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I love the Golden Age of comics.
Offshoots of the pulps that never quite got big.
You name it, I probably love it. I grew up in a household that was always nerdy but in different ways.
My parents are old. My dad was born in 1939 and my mom in 1948. For some reason, despite all the odds, they ended up together in 1990 and then like 9 months later I popped out.
They weren’t interested in whatever was new on television (except for the soap operas), but made sure that I had access to stuff that they liked as well as stuff that was slightly more age appropriate.
Instead of growing up with Star Wars and Star Trek, I grew up with soap operas. I grew up with the 1960s Batman show. I grew up able to hold my own in discussions on Westerns. And of course, there were the comics.
The comics were my mom’s fault (but my dad was a huge fan of the Flash and original Green Lantern). She grew up on a different island than my dad did and spent her teen and young adult years in New York living a very interesting life. Her experience was relatively less focused on religion and so she got into the post-code horror comics like it was her job. She passed that love of romance and horror comics down to me and I’m definitely going to be blaming her for my fascination with them.
With titles like Real Love, True Tales of Romance, and Young Brides these books were basically a one-stop shop for a very specific kind of ideal. These stories tended to focus on young women who were in the prime of their lives (according to comic publishers) and who were having some sort of trouble in love. If you were looking for stories about white women who fail at communicating with their significant others, look no further than the golden age of romance comics.
So why do I love these books so much?
Well, they’re kind of ridiculous and they really do hinge on people not communicating with one another. I’m terrible at communication and I think that I’d do a better job in a relationship than some of the women in these books.
After a couple dozen issues from different series, it’s hard to take romance comics seriously anymore.
I could get grouchy about the plots or the lack of positive female friendships or you know… the fact that Negro Romance was a separate book and there were few non-racist depictions of characters of color in mainstream comics as a whole, and sometimes I actually do.
However for the most part, the golden age of romance comics provides us with a really over the top look at what (mostly male) comic book creators thought that women looked like, acted like, and thought like.
How can I do anything but laugh at these over the top storylines where every sister is out to steal our main character’s man? Or where a guy decides, out of nowhere mind you, that he’s going to marry the main character and her opinion doesn’t matter? Or how about the ones where the main character’s boss falls in love with her – only for her sister/cousin/roommate to interfere and try and steal him away?
Like the crime and horror comics of the same era, these romance comics play on expectations that people have on one another. They’re morality tales and less sensational versions of the stories that you might have found in pulps like Spicy Detective Stories or Saucy Stories.
There’s a focus on drama that borders the unimaginable. No one is faithful at first glance. No one communicates. Everyone makes bad decisions based on pretty faces. But there’s always a happy ending (for some definition of happiness).
I love it!
These books are funny because they’re so old-fashioned but they’re also a really good primary recourse for anyone studying early 20th century pop culture. My inner historian basically can’t get enough of them. My favorite thrift store finds are these old comics because they’re both fun to read and functional in my nerdy studies.
Before I end this post, I’d like to share some of my favorite of these ridiculous romance comics and romance stories that are now in the public domain because it’s fun to share the wealth. So let’s start:
First, there’s “Menace to our Marriage” in October 1949’s All Romances #2. It’s the story of a young woman that invites an old friend to stay with her and her husband and what happens when that friend decides to take a little more than what’s offered. The plot (best friend betrayal and a husband that’s kind of a jerk) is a staple in the genre, but the art in this book is better than average.
Next we have “Whispered About” in April 1949’s Real Love #25. The art’s a bit weird but it works for this plot about a young woman who is mistaken for her celebrity father’s girlfriend in the newspapers. In this same issue, you can also check out “Dangerous Dates” about a young woman who lets her roommate talk her into going on dates for money (and the predictable poor end).
If you’re invested in the implausible, then there’s “Bosco Plays Matchmaker” from February 1960’s Confessions of the Lovelorn. There’s matchmaking bear in a zoo. I mean… You really need to see it to believe it. Unfortunately, while this comic should be in the public domain the only place I’ve been able to find it is in in IDW’s Weird Love #2.
And then we have “Gangster’s Girl” from February 1954’s First Love Illustrated #37. Seriously, with the amount of young women who wound up hooking up with gangsters in these comics, you’d think we had an epidemic of smooth talking young criminals swarming all over the 1950s.
Lastly, we get an honorable mention to a story that showed up in Marvel’s June 1970 issue of Our Love Story #5. I can only find it on Marvel Unlimited (so check it out if you have a subscription), but the issue has art by Jim Steranko and John Romita to say nothing of the fact that Stan Lee himself was on the writing. It’s almost enough to make me consider spending money I don’t have on a subscription just to read it. This comic isn’t just notable for the art, but for the fact that it’s one of the few romance comics to have Black main characters and positive relationships between them.
Have you read any romance comics in your travels through comics, fellow fans? What are some of your favorites? And seriously, how weird is that one story with the bear?