003 edition of Heavy Metal. Dominguez had previously created a number of beautiful cover paintings at Gold Key in the 1970s (I’m not sure if Drake and Dominguez worked together during this time, since Gold Key sometimes wasn’t good at supplying detailed credits). Dominguez also painted a recreation of the cover artwork for My Greatest Adventure #80. This fantastic piece was featured as the cover of Alter Ego #17, published by TwoMorrows in September 2002, which featured an in-depth interview with Drake conducted by Marc Svensson.
Arnold Drake passed away on March 12, 2007, at the age of 83. I was very fortunate to have met him on a couple of occasions prior to this, at NYC conventions in the early 2000s. He autographed my copies of The Doom Patrol Archives Volume 1 and Alter Ego #17. The second time I met Drake, I was able to have a very pleasant chat with him that must have lasted at least 15 minutes. He immediately impressed me as a sharp, intelligent, insightful man.
Drake really was one of those creators who saw the vast potentials of comic books, who wanted to see stories of a diverse selection of genres published in a variety of formats, such as graphic novels. I definitely regard him as being ahead of his time. He was involved in the creation of several wonderful, unusual series & concepts, and he helped to lay the groundwork for succeeding writers who sought to push the boundaries of the medium.