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.

29 comments:

  1. You can really see how much of an effect the colorist had in the mood and feel of the panels with these examples. Usually I think of colorists as just filling in the spaces between lines without much thought but the contrast here really shows what a difference only a little color change can make (no pun intended).

    The scene where the girl is looking out her window for one. In the left panel the view through the window is all washed out blue tones as though watching through a rainy night but the right panel shows the bright yellow of the man's car and the pattern of his suit as if to say; this guy has got some style.

    Great post :)

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    1. Page four (the dream sequence page) is interesting for me since the colorist on the '70s version decided against the dreamy orange and pink used in the earlier version. I wonder why? It does go to show that the colorist has a lot of influence on the look and feel of a story.

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  2. This kind of re-coloring has happened in Archie comics too, as red-headed Cheryl Blossom became brunette Maria Rodriguez.

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  3. Really enjoyed this post. Have to hunt down these issues.

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  4. It was mighty progressive of the Kerner Commision of 1968 to recognize the existence and activities of black people!
    I'm sure the black community in America appreciated it!
    If only we had that kind of now, forward thinking in Congress today!

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    1. You've really lost all connection with reality, haven't you?

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  5. Interesting. Yes,I bet you'd hate digging through those archives, poor thing (I remember Michael Fleisher saying the best part of writing The Batman Encyclopedia in the 1970s was having to read 30 years of Batman, Detective and WF and count it as work).

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  6. Actually kind of an interesting story on its own, as it shows two people basically growing, i.e., they rekindle a more mature love for each other based on mutual respect.
    But the whole alteration of race aspect makes it absolutely fascinating. Let us know if you find any more examples of this in the romance comics, Jacque.

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    1. When you point it out, Edo, it is an interesting story. And one that I don't think I have seen that often in the romance comics.

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    2. I absolutely loved this. While some...ok many stories are so...unrealistic. This one really seemed mature and reasonable

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  7. What a great post. True "comic book historian" research and depth. Let me read it over again!

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    1. Thank you, Mykal! Definitely the feeling I was going for :)

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  8. This post makes me wanna Photoshop afros onto all my old photos to see if it improves my love life in the past... Thankfully, the Editors did not change the dialog to slang/ebonics or some other derogatory pseudo-hip lingo.

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    1. I am thankful for that too, Lysdexicuss. It worked universally the way it was, and I think they realized that.

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  9. Jacque, re-colloring old stories was a common occurrence at Marvel and DC. As a kid I used to compare coloring from the originals and noticed such things (yes, I was interested in such minutiae even then). As we know, Marvel and DC updating old stories by changing hair styles and clothing was less expensive than producing new stories, but changing the race of characters is something I've not seen before.

    I don't think the Commission report had much influence on DC or other companies. By 1972 both Marvel and DC, along with other companies, were including more African-American characters in their stories, often as supporting characters, and even headlining their own comics (i.e. Luke Cage and the short-lived Reno Jones, Gunhawk). I suspect someone at DC attempted to make the romance comics a little more diverse even if they had a limited budget.

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    1. Yeah, I don't know influential the Kerner Report was in the comic book world, but it is definitely something I am interested in investigating further.

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  10. Jacque, this is a really brilliant piece of research and personally I think it would make the basis of a really good article in something like the Journal of Popular Culture - or a chapter in your forthcoming book, which I guess may be your plan! Thanks for the links to the Kerner Report and the Eisenhower Foundation - a very significant find, that instruction to introduce diversity in the media of the time.

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    1. Yes, all this is definitely (hopefully) going toward something bigger! But also, just a good (and fun!) writing exercise for me!

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  11. Awesome post, Jacque! Fun and fascinating! What I find enthralling are the seemingly infinitesimal changes in the story (one could argue that the changes were already minimal) that seem unnecessary, that being the clothing. I note that the artist on the first story is Jay Scott Pike, and the second is John Rosenberger, both accomplished in the field of romance comics. It seems that Rosenberger was an apt choice, seeing his predilection for styles and fashion, in that he would give those details just the right attention. I would love to see the actual art boards, and examine the plethora of paste-overs! Some of the changes in the art are fairly microscopic in nature, such as shortening or widening of the nose, or a deft line here or there. While I am impressed by the skill Rosenberger reveals, it makes you wonder why they didn't just take the time to redraw the story anew...for a competent artist that feat wouldn't be as exhausting as the alterations appear to be, in my opinion, though that was probably an editorial decision. Cooool post, Jacque! Keep bloogin'!

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    1. I would also love to see the original art pages for these!

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    2. The subtle differences in the faces - fuller upper lips, wider nostrils, rounded noses and more defined cheek bones are interesting in that they were clearly done to make the characters look more African-American, but fall far short of stereotyping. Charlton could probably have gotten away with just recoloring and changing the hair, but was clearly going for a bit more authenticity.

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  12. Dear Jacque--this kind of post is why I love reading your blog! You recognize that old romance comics are not just ephemeral bits of pop culture but instead deserve intelligent academic study for what they reveal/reflect about our society.

    You've featured one or two redrawn stories before, Jacque, but I didn't think those stories were particularly well-done--it was too obvious they were just redrawn or recolored. But here, as The Apocolyte noticed, there was genuine care and attention given to the changes. Terry looks like a real and attractive African-American woman, not just a redrawn white character.

    And by the way, I agree with Edo Bosnar--I like the story itself, too. It's a good example of how many of the romance stories really were grounded in reality, showing how a good relationship is based on shared interests and affection, not just physical attraction.

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    1. Thank you, David! There are really so many angles to look at the romance comics from. I'm just glad my awesome readers "get" my angle!

      DC definitely is tops in my mind as far as the romance comics go. I can only imagine that they stood out to readers at the time as high quality and worth their money!

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  13. A brilliant post! Who'd thunk so much insight could be had from simple re-rendering. There's great dignity in the copying with nary a slip of stereotyping that I could see. How did that that happen?

    Great job.

    Wes

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  14. Thank you so much everyone for all your amazing feedback. This is precisely the type of post I enjoy working on the most, so I am so delighted y'all liked it too!

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