I’m reading a play by Anton Chekhov these days. What relevance does this have to comics? Let me explain. I don’t know about the so-called « mysterious Russian soul », but this particular play is histrionic. And the chief cause of drama, of course, is love. One woman tries to poison herself upon discovering her husband has a mistress and is preparing to run off with yet another man’s wife; others literally crawl around while trying to convince the rascal they’ve fallen in love with to condescend to granting them a small sign of affection; small children are threatened with deadly diseases; men launch into hair-tearing monologues, intermittently planning suicide or murder but never actually getting around to it; money is borrowed, and is immediately tossed in the air, friendships are shattered, insults are hurled and then profuse apologies proffered… and everybody, and I do mean everybody, goes hysterical.
Which brings us to Golden Age romance comics. Ha!
I’m not intending to suggest that *all* of them are ridiculously over the top. However, a lot of them are plotted like your average soaper – understandably, as these stories were written with a drama-hungry, lovelorn audience in mind. « Boy meets girl, everything goes well, they’re happy together » is not the kind of thing that moves copies.
Here’s a selection of covers I really like (for various reasons), depicting some common situations in a young woman’s life – like getting back-stabbed or pawed or pregnant while dreaming of some Perfect Love.
Some gals don’t merely have to contend with vigilantes, but also wolves (of the animal *and* human varieties).
Speaking of wolves, we have this cozy scene with distinctly creepy overtones. Anytime someone mentions an “experienced man”, run the other way.
“Julie fought, but now she fought as much against her own hungry response as against his muscles. Try as she would, she could not keep herself from returning that kiss with all the fiery ardor of her wild loneliness.” Untamed Love is quite racy, as the title promises, and as much over-the-top as one could wish for. The cover story is about an evil seductress, but the rest of the tales all concern themselves with a love triangle of another kind, one in which a girl has to choose between two guys. This one’s for the ladies – it’s hunks galore!
Here’s the “ravishing creature” in action, in case you’re interested:
Alaskan beauties don’t understand English grammar, but they dig the language of love! Panel from “The Wrong Road to Love”: “Julie falls in love with truck driver Steve, but he moves to Alaska to become a fisherman. She follows him there, only to discover local resident Becky considers Steve “her man.” Julie is consoled by Steve’s partner Hank. Steve and Becky run off, taking all the money Steve and Hank have earned. Julie decides to go home, but Hank says she can stay — as his wife.”
Another sentimental overload (though one would think that being at war was dramatic enough)? The redhead in the square on the right is in love with a gay man! (She was in love with a man’s fiancé, after all.) The girl at the dance is struggling to get away from a grabby asshole! (Unfortunately, all-too-common even today.) The girl in the green dress is faking it because she’s too polite to say no! (Ditto.)
“They were like two jailers, my pa and my brother Bill! At 18, I hadn’t tasted the sweetness of courtin’! And I was hungry for it… bitter hungry…” Things quickly get out of hand in this issue of First Love – a young maiden meets a charming young man who kills her brother (by accident), after which she gets shot by her dad (also by accident). The story concludes with the two lovebirds reuniting while the father realizes that “his soul is black with sin“. Geez, the things some people have to go through to reach a happy ending in a comic story.
This issue has plenty more “man-starved” maidens up for grabs…
… and one memorable male character, Alan, “the gay, vital, gloriously-alive lover”.
The next cover reminds us to never send our dates for refreshments (punch, you say? looks more like something out of a witch’s cauldron), for this is where femmes fatales lurk in hopes of snaring fresh prey.
If you want a lover who doesn’t resist, put her in a trance, first, and then Miss Smith won’t be able to help but say “yes!”
Romance comics love to pit a woman’s career against everything a female should strive for (i.e. marriage). Am I carping that romance comics weren’t very progressive in the 1950s? Ah, I wouldn’t be, if I didn’t know for a fact that Silver Age romance comics often don’t do that much better in that department.
What do we have here? Despite what one would tend to think, this necklace was stolen, not given as a romantic offering. Such are true life secrets: kleptomania, clandestine children, and double-crossed partners.
For an excellently written romp through the history of romance comics, read Tales From the Code: You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling.