Sunday, May 31, 2009

I Spy With My Little Eye...

A Green Lantern ring! How exciting! I am guessing this was no accident – as the penciler on this, Mike Sekowsky, drew not only a ton of romance stories but superhero books too!

"Happy Ending" from DC 100-Page Super Spectacular #5 (1971)
Mike Sekowsky (pencils), Bernard Sachs (inks),
Robert Kanigher (story)

One of the other rings looks a little Wonder Woman-ish, but it isn’t as obvious. I love hidden stuff like this… don’t you?!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Fashion Files - Menswear of 1971

Belt? Check! Sweater? Check!

Sure, it may be getting warm out there now – but believe me… you will want one of these come autumn!

I also read design and crafting blogs and came across the above images on a blog called doe-c-doe. I knew I had seen those groovy sweaters somewhere before! Presenting... belted sweaters for men! Oh my!

Heart Throbs #135 (November 1971). Cover by Art Saaf.
Who will she marry? I would pick the guy in the belted sweater if I were her!

Girls’ Love Stories #159 (May 1971).
Notice the guy in the background who appears to be ice skating... on land. None of that matters though, when you are the proud owner of a belted sweater!

1971 must have been a good year for fashionable men who disliked threading a belt through their pants!

Thanks Gina for digging up such a fun image and letting me share it with romance comic book fans!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Romance Under the Covers - Review of Secret Romance #35 (November 1975)

Another major player in the romance comic scene of the 1960s and ‘70s was Charlton Comics. The Connecticut based company had dozens of monthly romance titles [Edit: Charlton's array of romance books were published bimonthly]. A nice timeline of Charlton’s history as a company can be found at the website of the Connecticut Historical Society. Be sure to check it out when you get a chance.

Secret Romance was one of Charlton’s many romance titles. I think issue #35 (the title ran for 48 issues) has a particularly gorgeous cover, drawn by Gustave Pujalte. I dig the heavy inks, especially the inking that makes up the hair of the two characters. The cover doesn’t have anything to do with the interior stories as far as I can tell, but it sure is pretty!

The first story, “Unwanted Woman,” was drawn by Enrique Nieto. Luckily, some of the Charlton stories are signed and Ramon Schenk’s website is helpful in fully deciphering the signatures. This story is about Isabel – a young lady who keeps getting jilted by her lovers, most recently by her lawyer-fiancé, Orville Bush. While trying to get involved in the local political circuit Orville gets drawn in by Governor Cosgrove’s daughter, also referred to as “horse-face” by Isabel. After the breakup, Isabel hears from her friend Ted –a newspaper man, that her ex is running unopposed for First Selectman. Betty, a server at the steak house plants the seed in Isabel’s head that she should run against him.

Isabel ends up winning the election. She seems to be rather successful in her position, shutting down a crooked bookie and preventing a factory from closing. Isabel is modest though, and tells Ted that she couldn’t have done any of it without his help. She confesses that she thinks that he should be the First Selectman, not her. Ted admits his crush on her and they make plans for the honeymoon.

The concept of this story was fine, but I found the art to be, well, how I say this delicately... a bit scary. The layouts are actually pretty great, but it’s the faces of the characters and the bizarre coloring that really threw me off.

The art goes to a less psychedelic tone with the second story, “Compulsion” with art by Sam Glanzman. In this story, sweethearts Amelia and Barry get engaged. They decide to go on a short trip to Nassau before telling their parents the good news. They stay at a nice hotel (in separate rooms of course) and spend the first evening in the hotel’s casino. Barry wins $1,100! Amelia doesn’t think anything of it and after gambling they dance and go for a stroll on the beach. Everything seems fine until they go to the casino again the next night. Barry yells at Amelia and tells her to get lost, telling her that she will jinx him. She goes off and an old lady sees her and tells Amelia that her husband gambles too, and that they have lost everything – including their house. As Amelia ponders the stranger's warning, she thinks to herself that it is was not Barry’s fault he acted that way, that it was the gambling making him act crazy. Amelia decides to confronts him the next morning anyway.

Amelia goes off to spend the rest of the vacation by herself. The airline stewardess from their flight to Nassau tells her she was smart to get rid of a gambler, as they are “bad news”. She introduces Amelia to the co-pilot of the plane, Paul. Just as Amelia and Paul are hitting it off, Barry wants to get back together. Amelia refuses, telling him that he’s really “married to dice, cards, and roulette!” Thankfully for Amelia, Paul thinks gambling is stupid.

“Buck’s Bag” is the advice column of Secret Romance. The art for the column is surprisingly good. The first letter struck me, as a young girl of 13 wrote in saying that she can’t forget about a guy that broke up with her. She went as far as trying to kill herself, she writes. Buck advises the heartbroken young lady to “fill up that void with new boys,” and that attempting suicide was an “extremely foolish act.” I am really hoping the author of the letter; “Desperate,” got some better advice than what Buck could give her and went on to live a healthy life.

The last story in the issue is “Heartbreak Ahoy!” The art is by Art Cappello, who actually started out as an assistant to Vince Colletta. This story is about a pretty girl with no self-confidence, Sarah. She works as a secretary in a big office in New York is very shy and unlucky in love.

Does this page remind anyone else of Mad Men? Miss Berkeley=Joan

Though Sarah works hard, she goes unnoticed by the men. But she saves up money and goes on a cruise in Bermuda for vacation. She goes all by herself, which seems a little uncharacteristic of a girl with no confidence, but I digress. A fellow passenger named Carrie introduces herself and points out the Captain’s harem of ladies. She also tells Sarah that there is a masked ball in the evening. Sarah decides to go to the party thinking to herself that perhaps if she is wearing a mask then maybe the Captain will look at her. Indeed, the Captain asks her to dance and they spent the rest of the ball together. At midnight he asks her to take off her mask so he can see who she is.

He tells Sarah that he loves her, and it is then that she realizes that it is in fact inner beauty that gets the man.

Overall, this Secret Romance #35 seemed to be a quick read. The stories felt shorter than DC romances, and the book contained a heavy dose of advertisements. With exception of the cover, I am not the biggest fan of the art in this particular issue. The stories were pretty good, but the art was a little rough in my opinion.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Selling Romance - The 10 Way Hairpiece!

Anyone who has picked up a romance comic from the late '60s and 1970s has probably come across this advertisement for the "10 Way Hairpiece!" Sometimes it is in color and other times in black and white, but it is usually accompanied with this attention-grabbing ad offering a series of rewards for rare coins.

I am not sure that coins and wigs appeal to the same demographic, but hey! Who am I to judge? Notice that the address is the same for the Beauty Aids Co. and Best Values Co., as is the price for the advertised good -- just $1! It seems to me that a hairpiece would be a tad more expensive than a catalog, but again, what do I know?

Hopefully teenage girls mailing in for a "100% Glamorous Dynel" hairpiece remembered to send in a hair sample to be color matched by experts. You may be asking yourself, what is Dynel anyhow? According to Wikipedia, it is basically a synthetic fiber somewhat akin to PVC. Yuck! That doesn't seem like anything I would want on my head, but then again, being flame-resistant is a selling point.

While looking for more information on this mystery material, I came across this 1962 article from the TIME magazine archives. Wigs made from Dynel were a more affordable alternative to ones made of human hair. These synthetic wigs also allowed women not running in Hollywood circles to buy more than one hairpiece and change up their look without going broke. The Dynel wigs mentioned in the 1962 TIME article sold at Macy's in Manhattan for $49.50 (about $346 today), which still seems rather expensive.

The Beauty Aids Co. ad for Dynel hairpieces was written in 1967, and their versatile version of the fashion accessory sold for just $1, which equates to a little over $6 today. Wow! What a difference! The TIME article does warn of inferior knock-offs, but taking that chance must have seemed of little consequence for teenage girls trying to achieve the look of their favorite romance comic heroine.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Can You Spot the Differences?

As you may have realized by now, I am pretty partial to DC romance books. I tend to be drawn (no pun intended!) to their covers, and throughout the years have wound up with a lot of them. I wanted to share some Marvel stories as well, from their only two serial romance titles from the late sixties and seventies. So, the other night I went to the “O” section of my comics to find an Our Love Story. I picked out #38 because it is one of my favorite covers from the series. I then decided to go back and look through the “M” section. It was then that I remembered that the cover to My Love #9 is the same as Our Love Story #38.

The cover of My Love #9 (January 1970)

The cover of Our Love Story #38 (February 1975)

Which version do you like better? I think I like the later version more. The added lamp is a nice touch and I prefer the blonde hair.

The only story the two issues share in common is the first, “I Loved You Once – Remember?” It was “written from life” by Stan Lee, penciled by Gene Colan and inked by Dick Ayers. The cover is rather misleading and serves to draw the reader in, rather than reflect the interior story. The six page tale is about a girl Jackie, who is about to get married. One month before the wedding day she confesses to her mother that she doesn’t want to marry her fiancé Gary, after all. She thinks back on their relationship and rationalizes that she might have been too young when they first got together. Jackie has to tell Gary, and agonizes how to break the news. Conveniently, Gary breaks off the engagement first…

After living it up for a while, Jackie realizes she has made a mistake. Gary seems to have impeccable timing and comes to the door yet again. He tells Jackie that he could tell she was unsure about the commitment, so he gave her some time to think. They kiss and all is well.

My Love #9 and Our Love Story #38 are not the only issues of these two series that have the same (slightly altered) cover. The following charts break down which issues are duplicates. The issue numbers that correspond are adjacent to one another in the charts. As you can see, not only are covers duplicated between My Love and Our Love Story, but also within the individual title. In some cases the covers are not the same, but are incredibly similar.

On a side note – anyone out there go to the Motor City show this weekend? I usually go, but was unable to make it this year. I am pretty sad too, because it is always a great back issue show. If you did go, did you see any good romance books?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Romance under the Covers – Review of Falling in Love #128 (January 1972)

I chose to review this particular issue of Falling in Love today because it is one of the first romance books that I ever bought and read. Although I have always been a huge fan of comic books in general, my hunger for the romance genre didn’t start until about four years ago – when I myself fell in love!

My boyfriend, artist Justin Bleep (Brick City Bunch, Super Human Resources) is actually the person who introduced me to the genre. He has been a huge fan of romance comics for years, and well, it rubbed off on me! I will note though that my collection of romance books now surpasses his! Anyway, during one of the first comic book conventions that we went to together, Justin took me around and showed me all the great romance titles. Falling in Love #128 (edited by Dorothy Woolfolk) just happened to be one of those first books I purchased for my budding collection.

The first story in this issue is called “Stranger in My Arms.” It’s a rather heartbreaking story about the tragedies of war. On this page we see Jan getting ready to see her boyfriend Danny who has been at war for two years. She is very nervous to see him and gets all dolled up in anticipation. When they do see each other Danny drinks and become argumentative. His friend Nick tells Jan to be patient because Danny saw some terrible things while on the front. Jan is patient but Danny turns neglectful, and eventually stops calling. Naturally, she waits by the phone.

She finally goes to his house sick with worry, only to find him unshaven and zombified. To cheer Danny up, Jan takes him to the St. Gennaro’s Feast in Little Italy (so specific!). He is having a terrible time until a little girl comes up to him and mistakes him for her father. The mom apologizes for the child’s reaction and explains that the little girl doesn’t understand that her dad will never come back from the war. Danny wraps the orphan in a tight embrace. He then spills his guts to Jan – his friend was killed in action and he has been feeling overwhelming guilt. He couldn’t stop thinking how it should have been him instead, but the little orphan opened his eyes. She helped him realize that he must go on – for his friend’s memory and for the little girl’s father too. Jan patiently listens and then tenderly touches him. As beams of light radiate off of them, they kiss and all is well on the home front.

Overall I thought this story was pretty good, even though it’s maybe a little sappy. The semi-nude shower scene is a bit risqué perhaps, but does help with continuity and exposes Jan’s vulnerability in her uncertain relationship. Many, if not most romance stories show the protagonist in some state of undress (i.e. lingerie, bra and undies, nightgowns). I am guessing that besides showing the femininity and vulnerability of the characters, these particular scenes were fun for the artist to create!

The second story in this issue is titled “The Perfect Gift.” It is about two sisters who reunite at Christmas. Julie lives at home while Carla lives in New York City. Carla is sure to rub this in to Julie, reminding her that she is the “big town career type,” furthering Julie’s insecurity. Their brother Jim comes home too and brings a friend, Martin (hard to miss with that giant mustache). Julie and Martin hang out intensely and do things like build a snow Santa. They end up kissing and Martin tells her to stop belittling herself and comparing herself to her sister. Carla warns Julie that Martin could be a heartbreaker, so to be careful. But when he gives her a piece of jewelry as a forget-me-not gift, she has a hard time believing that he would hurt her. As her wise big city sister warns though, things don’t turn out in Julie’s favor.

Martin tells Julie that he came to their Christmas celebration because he was lonely and heartbroken over another girl and wanted to see if he could ever recover. Apparently kissing her and toying with her emotions was part of that recovery! After receiving the ever-so-disappointing, patronizing, patriarchal forehead kiss, she continues to sing Christmas carols with the family, moping quietly inside.

In between stories there is a brief interlude with essays from readers about their dream man. My favorite was the girl who wants a man with a big brain and who speaks in foreign languages that she can’t understand – for mysteries sake! She also wants to discuss the latest Dustin Hoffman flick with him (could be difficult without an interpreter) and listen to the Grand Funk Railroad together. Now that’s romance!!!

Probably the most compelling story of this issue is the third entitled, “I Was a Cheat.” The main character, Rita has a flashback to when she felt that she led a guy (Kirk) on and he tried to take
it too far. Though not said, it is implied that he tries to rape her. She tries to get away, Kirk chases her and he falls off a cliff and dies (or so she thinks). She flees the scene and leaves him there, holding herself responsible for his plunge – pretty ridiculous considering he tried to rape her!

Rita goes on the run and works in a small town as a waitress. She disguises herself by putting glasses on and wearing her hair in a ponytail. One day she serves a cop (Ben) who is interested in her. She panics about her past, but they start to date anyway. He asks her to marry him. She freaks out and says she needs time to think.

So she thinks and agonizes about the proposition – in her skivvies of course! She then goes to his office, but he isn’t there. She sees her picture (of her old self, pre-disguise) on his desk, so she freaks out again and decides to go on the run once more. Before leaving she leaves him a note with the truth, about how she had killed Kirk and how she was a liar and a cheat. She tries to run away and gets on a bus but it is stopped due to police activity in the road. Rita jumps off the bus and runs to Ben. She then in a frenzy explains everything to him. He reveals that Kirk didn’t die after all and the cops only had her picture because her parents had brought it to the station and she was considered a missing person. In an epic conclusion, Ben gives a cheesy speech about a guardian angel watching over them. It ends happily when she asks for forgiveness for what she used to be and is (to paraphrase Rita) washed clean by the rain.

I found this story interesting. The character Rita feels so guilty about being a tease and practically blames herself for the attempted rape. Though it is a bit convoluted, this story has a little more depth to it than many of the romance stories, à la “Glamor Girl,” the fourth story.

“Glamor Girl” is the simple tale of a model frustrated by her boyfriend because he is on a budget. She dumps him in hopes that she will meet a fancy, rich man. She then meets a wealth couple from Paris, and becomes a tad jealous. She then sees that they have problems too, and realizes that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence. The French man reinforces this when he tells her that money can’t replace genuine love. Naturally, she goes running back to the boyfriend she dumped and he quickly takes her back.

The final story, “I Don’t Love You Anymore” is also on the fluffy side. Debbie goes on a vacation for a few weeks to visit her cousin. While she is away her cousin sets her up with a guy named Jerry, even though she has been dating a guy named Cary for five years. She falls in love with Jerry over the couple weeks. She feels terrible about telling Cary, but conveniently when she gets home, he tells her that he has found someone else –all before she can mention Jerry to him. Phew! She got out of that one easy! She gives him a kiss on the cheek and tells him not to worry about it. If only all breakups were that simple!

I hope you have enjoyed reading about Falling in Love #128 in this installment of what I am calling, “Romance under the Covers.” Though these might not have been the greatest stories in the world, you can probably understand how reading this issue first got me hooked! In romance comics, some stories are good, some stories are bad, but they are all indisputably entertaining!

By the way, you probably have noticed that I have not mentioned any of the artists for this issue. It’s because I simply don’t know yet! Since most romance stories were unsigned it makes it difficult to always know concretely who penciled and/or inked a certain piece. I am keeping a record though of the individual art styles I see in each book. This hopefully will enable me to say with more accuracy later on who contributed to what. Artists with more distinct styles are of course easier to place, but also help to put the other pieces of the puzzle together. So, thank you for your patience and if you recognize an artist, please by all means, point it out! Wouldn’t it be great if someday romance artists were all given the credit they deserve?!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Remembering Ric Estrada

This past weekend was a sad time for the comic book world and for fans of romance. As I am sure many of you know, the incredibly talented Ric Estrada passed away this past Friday, May 1st. He not only led a fascinating personal life, but also made a significant contribution to the romance genre. According to Mike's Amazing World of DC Comics, Estrada had 289 story credits under his belt, just for DC alone. Out of those, 56 were romance stories. This isn't even counting the likelihood of unsigned stories, or ones misattributed. It is almost inevitable that he worked on countless more.

Ric Estrada definitely had a handle on drawing gorgeous and sensual women. This panel from the story "The Wrong Kind of Love," originally featured in DC 100-Page Super Spectacular #5 (1971) (image from the 2000 replica edition) really demonstrates that. There is a certain "realness" to his girls and they tend to come off as effortless beauties.

Besides drawing females with great skill, Estrada also drew incredibly handsome men. This particular guy, Tony from "Not Good Enough for Me!" which appeared in Girls' Love Stories #137 (August 1968) not only has style, but the chiseled face to match. Good looking male characters are essential to any first-rate romance story and in my opinion, just as important as having attractive leading ladies.

Lastly, I picked one of my favorite pages to show the caliber of artist Ric Estrada was. This scene comes from Secret Hearts #148 (December 1970) in the story, "Love Song in Blue." The bridge over the young woman's head is really striking in contrast to the rest of the panels, and the closeup on her face is breathtaking.

I should admit that I happen to be the happy owner of the original page from this story. Perhaps I am a tad biased, but it really is a beautiful example of romance art and showcases Estrada's talent well.

Hopefully all of his family and friends know that the community is keeping them and Ric's legacy in their thoughts. It is always hard when the tight-knit comic book industry loses someone, and Mr. Estrada's passing is no exception.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Happy Free Comic Book Day!

First of all, I want to wish everyone a happy Free Comic Book Day! Be sure to go to your local comic book store and pick up your free comic, and if you have time- dig through the back issues!!! This afternoon I will be going to the Evansville (Indiana) comic convention, so I am sure there will be some festivities going on there for FCBD.

I have never been to this convention, but I am guessing it is on the smaller side. I am sure there will be a plethora of superhero books, but I can only conjecture on how many romance comics dealers will bring. I am guessing not a lot, but maybe I will be pleasantly surprised! I am not really looking for anything in particular, but on suggestion of my friend Jaz (who is very knowledgeable about comics) I will be keeping my eyes peeled for two books in particular, Falling in Love #99 and Young Romance #141.

I had never actually seen the cover to Falling in Love #99 before his suggestion, but it is most spectacular. It has a cover date of May 1968 and the cover pencils are by Ric Estrada. So, this is definitely one that I will keep my eyes peeled for today, however unlikely it may be.

Young Romance #141 (April/May 1966) and I have crossed paths multiple times, but I have never picked it up. Jaz said it was a good story, so it may be worth getting it. I will keep my eyes out for this one too!

I will be sure to report on any good romance finds when I return! Happy Free Comic Book Day!!!

*Images from the Grand Comic Book Database -- Check it out!