Monday, March 16, 2015

Women’s History Month – Libbers Say, Down with the Romance Comics!

The beauty (or perhaps aggravation) of research is the tendency for bits and pieces of information to reveal themselves slowly over time. There have been quite a few occasions when I've made a post, only to learn something significant later on that takes my understanding of a certain story or artist to another level. Today's post looks back at one such Marvel story that I've gathered a new piece of information on, and sheds a different light on the cultural climate surrounding the romance comics.

Remember this one?

Back in September of 2009 I ran the Marvel story, "No Man is My Master!" and a nice little discussion was had over the yarn. Just the other week, Sean Howe (author of Marvel Comics: The Untold Story) sent me a link for an underground newspaper on eBay, letting me know that there was something special in the publication that would probably be of interest to me. Naturally, it was of interest! Behold, the center spread of the January 15th - 21st, 1971 issue of the influential Californian underground newspaper, the Berkeley Barb

This find on Sean's part was quite fortuitous timing-wise, and I’m so thankful to him for sharing his find with me. Not only is it Women’s History Month and this historic document is incredibly relevant, a reader also made a generous donation, allowing me to make the purchase of the newspaper and add it to my collection.
It takes a few seconds to orient oneself to the spread, thick with age and lavender ink (from its creation on a spirit duplicator) to realize that the full story, “No Man is My Master" has been replicated in its entirety, complete with the following editorial message courtesy of the Liberation News Service

The sisters and brothers of Liberation News Service -- who felt the underground should know what Women's Liberation is up against -- had this to say about the accompanying comic art: "Comics are becoming increasingly more political. We're reprinting 'No Man Is My Master' not because it's so unusual but because it is a good example of what Marvel Comics is up to. Read on and let three men tell you what women's liberation is all about.

One of the things people who aren't familiar with romance comics are shocked to hear is the fact that the romances were in the majority, created by men (in this case, Stan Lee, John Buscema, and John Verpoorten). This spread in Berkeley Barb is a strong and definite push against the story of women being told by men at a time when the role of women in society was quickly changing. While I don’t have a definitive answer concerning if men can completely and accurately tell the experience of women (and vice-versa) I am reminded of something that Irene Vartanoff told me in her 2009 interview for Sequential Crush: "A truly excellent writer ought to be able to write from the perspective of either gender, any age, and any personality, race, national origin, or whatever." In that same interview, however, Irene went on to say,

I think it is part of feminism that we should not have our fantasies dictated to us or even related to us by men. It is important for women to learn what their fantasies are, rather than be told what they should be, or worse, what they should accept as a happy ending.

Irene's words, taken in context of the romance comics, ignite the imagination as to what the romance comics would have been like had they been primarily created by women instead of men. 

So what do you think? Were the romance comics successful depictions of the longings of womens' hearts? Or were they cheap stabs for monetary gain? Was this jab from the Liberation News Service via the Berkeley Barb warranted? I'd like to hear your reaction to all this! 

One other thing before we say goodbye! If you missed it -- last week, Women Write about Comics ran an interview with your truly! A fantastic site worth checking out, and I'm honored to have made a contribution. Check it out!

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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Romance Comics and Black History Month - Jack Kirby's Unpublished Soul Love

Cover of Soul Love #1 (Unpublished)
Image from Heritage Auctions

As Black History Month winds down, lets take a little look at one of the most interesting romance comics ever made; and consequently, not published -- Jack Kirby's Soul Love. Created for DC Comics in the early 1970s, Soul Love was conceptualized, written, and penciled by Jack Kirby, and inked by Vince Colletta and Tony DeZuniga. The origin of Soul Love stemmed from another Kirby story, "The Model" in an equally obscure and unpublished "romance" title, True Divorce Cases.*

"Fears of a Go-Go Girl" page two
Pencils: Jack Kirby, Inks: Vince Colletta
Soul Love #1 (Unpublished)
Image from Heritage Auctions

The stories in the unpublished Soul Love issue appear to have included (not necessarily in the intended order):

1.) "The Teacher"
2.) "Diary of the Disappointed Doll"
3.) "Dedicated Nurse"
4.) "Fears of a Go-Go Girl"
5.) "Old Fires"

Many of the pages are available for viewing over at Heritage's website. For the most part, they are pretty typical romance stories, albeit with a rather hefty dose of stereotypes. Though its hard to judge from the bits and pieces I've seen, "Diary of a Disappointed Doll" about a blooper of a blind date arranged by computer, is probably my favorite of the bunch.

"Diary of the Disappointed Doll"
Pencils: Jack Kirby, Inks: Tony DeZuniga
Soul Love #1 (Unpublished)
Image from Heritage Auctions

Despite having Kirby's name attached to the project, it went unpublished, and was panned for its awkward use of "hip" language and its Blaxploitation feel. While ultimately it is difficult to judge a work unfinished, Soul Love is no doubt an important aspect of the complete story of Jack Kirby, romance comics, and the portrayal of African Americans in popular culture. One can't help but wonder what this comic book would have looked like and the impact it might have had, had it gone to publication and perhaps, refined over time.

*See Jack Kirby Collector #56 (Spring 2011)

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Saturday, February 14, 2015

Happy Valentine's Day from Sequential Crush - Thoughts on Romance, Comics, and True Love

"One More Summer"
Pencils: Mike Sekowsky, Inks: Bernard Sachs
Secret Hearts #115 (October 1966)

Happy Valentine's Day! I know the day is nearing an end and evening has crept in, but I just wanted to drop in and say hello. I hope you enjoyed your day with your loved ones -- whether they be friends, family, or a significant other, and that more than anything, you felt the love today.

To tell you the truth, I've always had a really tough time conceptualizing Valentine's Day posts, and this year, the sixth Valentine's Day since I started Sequential Crush, is no exception. I always feel this immense pressure to do something a-m-a-z-i-n-g to commemorate the romantic holiday, and always feel like a let down. I don't know. Maybe I need a mentor who writes a Christmas blog and see how they structure their December 25th post! Seriously though, I felt so much anxiety over posting something earth-shattering for the holiday this year, that part of me was like, meh! Nevermind!

But, something made me change my mind. I started thinking about love and what it means to me in my own life. The past couple of weeks have been quite a bit more stressful than usual for yours truly. I'm in the middle of moving. As I write this, I am actually sitting in my old house, surrounded by the broom, mop, and other assorted cleaning supplies I'm supposed to be using right now. After enjoying my own little living and workspace for two years now, I'm moving to a house with my handsome, loving, generous, and supportive boyfriend. I feel awesome about this move and our future, but because of the move (which is a stressor I think many of you can identify with), coupled with unfulfilling day jobs, and never enough time together because we are working said jobs, I've been a little down. These are the stresses in life that make us lose focus on what's really important -- love.

The thing I love about romance comics is that they give me hope. Despite their beautiful hair, stunning clothes, and perfectly proportioned bodies (well, usually -- sometimes those Charlton comics can be a little iffy), the romance comic book characters are imperfect. Flawed men and women with neuroses, hangups, and vulnerabilities. Romance comics get a ton of flack for being unrealistic and outdated, but for the most part -- they are entertaining, and in many ways, comforting. Though many of the romance stories are problematic from a modern view when it comes to gender issues and diversity, overall, the romance comics of the '60s and '70s are full of identifiable situations, characters, and stories. Love is not perfect. Love is messy. Love is damn hard sometimes. But, as the romance comics so beautifully demonstrate with their breathtaking finale kisses, it is so undoubtedly worth it.

So tonight, if you are feeling low on hope, crack open a romance comic or flip through past posts here at Sequential Crush. I think you'll find that the stories will give you comfort that everything will end Happily Ever After.

Happy Valentine's Day!


Saturday, January 31, 2015

500 Posts + The Aquarius Woman Horoscope Page

"The Aquarius Woman"
Secret Hearts #150
(March 1971)

Hey everyone! I hope you are having a relaxing Saturday, and an excellent start to your weekend. If you are an Aquarius lady or if you know one, I think you'll really dig this DC horoscope page. It is especially fitting since the bulk of the comics we look at here on Sequential Crush are from the "Age of Aquarius!" I love these particular horoscope pages -- I have yet to dig them all up, but "The Gemini Woman" and "The Taurus Woman" are delightful as well. 

Today is a big day for the blog -- today's post is the 500th! I can hardly believe it. Though I'm more of a "slow blogger" these days, I am reminded of when I first started and thought to myself, "How long can I keep this up? Will I be able to make this last?" Well, here we are over six years and 500 posts later! I'm not quite where I want to be, but I feel like I'm getting closer every day. As always, thank you so much for stopping by, and I'd love to hear if you've had any favorite posts over the years! 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Throwback Thursday – Early Comic Book Memories

DC "Jam Poster"
Image from Heritage Auctions
Images from childhood can be hard to erase from the brain’s cache, especially when they are ones we remember providing us with intrigue and fuel for the imagination.

I've been thinking about the above image quite a lot lately. It is known as the DC “jam poster,” and was commissioned for The History of the DC Universe book in the late ‘80s. In it, many of the original artists depicted their own characters and signed their names at the bottom, including my grandfather. I never had the opportunity to see it, but a mural of it was even at the DC offices for years before it was replaced with an updated version. Over the past few months, I've been seeing the image pop up on my Facebook feed and in various articles, and it got me thinking -- was this the image that started my love affair with comic books?

Things are a bit hazy on this memory, but when I was about four years old, my grandparents received a copy of the poster. For whatever reason, it made its way over to our house. It was in a simple frame, and like many things in our home (a small house stuffed to the gills with five small children), it never quite made it up to a hanging position on the wall. But just because it wasn't displayed gallery-style is no indicator that it wasn't valued or loved.

Little me, one of my brothers,
and our maternal grandfather circa 1988.
I've asked some of my siblings if they remember the poster, and while they do, they don't really have any other memories of it besides it just being there. When I asked my oldest sister Shannon about the poster's place in the house, she remarked, “It's funny... I never felt like there was any sign of superhero stuff in my childhood at all. But I guess I just didn't really notice. Or it just blended in.”

I, on the other hand, will never forget its presence in our home and the impact it had on me.

Like I said before, perhaps this image is where my love of comic books started. I don't recollect doing it, but somehow, the framed poster would make its way down to the floor, just around the corner from the dining room table and next to the radiator. I would lie on my tummy (just as I would often do with my treasured Zoobooks), and for what seemed like hours, would go over the characters that were splayed out in front of me. I knew some of their names, especially Green Lantern, and Hawkman (who I was pretty sure was going to be my boyfriend someday), but others, I think I just made up. I remember being so filled with wonder at this poster. How could there be so many of these superheroes, and where did these people find such a big piece of paper to draw all of them on?!

When I started seeing the image of the poster online recently, I told my boyfriend, James, about my memories of it. He, knowing the way to this comic book-loving girl’s heart, found a copy for me as a gift. I'm looking forward to eventually getting it framed and up on our wall so I can soak it in for many years to come.

If this isn't where my love of comic books started, it is at least one of the first objects I encountered in my childhood that set me on the path to enjoying the various art styles by these dynamic artists. If you look closely at the signatures at the bottom of the poster, you'll see many of the artists who in addition to their better-known superhero work, contributed to the romance genre that we love so dearly here at Sequential Crush including Jack Kirby, Gene Colan, Gray Morrow, Joe Orlando, Kurt Schaffenberger, Joe Staton, Jim Steranko, Dick Giordano, Murphy Anderson, and my grandfather, Mart Nodell.

There isn't much to this story, just a small memory that I wanted to share with you all. As always, thank you so much for reading.

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