Sunday, September 09, 2012

Number 1224: For the boys in the band, groupies never come first

Gals, here's a cautionary tale from Teen-Age Romances #17 (1951). It's about a girl who falls for a musician. Even in the days before rock 'n' roll there were chicks falling all over guys in a band. Young Martha, who thought she was only one, found out she was one of many. Tsk, tsk.

Dana Dutch is credited with the story. John Benson's excellent book, Romance Without Tears (Fantagraphics, 2003), is a collection of stories for St. John by Dutch, which the cover blurb for Benson's book calls “’50s Love Comics — With a Twist!” And we don't mean the twist as in Chubby Checker.

This book is still available from, and gets my highest recommendation.

The stories I'm posting today are not included in the book.

Matt Baker did the gorgeous artwork on the cover and for “Secret Love Made Me An Exile.”

Dutch and Baker also collaborated on “I Was Hurt By Love” in the same issue. All I can say about that is, who the hell hasn't been hurt by love?


Daniel [] said...

The artwork in “Secret Love Made Me an Exile” is just outstanding. The art is of very high calibre in the second, but amongst other things Baker was struggling to deal with a very wordy story. (Look at that last panel!)

I read almost no “romance” comics before I began following 'blogs such as yours, so my personal sample may be quite unrepresentative. But it seems as if the first story fits a frequently used pattern, in which the girl is focussed on the wrong guy, trangresses against social norms or ethical principles, and then is rescued by Good Ol' What's-His-Name.

I wonder about what underlay both the supply and the demand here. Were these stories written by Good Ol' What's-His-Name, fantasizing that the Bad Girl who should have fallen for him indeed had? Was the repeated use of the formula simply a result of lack of creativity? Or did these stories discernibly sell peculiarly well? Were the buyers girls fantasizing that they'd have both the opportunity to transgress and then a Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card? Or was it Good Ol' What's-His-Name pretending to buy these for his sister, and then fantasizing about that Bad Girl?

I suppose that, if “romance” comics had looked like this when I was a teenager, then I'd have bought them with little regard for the stories.

Pappy said...

Daniel, if you didn't start reading love comics until you read blogs like mine, then we both started at the same time. I associated love comics with what I saw on the comic racks growing up, mostly those DC “weepers,” which had a miserable girl crying on virtually every cover. I avoided romance comics until I couldn't avoid them any more.

Since love comics were apparently very popular for several years (every comic company published them, and some like St. John, seemed for a time almost to specialize in them), I've always maintained that someone other than girls and women had to be reading them. Besides women yearning for love, romance and marriage I suspect a lot of young men, servicemen, even dirty old men like me, were also reading them (maybe for tips on picking up chicks).

I think your analysis of the genre is fairly accurate. There was a recurring theme of mistakes made, then forgiven and overcome by true love. There was also that Prince Charming fantasy, that the right guy will find the girl and they will live happily ever after. I believe love comics are bunkum, but as I've found out in the past few years by actually making myself read these comics, at least they are entertaining bunkum.

As for the wordiness in these stories, yes, that author (whom I believe was John Benson's Romance Without Tears subject, Dana Dutch), was very wordy. That's a sin in comic books, which is a visual medium, but for some reason maybe these stories needed a little more text to make them more “real” to their readers.

Kirk said...

Stan Lee has admitted that The Amazing Spider-Man was an attempt to blend superheroes and romance comics (Spidey's second artist, John Romita, cut his teeth on romance during his time at DC), so he must have known they could appeal to males.

Or maybe he just knew that superhero comics could appeal to females.

Pappy said...

Kirk, this gives me a chance to say that as a nerdy teen when Spider-Man first came out, I identified with him. But I didn't identify with Peter Parker, who was a loser with chicks; I identified with Spider-Man who took his core nerdiness and was able to mask it with his superhero abilities. In other words, the superhero was able to get girls, the nerdy Peter Parker could not.

I also understood at the time that presenting the human side of superheroics wasn't something that had been done, not to that extent, anyway. Superman had this annoying relationship with Lois Lane and his secret identify as Clark Kent that never went anywhere. It was just a gimmick, with predictable outcomes. With Spider-Man you just didn't know from month to month what would happen in Peter's personal life.

I think the romance angle, using those things learned through years of publishing love comics, was a wise move. Boys were tricked into reading love comics when the Spider-Man (or Fantastic Four) got into the relationship stuff. It was a brilliant move, and paid off.

If there were girls reading Spider-Man I don't know. I never saw girls around the comic book rack, never saw girls reading comic books at all. I knew there were comics aimed at girls, but I never saw any of them being bought. Strange, huh?