Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Fear of the Domestic - Three Short Stories from Charlton's Just Married

I’m excited to share with you today, three one-page sequential stories about marital fears that appeared in Charlton’s Just Married #39 (December 1964).* Whereas DC and Marvel published romance stories that were more general, Charlton, with titles such as Just Married and Career Girl Romances, published stories thematized around issues like marriage and careers. These three stories are Charlton's interpretations of what a new bride could possibly expect in her new union in terms of cooking, quarrels, and pregnancy. It also could potentially be construed as a subtle message that brunettes aren't very good at domestic life! Though these stories seem outdated to us as modern readers, I love these because they show what would have been typically expected of a young woman, and the fears associated with her new role as a Mrs. I find the last one especially haunting -- pretty serious stuff for a romance comic!

Click to enlarge!

"Try, Try Again"

"First Quarrel"

"Three's a Family"

*One of the issues that you, my fine readers, helped me purchase with your generous donations back in the fall. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Popular Romance Project

Image: “I Was a Girl Who’d Stop at Nothing” from My Love #17 (May 1972), written by Stan Lee and illustrated by George Tuska (cover art by Alan Weiss).

Hi all! Just want to let you know that I did a guest post on unhappy romance comic book endings over at the Popular Romance Project today! If you are interested in romance in popular culture as a whole, this is the site for you. My post, Unhappily Ever After, can be found here. Please have a look, and feel free to leave a comment!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Loving is Believing - Jealousy in "Free to Love"

Hello there! How are you all doing? I had wanted to post this earlier, but a string of technical difficulties prevented me. Anyhow! As we say goodbye to March and hello to April, let's look at one last story for Women's History Month -- "Free to Love" from Young Love #99 (September 1972). This beautifully illustrated story (which looks to be courtesy of Tony DeZuniga, at least in part) shares a little bit in common with the last story I posted, which prompted some really interesting discussion . "Free to Love," like "Cry Like a Real Girl!" depicts the power of female friendship, and what happens when women work together, as opposed to against one another. However, I think you'll find this story (and the extra added bonus of the quiz that immediately followed) a much more productive representation of the Women's Movement. 

In this "true story," readers are introduced to Gail who is immediately depicted as "a jealous girl." When her friend Eileen comes to town, Gail is certain that upon meeting Eileen, her boyfriend Brent's affections for her are on a downward trajectory. Gail doesn't hesitate one bit to let Eileen know to keep her mitts off Brent.

When Brent takes the two girls out to the theatre and dancing afterward, Gail catapults further into a sour mood. By dancing with Eileen (in his eyes being friendly), Brent has embroiled himself in quite the uncomfortable situation with Gail.

After declaring that he doesn't want to be owned, Brent leaves Gail to stew.

 A few days after the fight, Gail asks Eileen to coffee. Anyone in their right mind knows that a conversation that begins with, "You haven't done anything wrong, not yet! But..." probably won't end well. Eileen socks it to Gail bluntly and instructs her to go to Brent and show him that she has learned to be understanding. But has she?

Nope! The next day when Brent shows up to talk, another fight ensues. By the end of it, Gail accuses Eileen of being vicious and calculating. Brent accuses Gail of making mountains out of molehills, and once again, expresses his need to not feel like he is owned. Needles to say, the two former lovers do not part on good terms.

A week later, Gail stumbles into a horrific scene -- Eileen and Brent hanging out in the park together. Though it seems to be platonic, Gail is beyond hurt. She realizes that she really has lost Brent. She then quits her job, gets a new one, and attempts to forget Brent by dating other guys. Not long after, Eileen drops by. Eileen insists that it isn't she who has hurt Gail, but Gail herself.

The two women then have a heart to heart and Eileen helps Gail realize that she is sorely lacking self-confidence, and in effect, has been led down the path of jealousy.

As a result of their conversation, Gail attempts to be less jealous when out with other men on future dates. One evening while out dancing, Gail bumps into Brent and his date. When alone, Gail sucks it up and wishes Brent the very best with his new lady and hurries off to "powder her nose" (AKA sob into a tree). Brent follows her and tells her she has changed. And clearly, if his kiss is any indicator, he is attracted to that change.

"You see, I knew the secret, then. 
Every grown-up girl knows it. Loving is Believing!
I'll never forget that in the years ahead!"

Following the sequentially illustrated story is the quiz, "Are you Jealous of Other Girls?" I haven't seen this tie-in between a story and a quiz before, so it is rather unique. Click to read in more detail, or take the quiz yourself! 

"Free to Love" is in essence, a cautionary tale. This story (and the ensuing quiz) is interesting because it takes an age old condition of romance -- jealousy, and uses it to sound off about the Women's Movement. "Free to Love" is most certainly a continuation of the recurring theme in 1960s and '70s romance comics that loudly and clearly instructed readers that jealousy would, without a doubt, kill a man's love. Though there is definitely a huge amount of truth to that, I can't help but think that this cautionary framework is somewhat a byproduct of men writing stories for women. What do you think? I'd love to hear! And hear your quiz results of course!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Stereotyping Women's Lib in the Romance Comics - Young Love's "Cry Like a Real Girl!"

Happy Women's History Month, everyone! March got away from me and here we are already more than halfway into it, but I couldn't let the month pass by without at least one post for Women's History Month. Today I have for you, "Cry Like a Real Girl!" from Young Love #108 (February/March 1974), penciled by the legendary Win Mortimer. This doozy of a story featuring Angie, a "liberated female," was on the newsstands precisely 40 years ago and isn't one that you'll soon forget. Since it's a short one and every panel packs an important punch when it comes to understanding the trick ending, the story is presented here in its entirety. Click on each page to read!

Alright, take a minute to digest that. You may want to read it more than once (I know I sure did). Ah yes, despite her convictions, Angie used the high school feminist club to outsmart and clinch Brad as her steady. But they were cool with that! I really haven't read much about the Women's Movement on high school campuses (most literature on the topic tends to lean toward college-aged groups), but this story certainly makes me want to research it more. The beautifully illustrated "Cry Like a Real Girl!" plays up on all the stereotypes that society at large had when it came to the "libbers," only to show that they would be the ones with the last laugh. What do you think? Condescending stereotypical pop culture drivel from a warped past, or ingenious storytelling and execution worthy of remaining in our collective conscious? 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Romance in Black and White - Romance Comic Stories Redrawn for Diversity

Swipes, reprints, and reinterpreted stories were not uncommon in the romance comics of the 1960s and '70s. Most often they were done to update hairstyles and adorn characters with more contemporary outfits to maintain relevancy with their primarily teen audience. However, there were a few stories that were redrawn, as well as recolored, to alter the race of the characters. Those such stories are a little more rare. Today I have an example of this from two stories, "Take Me Back!" and "Revenge!" that appeared in Young Romance #151 (December/January 1967) and Girls' Love Stories #170 (June 1972), respectively. The original pencils on the story were done by John Rosenberger.

This phenomena of redrawing and recoloring is extremely fascinating to me. When I thought about the why of it all and the reasons behind a comic book publisher doing this, I had a couple thoughts. First simply being that reprinting a story with the characters redrawn was probably a time saving, cost-effective way to repackage a story for a more modern audience. But then why not just change the hairstyles and outfits like usual? After thinking a bit more about it and coming across the Kerner Commission Report of 1968 (also known as the Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, which can be read here), a line in Chapter 15 (p. 18) stuck out at me. It advised media outlets to:

"Integrate Negroes and Negro activities into all aspects
of coverage and content,  including newspaper articles and
television programming. The news media must publish
newspapers and produce programs that recognize the existence
and activities of Negroes as a group within the community
and as a part of the larger community."

After reading this document, I believe it is very likely that the comic book publishers were affected by this report or at least had some knowledge of it. Of course it will take more research to actually prove (cue dreams of me digging diligently through the DC and Marvel archives -- adorned in white gloves, pencil in hand), but it certainly is a strong possibility.

The story is simple enough... boy falls out of love, girl wants revenge. But our focus here really isn't the plot per se, but the fact that it was redrawn to promote diversity. As you will see, almost all of the dialogue is the same, and the characters' names are even the same. The only major difference besides the race of the characters is the story title.

Don't forget to click on each image to see more detail!

As begins many a romance story, Terry has been cruelly and unceremoniously dumped by her boyfriend, Rich. Time passes and anger and loneliness consume her.

Terry decides that she will get her revenge. She doesn't know how quite yet, but she'll get it.

The answer comes to her in a dream that night -- a dream that recurs over and over for Terry. In the fantasy-like dream, Rich comes back, admits he is a fool, and proclaims his love for Terry. What says the distraught maiden? A declarative "Tough!"

Dreams are one thing, but sometimes reality can be far stranger. A few months later (revenge still a wish for Terry), she is out for lunch and just as her food arrives, so does Rich. The sad sack tells her he is sick. Sick in love... with her! It seems Terry's dream has come true, but how will she react?

As Rich begs Terry to take him back, she suddenly has a change of heart. No longer wanting to get revenge, Terry coolly declares that she no longer is in love with him.

As they walk out of the restaurant together, Terry tells Rich that she had dreamed of the moment when revenge was hers for the taking. She then goes on to tell him that she just couldn't do it when she remembered the hurt she felt when he broke her heart. Upon telling Rich that, he declares what a wonderful person she is, and asks Terry if she would like to be friends. 

And so friends the two become. One day while hanging out, they realize that they weren't even friends to begin with when they were dating. As a result of their friendship, the two seem to like one another more now that they are friends. Rich goes in for a kiss, and well, the rest is history.

Not the most Earth-shattering story on its own, but the fact that it was redrawn and recolored is what makes this tale memorable. For whatever reason DC decided to recolor this story, it does go to show that love and romance are truly universal. I still have more thinking and research to do when it comes to these rare redrawn and recolored stories, but as it stands, this is a fascinating slice of American history when it comes to the examination of race in popular culture.

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