Tuesday, May 26, 2015

On Setting a Love Free - An Update

I know you've heard that old adage, “if you love something, set it free” probably more than once -- and with good reason. It tends to be true. For so many romance comic book characters, setting a loved one free (for whatever reason) is the best thing they ever did, and most of the time, brings them closer to their true path. I am writing this today because I have set something free in my own life, and I want to tell you about it.

Things have been tough. Really tough, actually; mostly courtesy of “career” stuff, AKA the Day Job. As many of you know, I was trained in museum studies. I was fortunate enough to work in the field for many years at some amazing institutions, but since moving to Nashville, I've been unable to find employment in a museum. After two years of volunteering, networking, meetings, interviews, an intense amount of gumption, and doing everything I could to find a museum job here, it has become clear that it is not in the cards. Frankly, I give up. Now, I don't usually encourage people to give up on things, but sometimes, it can be the best course of action. Allow me to explain.

Giving up hope of working in a museum as a day job (at least right now) has been a recent development. Perhaps not surprisingly, the moment I did give up that hope and expectation for myself, I suddenly felt free. Free to focus on the REAL work that is my life’s mission and passion -- comic books! Now, I still need to find a day job that is at least a little less soul crushing than my current one, but in the meantime, I'm going to try to make the best out of everyday and remember that all those years of museum work prepared me to curate and share my love of comic books and history.

Museums are just one of my loves.

I'm telling you all this because you and I, dear readers, go way back! Plus, I have so many creative friends out there, and I know I always find it helpful to read about their struggles and how they've overcome them to do awesome things. I also want to take this opportunity to segue into telling y'all more about the book I've been working on for a while now. 

About two years ago, I began writing a book pitch for a manuscript on a complete history of the 1960s and '70s romance comics. I intended it to be glorious and wonderful, and naturally, so good that no publisher could pass it up. And while I do think it was quite good and I did my very best to make it a stellar document, it straddled the line between too academic and the voice I use here at Sequential Crush. I sent it to a few agents and though not typically advised, directly to a few publishers. I actually got some really great feedback, so not all was lost, but ultimately, no one was interested. After not getting any bites, I retooled the book idea, and decided to really narrow in on one component of the romance comics… the advice columns! It will be a smaller, illustrated book that will cover the wisdom of the romance comics, and show that though some of the advice is dated, much of it is timeless. I still have every intention of writing the larger book in the future, because I believe a complete history of the 1960s and 1970s is vital to the preservation of the genre.

As for the advice book -- I don't have a final title for it yet, but I am done writing the first draft and am in the editing process. Once the writing is polished, I will begin working on the design aspect of the book. I plan on doing a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to help fund the illustrator/designer, as well as help with printing costs since I will be self-publishing. I hope that when that day comes, you might consider donating a little somethin’ somethin’!

I am so looking forward to finishing this book. Not only will it feel great to complete a large project, I feel like this book is just the start and will help get the ball rolling on all the other book projects and ideas I have up my sleeve. In the meantime, I'm excited about my decision to let go of the expectation for myself to have a day job in a museum, and all the emotional exhaustion that went with it. Maybe in the future that love will return, but for now, the comic books fully and completely have my heart.

Thank you all for sticking with me on this journey -- you are the best! I promise it will be worth it!

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Friday, May 15, 2015

Patsy and Hedy's Special Graduation Issue!


Graduation season is upon us! This evening I have for you a "don't dare miss it!!" story from Patsy and Hedy #95 (August 1964), celebrating the duo's graduation from high school. I often get requests for Patsy Walker stories and though they are not quite romance, I do collect a few of these and think they're fantastic. "Patsy's Graduation Day" by Stan Lee and Al Hartley (with what looks to be more than one inker) is a cute story of dashed expectations, and female friendship in the midst of disappointment. I'd like to dedicate this post to my little sister, Lisette, who not only just turned 18, but will be graduating from high school in a few weeks! Go Lisette! For anyone graduating this year, please accept my most sincere congratulations on your huge step in the path of life! Now, on to the story...

Patsy and her friends are excited! It is nearly graduation day and for Patsy and the gang, it means an entry into the "romantic world of young adults!"


While dreaming of the future, Patsy talks with her mother about what's next. Her mom asks her if she's made up her mind as to what she wants to do after graduation, but Patsy lets her know she isn't in much of a hurry to decide and wants to treasure her last days of high school. Patsy also tells her mom that she is gunning for class valedictorian. Wisely, her mother warns her of getting her hopes up. In another house, Hedy Wolfe is certain that she will be selected as head of the class.


All that talk of the future puts Patsy in the mood to shop and before long, it's time for a fashion break! While at the boutique, "The Fashion Plate," Patsy bumps into friend Nan, and the two start trying on the latest designs (sent in by readers, as was customary for the Marvel teen humor books) in order to look their best at graduation.

Patsy finds a dress she adores, but unfortunately, it is out of her price-range at $150 (accounting for inflation, at the time of publication, that was the equivalent of about $1,135). Already downtrodden, Hedy strolls in and tells Patsy that if she isn't buying the dress, she will scoop it up for herself. Hedy winds up purchasing the dress. Patsy walks out of the store, dejected, but Nan and Buzz (who just sort of appeared out of nowhere) try to comfort Patsy. Buzz declares, "You, my ravishing redhead, are going to make me five dollars richer!" When Patsy and Nan inquire how, Buzz lets them know that he bet their classmate, Ron, $5 that Patsy would be chosen valedictorian over Hedy.

In a moment that is a little perplexing considering the top of the third page has Patsy telling her mother she expects to be declared valedictorian, Patsy goes home after running into Buzz and frets, "Gosh, I hadn't even thought about being chosen class valedictorian... But now, with Buzz counting on me -- it's become important!"

Patsy is hopeful about her chances however, because the quest for valedictorian is one that unlike everything else, Hedy can't purchase. Patsy decides that one way to ensure her success is to take a public speaking course. Another fashion moment ensues when Patsy goes to register for the class in her "new career-girl suit." Though motivated by competition, Patsy's hope for her after life after high school is commendable!


Meanwhile, Nan reflects on how glad she is that she isn't competing for class valedictorian and plans out how she'll spend her summer. Nan decides to go swim suit shopping. Upon leaving the store, Nan runs into her jolly friend, Tubs. The two discuss the quest for valedictorian, and how both Patsy and Hedy are eager to win the title. Hedy overhears the conversation and begins to panic.

Hedy decides she must launch a campaign to convince their teacher, Miss Bliss, that she should be chosen head of the class. After a dreamy montage of what Hedy thinks being chosen will grant her, Miss Bliss brings both Patsy and Hedy back to reality -- reminding them that they will not be elected valedictorian, but rather, chosen by merit.


Neither young woman is deterred by the revelation, and each feels that their grades will put them ahead. Nan feels badly for them both -- someone's feelings are going to get hurt.


The big day arrives when the valedictorian is announced. Patsy heads off to school, sure that she will be given top honors. Her little brother, Mickey is understandably put off by his sister's corniness.


When Patsy arrives at school, she feels all eyes on her. Thinking she most certainly has been chosen, she exhibits pity for a confused looking Nan.

As Patsy nears the posting, she sees Hedy. Judging from the shocked look on Ms. Wolfe's face, Patsy's enthusiasm continues to grow. Before Patsy rounds the corner to see the sign, Buzz attempts to stop her, but Patsy confidently tells Buzz he can congratulate her after. Ohhhhh boy. Not good. Not good at all. I think you can see where this is going... A dark horse has emerged -- Nan!

Patsy and Hedy come together, both shocked at the turn in events. Patsy realizes that in all the confusion they neglected to congratulate Nan. In a touching moment, Patsy and Hedy sincerely let Nan know how very proud they are of her. The night of graduation, Nan delivers a rousing speech thanking not only her parents and teachers, but Patsy and Hedy -- "two close chums whose standards have always been the highest!"

The story ends with the three friends even closer than they were before the whole valedictorian drama, and a hopeful editorial message at the bottom of the panel teases what's ahead for the three "kookiest, cutest, greatest gals in the whole wide world!"


I really like this story, even though it has some moments where motivation on behalf of Patsy and Hedy is slightly questionable. I like the message of female friendship at the end, and despite any cattiness throughout the story, the ladies are able to come together to give credit where credit is due. All in all, a cute story! I try not to collect too far outside the bounds of the romance comics to keep my collection manageable, but I may have to one day invest in the issues that follow this particular one. After this "Special Graduation Issue" until issue #108 (October 1966), the book would be subtitled "Career Girls" to reflect Patsy and Hedy's new status as working women.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Ginchy! Fab! Groovy! A Birthday Remembrance of Romance Comic Book Great - Win Mortimer

Holy cow it's May! How did that happen?! The year is certainly flying, but let's slow things down and take a moment to celebrate the birthday of one of the greatest romance artists ever -- Win Mortimer! Mortimer is hands down one of my personal favorite comic book artists of all time, and if you take a look at this cute "Cindy the Salesgirl!" story from Falling in Love #98 (April 1968) , I think you'll see why. I believe this to be the first appearance of shopgirl Cindy, and although I posted part of the story a few years ago, I wanted to post the whole thing today to really give you a good look at the genius that is Win Mortimer. Enjoy! 


In future installments, Cindy would continue to model outfits for her demanding customers -- always with a humorous, surprise ending. Not only were the fashions divine in the "Cindy the Salesgirl!" stories, they were a creative way in which to present to readers a fashion featurette in sequential form. I dig!!!

Does the "skimpy" outfit on page five look familiar?
Mad Men Image from Fashion Magazine 

Thank you Mortimer for everything! You and your work will not be forgotten anytime soon!

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Guardians of the Galaxy and Romance Comics' Common Thread - Interview with Steve Englehart!

Yesterday over at the Sequential Crush Facebook page and Twitter, I teased today's post with a picture of Chris Pratt. You may have asked yourself, what possibly could Chris Pratt, Star-Lord have in common with romance comics (besides the fact that he's an intergalactic hunk)?! The answer is -- this man:

Steve Englehart, c. mid-1970s

That's right, Steve Englehart! For those not familiar with Englehart, he is probably best known for his superhero work, such as Star-Lord, but he was also a contributor to the romance comics of both DC and Marvel in the 1970s as a writer and illustrator. Steve was kind enough to take time out of his schedule and answer some of my questions about his early days in comics.

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Most bios of your career start with your time at Marvel. However, you did some work for DC Comics first. How did you get involved with the romance comics? Those three “Do's & Dont's of Dating by Page Peterson" must have been some of your first pages in comics -- did you have a choice or were those pages assigned to you? When you then went to Marvel, were you assigned romance work because of your DC romance work?

When someone started in comics back then, you broke in doing little jobs in the non-superhero realm - getting your feet wet while being evaluated. I was assigned the one-pagers, in romance and "mystery," at DC, and the same genres at Marvel, where they didn't have one-pagers, so I got short stories (about 8 pages). I don't think the DC work had anything to do with the Marvel work; they were both seeing what I could do in the areas they used for such things. I liked doing Page Peterson, and I liked the short Marvels, and I would guess that DC, being stodgy, was still thinking about what I could do while Marvel was continuing to give me stories, and so my "career" went in that direction - which was good for me because I liked Marvel better than DC.

Young Romance #174 (September 1971)
Pencils by Steve Englehart

In “I Can’t Love Anyone!” you were able to capture the frustration that some young women felt when it came to sticking with traditional gender roles – this story very much seemed to “get” what the Women’s Movement was about. Do you remember anything in particular about this story and how it came to be? 

Well, I've always been interested in people - why they do what they do. That means all people, so I was paying attention to the women's movement, and when asked to write romance stories, I tried to draw upon whatever I knew about women of the time. Even then (early '70s), romance comics were somewhat of an anachronism, because of the women's movement, so I tried to write something that would work in the times we were in. (Semi-related: sometime around then, another Marvel writer told me "The only characters we can really write are white men," and my instinctive reaction was to say "No, a writer should be able to write anyone" - and I tried to do that - not only with romance, but with black characters, and so on). So I think I have a decent empathy and appreciation for people who don't look like me.


Tell us about “Anne Spencer.” What made you use that nom de plume? Did you feel using the name lent legitimacy to your voice as a writer of comic books intended for women? Were you going off your own romantic experiences or did you draw on the experiences of women in your life?

My sister's name is Anne, and she was dating a guy from Spencer, Indiana - et voila! I wasn't required to have a pseudonym to write romance stories, but since nobody knew who I was anyway, I figured a female name would be best. I guess it sounded more legit (assuming I could write credible women), but it was really just me exploring the options of this new field I was in. In the same vein, I certainly drew upon my experiences, and other people's, but mostly I was putting together what I hoped would be a good story. Without experiences, I obviously couldn't write romance, but I understood that my male experiences were different from female experiences, and I was trying to work with what I understood about the female experience - in the context of Marvel romance books. All of that came together for the final product.

As Told To Anne Spencer
AKA Steve Englehart

What was the general feeling among you and your colleagues at both Marvel and DC concerning the romance comics? Were they looked down upon (as far as being assigned to them), in comparison with the superhero titles? 

I think the general feeling, at the time, was - romance and Western books were legitimate magazines - they weren't looked down upon - but the superhero books were where the action was. Given a choice between romance/Western and a superhero, anyone would choose the superhero. If you didn't have that choice, then you put your energy into r/W, and I certainly didn't feel put upon for doing so. The problem, as I said before, was that women's lib was rendering romance books to the scrapbin of history, so their days were numbered. But while they still existed, they were "real" comics. (Another digression: before I became a pro, I was a fan…of comics. And comics didn't cost very much. So I collected romance books and Westerns and everything else alongside the superheroes. I was a big fan of the soap-opera era of Patsy Walker and Patsy & Hedy - and the soaps that DC got into at the same time. That's why, when I wrote my first superhero (The Beast), I brought Patsy into that realm. I knew Patsy, and I liked her.


You worked with some great folks during your time on the romance comics -- Jack Abel, John Romita, Stan Lee, and Holli Resnicoff to mention a few. Do you have any memories of working with them on the romance stories?

I remember that my pencils were still the product of a new artist, so I was damn glad to have someone like Johnny Romita ink things and show me how they should have looked. Ditto Jack Abel. They both worked primarily in the Marvel offices, and comics is a collegial business, or was at the time, so they, too, did their job with their full measure of professionalism, and in the process showed me what I could do better. Holli also worked in the Marvel offices, and we plotted the stories we did together, together. She became a good friend, and later, after I moved to California, she came out and visited. We partied a little around the Bay Area. She was a good person.

Our Love Story #15 (February 1972)
Pencils by Steve Englehart

Would you have liked to have kept working on the romance comics or were you ready to move on?

I have to confess, I preferred the superheroes, and progression up the ranks at Marvel meant moving on to superheroes, so I was happy to go there. But Patsy Walker in the Beast, and then again in The Avengers - and the Western heroes in The Avengers - shows, I think, that my affection for the non-superheroes was a real thing.


Though you never got to see Star-Lord on through to what you had originally envisioned (an ambitious series of planetary-themed issues with art by the likes of romance great Jay Scott Pike), do you feel that working on the romance comics influenced that concept or any of your other work in comics?

Yes, wouldn't doing a job with Pike have been great? And if I hadn't been a romance fan, I wouldn't have known who he was - a sound argument for finding quality work wherever it may be. So yes, when I envisioned a romance story on the planet Venus, I was very clear that he, or someone equally good, was who I'd get. As you say, that never panned out, but I can guarantee you I'd have written a good romance story for that issue. I think any comic I ever enjoyed helped shape what I did with comics, and if called upon to write romance, I'd have been fully ready.

Star-Lord's First Appearance
Marvel Preview #4
(January 1976)

What are you working on now? Do you go to any conventions? Please feel free to plug any current projects! 

I’d have to say I'm semi-retired now. :-) I still write, but my wife and I are also doing a lot of travelling, and one of our sons is getting married and the other's about to have his first kid, so I'm not writing full-time. I still enjoy it, and I'm putting together a novel (series?) I'm very happy with, but I'm not pushing to meet any deadline. As for cons, due to that travel bug I mentioned, I tend to accept cons overseas, but not too many in the States - it has to be someplace I haven't already been or have some other attraction besides the con. Nothing against cons, but I've done a lot of them by now. As for plugs, my Max August trilogy is still out there, and though the touchstones are politics and magick, Max and Pam, and Max's once-dead wife Val, are locked in a good romance triangle. :-)


Anything else you’d like to share with romance comic fans?

I'm glad to see that they exist. I'd hate to think I was alone.


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Steve Englehart Romance Comic Checklist

DC

Falling in Love #125 (August 1971) “Do's & Dont's of Dating by Page Peterson" (Pencils)

Young Romance #174 (September 1971) “Do's & Dont's of Dating by Page Peterson" (Pencils)

Young Romance #177 (December 1971) “Do's & Dont's of Dating by Page Peterson" (Pencils)


MARVEL

My Love #16 (March 1972) “Puppet on a String” (Pencils)

My Love #16 (March 1972) "Loyalty...or Love!" (co-writer with Holli Resnicoff)

My Love #19 (September 1972) “I Can't Love Anyone!" (Story -- as "Anne Spencer")

Our Love Story #15 (February 1972) “One Fleeting Moment” (Pencils)

Our Love Story #16 (April 1972) "As Good As Any Man!" (co-writer with Holli Resnicoff)

Our Love Story #18 (August 1972) “I Failed at Love!" (Story -- as "Anne Spencer")


For a full look at the range and depth of Englehart's work, be sure to check out his website!

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Thanks so much for reading!
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Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Ares & Aphrodite (Oni Press) - A Romance Comic Book for the Modern Age


Shameless plug time! Have you heard about Ares & Aphrodite: Love Wars, the new romance graphic novel from Oni Press? Written by Jamie S. Rich, illustrated by Megan Levens, and featuring an afterword by yours truly, you aren't going to want to miss this modern romance comic. It's sweet, its funny, the characters are beautifully written and illustrated, and it will leave you craving more romance!

It'll be in stores next week on April 15th, but you can pre-order through Amazon (Kindle and paperback) right here. Only the trade version has my afterword, but you can also pick up the single issues on ComiXology if that's your preferred reading method!

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Will Ares, a successful divorce lawyer, finds himself working alongside Gigi Averelle, a wedding planner, when their respective clients-movie producer Evans Beatty and Hollywood starlet Carrie Cartwright - plan to marry. As Beatty’s ex-wives come out of the woodwork to cause mayhem, Gigi and Will make a bet - Gigi agrees to go on a date with Will if Evans and Carrie really do go through with the wedding. Should they break up, however, Will must reveal, in a full-page newspaper ad, how many marriages he’s ruined. Is Will a fool for love, or is this the start of a beautiful relationship?


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If you pick it up, please be sure to report back! I'd love to hear your thoughts on the story! As always, thank you for all your support!