Friday, February 5, 2016

Romance Comics and Black History Month - The Panel that Defied Charlton's Lack of Diversity

I know we are a week in now, but holy cow it’s February! I, for one, think it’s a great month. Not only does the most romantic holiday of them all -- Valentine’s Day -- fall in the middle, it’s also Black History Month

Join me today in turning your attention to the panel below. It may not look like anything special or out of the ordinary at first glance, but it is. While DC and Marvel often did a commendable job of depicting racially diverse characters in a positive light in their romance comic book stories, Charlton was challenged in that regard (just take a look at "Xtachoa's Bride" and "Non' but a Brave” to see what I mean). This panel, however, depicts the young woman not as a mammy, not as hired help, but as a friend and one of the gang. 

"The Nicest Girl in Town"
Teen-Age Love #37
(May 1964)

A little background on the panel -- it comes from a story called "The Nicest Girl in Town" which appeared in Teen-Age Love #37 (May 1964) and was illustrated by Vince Colletta (inks at the very least). In the story, a snobby high-schooler named Natalie gets the surprise of a lifetime when her wealthy but down-to-earth parents announce they are leaving her with family friends for six months while they travel out of town for work. The arrangement is a clear attempt on the part of the fed-up parents to teach their rotten daughter a lesson in humility. While living with the less fortunate family, Natalie is forced to do things like chores and walk to school. THE HORROR! 

Most of Natalie's former "friends" ditch her because of the change in her living situation. Out of loneliness and burgeoning curiosity, Natalie starts to hang out with Mary, the daughter in the family Natalie resides with. Mary teaches Natalie how to bake and sew, and even introduces Natalie to her friends (as seen in the panel above). Natalie's mind is blown by how nice and interesting Mary's friends are -- friends that Natalie describes as "Kids I knew were in school but who I'd never bothered with!"

Though the new friends are depicted as Others by virtue of them being of the "lower class" that Natalie formerly despised when she ran with the rich kid crowd, they are still represented as friendly and rewarding people. Very subtly, this panel is a win for Charlton, a publisher that wasn't particularly daring when it came to sending social messages and had a history of questionable taste. I find the panel also compelling because of its relatively early appearance compared with when diverse characters started popping up in DC and Marvel romance stories. But maybe I shouldn't be all that surprised by the timing of this panel; 1964 was a big year with the adoption of the Civil Rights Act and Titles IV and VI which dealt directly with education and desegregation. 

The young woman in the middle of the panel is still nameless and novel, but her existence for all time on the page of a romance comic is an important piece of the multi-textured cloth that is American popular culture. It's my hope that despite its spatial smallness, at the time of publication, this panel was a message to black teens that they were a part of youth culture and also, served as a lens through which those in homogenous areas witnessed a four-color reflection of a world in which not everyone was the same.


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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Short Girls Need Love Too - Girls' Love Stories' "Too Teeny Weeny to Love"

I would've never anticipated it, but as it turns out, one of the most popular stories from the Sequential Crush archives is "Too Tall to Love" from 2010. I was delighted to learn that many women could identify with the story of six-foot Iris and her struggle (and eventual triumph) to find love. I now present for those of us on the shorter side, its counterpart tale "Too Teeny Weeny to Love" from Girls' Love Stories #174 (October 1972).


Sixteen-year-old Jeanie clocks in at "five-foot nothing." Though she laments her short stature, it doesn't stop her from having a crush on the much taller, Gary, or from being a powerhouse in her own right. When Gary manhandles her in the name of fun, Jeanie shows that while she may be petite, her personality sure isn't.

Determined not to wind up just a pal of Gary's, Jeanie decides to take matters into her own hands.

A month later, Jeanie confronts Gary in the school gym and gives him a brief warning. What does she have up her sleeve, you ask?

This! In a move that no one could have predicted, Jeanie hurls Gary over her back and slams him on a mat.

Fearing she's knocked him out, Jeanie apologizes profusely. Stunned, Gary is silent. Jeanie begs him to say something and when he finally comes to he declares his feelings for her. The two melt into one of the most tender embraces in the entirety of romance comics.

When I showed my boyfriend this story he saw Gary as a bit of a bully. I (having once been an awkward teenage girl) saw the teasing that Jeanie endured at the hands of her crush a classic example of flirtation -- but not the good kind. More along the lines of the kind that necessitated a cheering up by my very patient and wise mother.

Obviously, times have changed with how we react to such flirtations. While I'm gonna guess such teasing and subsequent Judo moves wouldn't fly in a school today, I do think the story is a good example of the tumultuous subject that is teenage love.

What do you think? Is "Too Teeny Weeny to Love" innocent and romantic or something else altogether?

Thanks so much for reading!
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Thursday, January 7, 2016

Happy Birthday to the One and Only Liz Berube!

"If You're Capricorn"
Young Romance #170
(February/March 1971)

Let's take a moment to wish Liz Berube (AKA Elizabeth) a very happy birthday! The above ode to Capricorns appeared in Young Romance #170 -- just in time for her birthday!* I haven't had the pleasure of meeting Liz in person but over the years, her emails and willingness to talk about her days working in comics have been nothing short of a delightful. I hope the day comes when I can finally meet her, give her a big hug, and thank her for the beauty she brought to the genre. In the meantime, this birthday greeting will have to do -- Happy Birthday, Liz!!!

*I've shared a few other astrological signs by Elizabeth in previous posts -- Gemini, Aries, Aquarius. More are on deck for future posts!

Thanks so much for reading!
If you haven't already, be sure to sign up
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for more romance comic book goodness! 

Monday, December 21, 2015

Mad Mad Modes for Moderns Mondays - A Tradition of Fashion Illustration

Happy Monday, everyone! A big thank you to everyone who took the time to read my last post. Your excitement for my book is extremely encouraging and will help keep me moving forward!

As I mentioned in the post, I'm working with an illustrator to bring the book to life. I've been on Pinterest quite a bit lately pulling together images for inspiration for the look of the book. As I fell further and further down the rabbit hole that is Pinterest, I couldn't help but notice that so much of the fashion featurettes from the romance comics were in the tradition of classic fashion illustrations. Take for example this 1969 "Mad Mad Modes for Moderns" extolling the virtues of (fake) fur:

"Mad Mad Modes for Moderns" 
Secret Hearts #135
(April 1969)

Doesn't really look all that different from these illustrations depicting fur from decades prior, does it? 

1915
Illustration via Flickr

1936
Illustration via Flickr

Styles and hemlines may change over time, but the essence of fashion illustration has essentially stayed the same. Though comic books have had a tendency to be considered lowbrow, "Mad Mad Modes for Moderns" helps make the case to elevate them as serious contenders for the title of art.

Need a last minute gift for a romance fan?
Visit my Gumroad store or Amazon shop!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

I'm Writing a Book - Progress Update #1

One of the things I’ve always loved about romance comics is the vulnerability of the beautiful women with tear-stained faces. Many people who’ve perused the genre have mistaken that vulnerability for weakness. I strongly believe, however, that when it comes to romance comic book characters, were they merely weak, they would not be open to love at all. It is vulnerability and strength, not weakness, that makes the romance characters take chances at love, story after story. It is that quality of being brave enough to display their vulnerability that for me, makes the romance comic characters so darn relatable and admirable.

As many of you know, I’ve been working on a book for some time now. I’ve mentioned it here and there in passing, but as of yet, I haven't spilled the beans. I’ve even had some of you fine readers asking me to go into more detail about the book, but to be honest -- I’ve been immobilized by fear. I didn’t want to share anything about this enormous project until the book was near done and as close to perfection as possible. Luckily, I’ve had a change of heart.


I recently finished reading Daring Greatly by Brené Brown, a book that gets at the core of human vulnerability. It, along with the bravery of the optimistic romance characters, and the realization that I was equally as nervous about starting Sequential Crush in the first place so many years ago made me realize I have to share the process. And so, I turn to vulnerability and answer some of the questions I've been asked so far.

Why a book?

I actually started Sequential Crush back in 2009 because I wanted to write a book about romance comics. I figured I would use the blog as a testing ground for my ideas, as well as a way to network with other romance fans and build an audience. But, I became so enraptured with blogging that too many years passed before I started working on a book project in earnest. In 2013, I wrote a book proposal that I shopped around to a few agents and publishers. After a series of rejections, I thought to myself, why spend more years on rejection and gatekeepers when I could just self-publish? The decision to self-publish this first book is not a declaration that I will never aim for traditional publishing (because I most certainly will), but at this moment in time, self-publishing is the best way to get this material out into the world.

I'm also increasingly excited about this book because I feel like it's in line with the new mission I'm developing for Sequential Crush. Not only do I want to continue to preserve the history of the genre, I want to move the romance comics into the NOW and bring the spirit of the vintage romance comics into the present for an audience that wouldn't normally pick up a comic book from the 1960s or '70s.

What is the book about?

The book (final title in the works) will be about one of the most neglected aspect of romance comics -- advice columns. Some of the most riveting content in the romance comics came in the form of text advice and I'm super excited to share those juicy tidbits with you in an illustrated book format. I think the advice columns get glossed over because people just see a wall of text and move on. It's within these texts, however, that foundations for the stories rest. I believe that much of the advice from the romance comics is timeless and can benefit many of us even today.

Who will the book be for?

Fans of Sequential Crush first and foremost! I also hope to draw in a new audience of people who will fall in love with the romance comics just as much as those of you already here.

Where are you currently in the book's process?

I've written the entire book, and I'm currently working on editing the third draft. I've also started to work with an incredibly talented illustrator (more on her in a future update!) who is just as excited about the project as I am.

The research and writing have been challenging, but the true challenges are ahead. Self-publishing is not only time-consuming but expensive. Therefore, I will be running a Kickstarter campaign to presell the book and all the fun merchandise that my illustrator and I are dreaming up.

What is the timeframe for completion?

As we all know -- time is one of the most precious resources. It has taken me way longer than I had hoped to actually write the thing, but as anyone with a day job such as myself knows, having time to work on passion projects are few and far between. For the past two years, I've worked on this project in the cracks of the day, the evening, and on the weekends. My goal right now for completion includes a February/March Kickstarter campaign, with a June launch. Assuming everything goes off without a hitch, I plan to debut the finished product at HeroesCon. I'm not really one for New Year's resolutions, but finishing the book is my main goal for 2016!

How can I support the book?

Why, I’m glad you asked (okay, you didn’t, but I'm going to take the liberty of assuming here)! First off, joining the mailing list is a great way to support Sequential Crush and the book because you will be kept in the loop via your inbox. Click here to join. Another way you can help is to visit my Gumroad store and make a purchase (holiday gifts, anyone?). May I also suggest a visit to my Amazon recommendations? Any revenue generated will go straight to the book.

Phew! I am glad to get that off my chest! It feels great to share this with all you Sequential Crush followers and everyone who's supported my efforts for so long. I hope you enjoyed this update and that you will continue to check in for future ones. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask away in the comments. Thank you, each and every one of you who took the time to read this -- you are the best

Credits: 1.) I love organization (and washi tape) so when I started the book I had to make a binder to collect all my thoughts. 2.) "Leave Me Alone" Falling in Love #60 (July 1963) Art by Bernard Sachs 3.) There's been a lot of coffee involved in the creation of this book so far. I definitely see more in my future. 4.) "I Won All the Battles... and Lost the War!" Career Girl Romances #74 (April 1973) Pencils: A. Martinez, Inks: J. Zuniga 5.) "I Dream of Love" Love Diary #67 (July 1970)