Friday, February 27, 2009

The Heart of Juliet Jones

Stan Drake's The Heart of Juliet Jones, Dailies- Vol. 1, March 9, 1953 to August 13, 1955 This collection published by Classic Comics Press has an introduction by Leonard Starr, one of Drake's contemporaries. Legend tells the story of Elliot Caplin, the brother of Al Capp of L'il Abner fame, who was in a conversation with King Features and Comics editor Sylvan Byck, insisting he had the perfect artist for a strip. Sylvan declared he had the right one. Ironically, both were talking about the same Stan Drake. And so the comic strip emerged.

The early years of Juliet Jones reflects the values and economic situation of a family living in the 1950's, but also the timelessness of a dramatic, credible, complex storyline that still appeals to a contemporary audience. As a woman in the twenty-first century, I can identify with Juliet because I think she has qualities I would like to have. She's honest, perceptive, a quiet leader, kind and accepting. She takes on responsibilities and exudes confidence as an independent woman.

Male heroes in comics continue to be popular with males. I personally think there is a need to develop more intelligent, pro-active female leads in literature, film, comic strips, and comic books. Juliet, her sister Eve and father Howard face many conflicts and dilemmas. The mother is absent from the storyline. Juliet takes on the role of caretaker for her family. Howard is the dutiful father, wanting to provide financially for his two daughters. When he runs into trouble in his entrepreneurial business, Juliet steps in to help him.

Juliet is a hard worker with insight into others' motives and protects her family. She is steadfast, principled, calm and mature in contrast to Eve, her flamboyant, emotional sibling. Early in the strip, I feel Eve's antics, love interests, and attitude overshadow the quiet, conservative personality of Juliet. Her youthful exuberance is fresh. Eve becomes more responsible as the strip evolves, going to college and getting a job. Later in the strip, Juliet becomes mayor of the town which is a credible storyline based on her conscientiousness, ethics, intelligence and diplomacy.

Stan Drake was born in Brooklyn in 1921. He studied at the Art Students League under George Bridgman. His artistic career began in advertising. He sought to make his female characters ideal and attractive. His expertise in drawing didn't develop overnight. He owned one of the first Polaroid cameras, studied photographs and drew from them to improve his craft. His art is polished and loose without stiffness or awkward poses. Variation of line weight makes each panel resonate with life and movement. Facial expressions reflect the emotions of the characters quite well.

At its peak, Juliet Jones was published in 600 newspapers. In 1989, Frank Bolle took over from Stan Drake until the strip ended on January 1, 2001. The right blend of characterization, plot and artistic merit makes Juliet Jones a joy to read. Classic Comics Press

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