Friday, February 12, 2016

Number 1853: The Heart’s Trophy

Reading through this story drawn by Joe Kubert for Pictorial Confessions #3 (1949), I am struck by the dialogue. In my youth, as horny romantic as I might have been, no words spoken would have been my choice rather than speak the breathless dialogue contained herein. Judy and Mike are a couple, but only in a sappy romance would you encounter such things as Judy’s “I’m here to watch you grind your heel into my heart!” and Mike’s response, “A man can’t be preserved under glass because he’s scratched a finger...and I can’t grovel in grease!” (That last bit because Mike had been in a serious car-racing accident, and was working his way back.)

Not only that, in some of the panels the captions (faux diary entries by Judy) and dialogue balloons nearly crowd out the artwork.

Okay, if I haven’t turned you off by now (a trait of mine, for which I apologize), Kubert does an excellent job with what space he has available. And, of course, it all ends well. Love triumphs, even as Mike triumphs at the finish line.

Oh...and Happy Valentine’s Day in a couple of days, lovers.


Daniel [] said...

Once again, I wonder who were imagined to be reading these and who were actually reading these. This story is certainly not the sort that I would write were I presuming my audience to be heterosexual females, whether I wanted to cater to their fantasies or to change their notions of how things worked.*

The plot combines the idea that good men are undermined in their romantic pursuits by men who are far less worthy with the fantasy that these cads who seem to be succeeding will foolishly tip their hands before it's too late. Both the theory and the fantasy are of males.

(Of course, we've seen romance stories in which good women are undermined in their romantic pursuits by women who are far less worthy with the fantasy that these cats who seem to be succeeding will foolishly tip their hands before it's too late. In those case, we end-up wondering why the female protagonist was attracted to the deceived male. Here, at least Judy isn't attracted to the cad.)

Meanwhile, the woman isn't particularly effectual. Even her attempt at surrender — buying an engine to put Mike back behind a wheel — proves to be based upon a mistaken inference. (BTW, I think it extremely ill-advised to spend all of the money of a bank account held jointly with a former romantic partner without first consulting that partner, even if one is sure that one is spending it on something that the ex-partner will greatly appreciate.)

Y'know, some poor schlub was probably taking notes from the dialogue.

I'm not the first and won't be the last to note that Kubert's style in this era looks a great deal like what would later be seen from Ditko.

* It would be an interesting exercise to use romance comic books to teach a readership of one sex how different is the psychology of the other sex from what they imagine it to be.

Unknown said...

That was terrific Kubert art, but it could've been even better. He put together some really cool, stylized compositions, such as the first one with Death hovering over the drivers or the one on the following page where we get Judy's reaction to the crash, and I liked how he stylized some of the people, too; it was different from his later, more realistic renderings. But, boy, you weren't kidding, Pappy, about how crowded those panels could get. The text practically ruined some of those stylish compositions, like the one with Judy and Barnes sitting in front of the huge clock. Making it worse was the choice of handwriting for the journal entries, which I could barely read. And that dialogue! Whoever wrote that stuff, he never met an adjective he didn't think belonged in a comic book. Ugh. What should have been a breezy story was made extremely heavy by the words. Finally, I realized before the end that I really didn't care if Judy and Mike ended up together, because I didn't particularly like either of them. One was whiny and clingy, the other was self-centered and immature. The only thing that made their happy ending worthwhile was seeing the defeat of the well-developed "villain," Dahl. Ultimately, I wish the writer had given Kubert more room to "breathe," because the art obviously could've been spectacular if it hadn't been so hemmed in.

Brian Barnes said...

Kubert probably loved this assignment, there's hardly a single background to draw because it's almost all balloons and captions!

I did an experiment and read through it without the captions (just the balloons) and the story was perfectly understandable. An editor needed to go after this script with a chainsaw!

BTW, great stylish grim reaper from Kubert on the splash.

Pappy said...

Brian, Ryan, Daniel...we are all in agreement that this is not Kubert's finest hour as a comic book artist, but it is what could be called an interesting failure.

John Benson's fascinating 2007 book, Confessions, Romances, Secrets, and Temptations, tells the story of the St. John romance comics, most of them written by a talented writer named Dana Dutch. Dutch is described by one of the editors as a forty-ish "country boy," who would come in wearing his woolen jacket to drop off stories. Everyone agreed Dutch could write in all genres, and was very good at what he did. Since Benson familiarized me with the Dana Dutch style, I could tell, just reading this story, that it was not by him. In fact (and thanks to Ryan for his line about the writer "never met an adjective he didn't think belonged in a comic book") I think it sounds like something a greeting card writer would produce, or by someone who thought flowery dialogue equaled good romance comic dialogue.

Benson also described Kubert, and his partner Norman Maurer as being an editorial office within an office at St. John. They were allowed to come up with their own titles (they produced the original 3D comics), and had editorial freedom. Whoever wrote the story for Kubert was not schooled in Comic Book 101, that the picture comes first. I thought it might have been scripted by Kubert himself, but despite what Brian said about how Kubert might have "loved this assignment" because of no backgrounds (crowded out by captions and dialogue) I think Kubert would have felt the opposite. He loved to draw and would have felt very constrained. I am surprised, given his autonomy within the company, that he didn't either severely edit or reject this story for all of those flaws we've discussed. But then, maybe Kubert, an artist who could draw anything, wasn't that familiar with the romance format. Maybe they weren't on his personal reading list.

And for Daniel's question as to who was actually reading these things, I believe the audience was made up of both men and women. Benson goes on to describe some "lonely hearts" pages in some of the St John love comics that allowed women to become pen pals with servicemen in uniform. It was apparent that these comics sold really well in PXs because the response was great from guys in the military.

Of course, with the benefit of hindsight, some of the interest of servicemen in young females could have been predatory, too.

rnigma said...

Wow, and I thought "The Gumps" in its heyday was wordy! (Sidney Smith was fond of florid Victorian dialogue and narration.)

Dana Dutch had also scripted "Stories by Famous Authors Illustrated" (Seaboard's answer to Classics Illustrated), which included an adaptation of "Macbeth" (drawn by H.C. Kiefer) that was panned by critic John Mason Brown in a 1950 issue of the Saturday Review.

J_D_La_Rue_67 said...

"it is what could be called an interesting failure"

Well, yes, it's romantic babbling and all (that fake "handwriting" is terribly annoying by the way), but I love Kubert's rendition of the crowd in page 1.
It's nice to see an artist who doesn't rely on photographs in a romance comic. And those cars look like they're made of rubber. Nice touches. I'd like to see more of these failures.

Unknown said...

The only thing that really bothers about this story is the egregious coloring error in the first panel.

Pappy said...

rnigma, I have those Famous Authors stories by Dutch, but have not read Brown's essay.

I can imagine the horror of the literary types when they saw Shakespeare adapted for comic books. In recent decades it has been done many times, but in those days with comics being the lowest of the low type of literature (in their minds, anyway), it must have seemed blasphemous.

rnigma said...

Brown's article excoriated the Macbeth comic as a poor substitute for the original work, stating that "the song of the speeches is muted."
What really interested me was the letter column commenting on the article, one or two issues later. One letter was from ol' Doc Wertham, praising Brown and taking the comic to task for dialogue in one panel that read "Smear the sleeping servants with blood!" But the letter above it had my jaw dropping when I saw its author's name. It accused Brown of intellectual snobbery, condemning his "pedagogical, nose-in-the-air approach" and praising the comic for making Shakespeare accessible to youngsters. Signed: Herschell Gordon Lewis - who would be known as the "king of gore" over a decade later, for his films where nearly everyone was smeared with blood.

Pappy said...

rnigma, that is exactly the sort of thing I really delight in...thanks for pointing out the Lewis connection.

Wertham used that comic and the "smear the servants" quote in Seduction of the Innocent. I read S.O.T.I. in 1959. I went to my copy of the later Classics Illustrated version of Macbeth and searched in vain for it. I remember being disappointed.