Thursday, March 29, 2007

True Confessions of a Chauvinist Romance Reader

True Confession: I don’t know much about romance comics.

Like many comics readers I know the broad history of the genre – kickstarted by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon in the late 1940’s, peaked in sales by the mid-1950s, outsold superhero comics for a while, aimed at a female readership, declined in popularity until exhausted by the early 1980’s.

But for all that I confess I don’t really have a handle on the genre. My impression is of a conservative genre: “Cautionary morality tales told from the perspective of a female protagonist…illustrated the perils of female independence and celebrated the virtues of domesticity”, as Bradford W. Wright puts it in Comic Book Nation: The Transformation of Youth Culture in America, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001, p. 128.

But even that assessment begs many questions, such as Were they always aimed at a female readership? And if so, was it young girls as well as adults? How did they change over the decades? Were the 1970’s issues as substantially different from the 1950s issues as the psychedelic-inspired covers suggest they may have been? Were there pre-Code romance books to match the zest and outrageousness of the horror comics?

And, is it possible to read them now without the word “kitsch” forming in the mind’s eye?

I read them occasionally when I was young, and I’ve only read a few recently, but I must admit that based on the samples I’ve read I’m left with the impression they are dated curios largely of interest to cultural historians, or of nostalgic value. But I stress that’s based on a sample of what is probably just DC and Charlton material, and will be pleased to revise my opinion with further reading.

I guess I also have a chauvinistic approach to vintage romance comics – I’m more interested in seeing the rarely reprinted work of artists I like who worked in the genre rather than expecting to read them for general enjoyment. That’s not so odd for me. I feel the same way about westerns and war comics.

Having said that, they can nevertheless be appealing comics for their covers, even from a pop art perspective. Sometimes they’re just nice comics “to have and to hold” (sic).

Magic Moment Romances #3 is one such comic. Based on the identified contents and the date on one of the advertisements, it was published late 1957. K.G. Murray also published two digest-sized romance comics series, Twin Hearts and Heart to Heart Romance Library which began circa 1957-58. Magic Moment Romances was a long-running title, well into the late 1970’s/early 1980’s.

The contents of this issue appear to be wholly DC material – at least the ones I’ve identified via the GCD. I assume some of this material is by Arthur Peddy and Bernard Sachs, artists recognized for their romance comics in DC Comics: Sixty Years of the World’s Favorite Comic Book Heroes. This volume also informs me that the DC romance titles had a female editor, Zena Brody, whose stable also included Ruth Brandt, Phyllis Reed and Dororthy Woolfolk.

Is it possible the K.G. Murray romance comics were also handled by a different editorial team to the regular comics? The advertisements in this issue range from Flair magazine to Your Complete Wedding Guide magazine to pearls and slippons – not what one would find in a Superman comic! Maybe they were handled by a general magazine editor? More questions than answers…

To the contents:

Heartbreak Junction!
(Girls' Love Stories #45, January-February 1957)

Portrait of Love!
(Girls' Love Stories #45, January-February 1957)

Wondering Heart!
(Original unidentified, 8 pages)

Oddities in Romance
(Original unidentified, 1 page)

Stand-In for Love
(Original unidentified, 7 pages)

Beyond Love
(Falling In Love #12, August 1957)

Lost in Loneliness
(Original unidentified, 7 pages)

Lonely Lovesong
(Original unidentified, 8 pages)

Hello, Heartbreak!
(Secret Hearts #40, June-July 1957)

The Girl With the Lonely Heart!
(Original unidentified, 8 pages)

Linda and Larry
(Original unidentified, 1 page)

Love is Only a Dream
(Girls' Romances #46, September 1957)

I'll Care For You!
(Falling In Love #11, May-June 1957)

Two Loves Have I!
(Girls' Love Stories #48, August 1957)

Clash of Hearts!
(Girls' Love Stories #45, January-February 1957)

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