Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Mammy Archetype in DC's "Someone to Love!"- Girls' Love Stories #159 (May 1971)

Earlier in the week I mentioned the appearance of an African-American character in the 1950 Fawcett story, "Tears in the Night" that embodied the stereotypical "mammy" character so popular in antebellum and early 20th century American culture.

Fast forward twenty years to 1971 and shift your attention to the DC romance comics line -- could this "mammy archetype" still live on, even after the events of the Civil Rights Movement?

As you will see in "Someone to Love!" from DC's Girls' Love Stories #159 (May 1971) (pencils by Werner Roth) the stereotype of African-American women as inherently motherly figures (especially to their white charges) curiously lingers on -- despite the story's good intentions and attempts at diversification and inclusion.

When the Adams family moved into Greenville Heights, twelve year old Celia Johnson was anxious to meet her new neighbors. The rest of the neighborhood, however; was less than amused by an African-American family in their midst; relentlessly picketing and harassing the new family.

No, you are not imaging things.
You have seen that handshake before --
in the saga of Margo and Chuck, also
penciled by Werner Roth.

Accompanied by little Celia, Mr. and Mrs. Johnson are welcomed into the Adams home for a snack of coffee and cake. Celia and fellow twelve year old -- Angela, become fast friends and together, graduate from an interest in dolls to a fascination with boys and romance.

Though it seemed neither one of them would ever find a boy to date, before long Celia woos studly and sensitive Philip. Angela, however; has not yet met anyone and wonders if she ever will.

Love isn't far behind for Angela luckily. When an errant football collides with Angela's hand, dreamy football player Lee Stanley rushes over to comfort her and a romance between the two is quickly ignited.

Ecstatic about their new situations and their packed social calendars, Angela and Celia can hardly contain their joy. As the weeks fly by, the boys suddenly seem to gain popularity with the other young females of the school -- leaving little time for Angela and Celia. Celia racks her brain to think of what they may have done to obscure the attention of their guys. Angela explains that it isn't their fault, but that "...some men are like that! Once they know we love them, they take us for granted!"

Refusing to give up on Lee, Angela is there for him when his adoring female fans leave him in the dust after he costs the school the football game against their rival, Fairfield. Appreciating her loyalty and love, Lee apologizes for his behavior and promises to never hurt Angela again. Philip still hasn't come around to Celia, but Angela promises her friend that she will try to make things right between the two.

Celia is unsure what Angela has up her sleeve, but trusts Angela, who declares, "Never you mind, you just leave everything to Auntie Angela!" It is in this panel that Angela embodies characteristics of the dutiful "mammy."

In the end, Angela's scheme of persuading another boy at school to write a love note to Celia and drop it within eyesight of Philip to make him jealous works like a charm. It isn't long before the two couples are back to double dates and warm embraces.

Overall, while "Someone to Love" is a cute story that attempts to show that skin color has no bearing on friendship and comradery between women, it simultaneously very subtly (and most likely unintentionally) pegs African-American Angela into a motherly role in relation to her white friend Celia. Surprisingly, this "mammy" type character shows up in quite a few romance stories from the 1970s. Though DC made sincere strides in presenting diversity in their romance comics, they were unable to completely shake the specters of the past.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Selling Romance - Diversity in Wigs!

Any casual reader of romance comics from the 1960s and '70s is aware of the fact that wig advertisements were never in short supply! This ad for "Permanently Styled" S-T-R-E-T-C-H wigs from a company called Valmor out of Chicago appeared in Charlton's Secret Romance #29 (October 1974).

This ad is particularly cool because of the variety of wigs including the "Afro American" and the "Afro Puffs" style -- "the latest rage" which could be worn three different ways. The Afro hairstyle is of course associated with the 1960s and '70s, born out of the "Black is Beautiful" movement.

Valmor, the company that produced these wigs, sold beauty products aimed at African-American women since the 1930s -- including skin-lightening creams. Author Juliann Sivulka explains in her excellent book, Stronger Than Dirt: A Cultural History of Advertising Personal Hygiene in America, 1875 to 1940 that Valmor's early advertisements for the African-American female consumer were, "centered on achieving beauty to attract a man, rather than female dignity and racial advancement." It is obvious from this romance comic ad that by the 1970s, Valmor had engaged with both the political and beauty needs of the mid-century woman.

Join me this weekend to find out --
What is wrong with Angela and Celia?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Time Travel Tuesdays - Fawcett's Sweethearts #86 (April 1950)

Welcome to the second installment of Time Travel Tuesdays here at Sequential Crush! Young and ambitious Janie Morgan stars in this Fawcett story, "Tears in the Night" from Sweethearts #86 (April 1950).

Thoroughly dedicated to her job at Talbot Trucking (as she had been laid off quite a few times in the past), Janie humors Floyd Talbot's requests for dates, as he is the boss's son. Floyd frequently tells Janie not to take the job so seriously because soon, they will be married. Not if Janie has anything to do with it!

It becomes clear that Floyd refuses to take his position as heir to the company seriously, and when his father passes away unexpectedly, it is Janie who is thrown into managing the company. Fortunately, she loves it and has no problem mobilizing the drivers. One evening while leaving the office, she stumbles into quite the commotion -- a drifter named Dane has hitched a ride in one of the trucks and the driver is less than amused.

Luckily for Dane, Janie decides to bring him home for a little rest and recuperation. From the moment they walk over her threshold it is apparent that Janie is proud of her hard work and the many signs of success it has brought her including a car, an apartment and even a housekeeper.

Smitten by Dane and seeing he could use a hand, Janie hires him to work at the trucking company. In an effort to see him more and save him from the dangers of night-time hauling, Janie puts Dane on the day shift which causes a ruckus with the rest of the men. Dane finally convinces her to put him on the midnight shift with the rest of the new drivers. Not long after starting, Dane hears from the other guys that Janie goes on dates with Floyd Talbot, forcing her to convince Dane that it is he that she loves. Feeling reassured, Dane proclaims his love for Janie and discusses a future marriage between the two. Naturally, Dane is not the only one with plans to marry the raven-haired professional.

Marrying Floyd is not what Janie has in mind and when ignoring his proposals ultimately fail, Janie decides that she must find a way to permanently become "entrenched" in Talbot Trucking in order to keep her job and keep seeing Dane. So without wasting any time, Janie sets up a merger between Talbot Trucking and Carsone Motor Transportation -- making herself a partner. Floyd signs the paperwork without reading it. Not long after, however; Floyd wises up to her arrangement when he catches her smooching Dane -- and just as he was about to propose! Janie decides to finally stop beating around the bush and tell Floyd the cold hard truth.

Though prepared for Floyd's anger, Janie is not prepared for Dane's wrath. Confused by his outburst at her behavior, Janie tries to convince Dane that she just took what was hers for the taking.

Dane leaves her and the once prosperous Janie stands alone. Just as she decides to go chase after Dane, she sees Floyd setting fire to the company warehouse. Despite the love triangle, Dane saves Floyd. He doesn't stick around long enough though to receive a hero's welcoming and drifts out of Janie's life just as easily as he had drifted in.

Deciding she can't keep on mourning the loss of Dane, Janie continues to labor at the trucking company, even overseeing the building of a new warehouse. Janie ultimately decides to leave the company after getting it back on its feet, but is stopped by Floyd who thanks her and encourages her to seek Dane out. Taking his advice, Janie moves on down the path of life, guided by love's impulses.

In light of Black History Month, I wanted to share a 1940s/1950s romance story featuring African-American characters. Problem is (as you can probably imagine), comics during this time period were not as diverse as they were in the 1970s! I searched high and low through my collection of older books and was unable to find a single story with an African-American character. I then turned to the Digital Comic Museum where I had remembered seeing this story when I was doing some research on another Fawcett's title, the short lived and very scarce, Negro Romance.

In "Tears in the Night" we see the sole African-American character, Charlotte, in a domestic service position in Janie's home. The imagery of her standing in the doorway, hands on hips and donning an outfit very similar to Aunt Jemima is of course disconcerting to reader's today, but consistent with the antebellum-derived "mammy archetype" that continued well into 20th century popular culture.

The romance comics of the 1970s definitely become more diverse, but the notion of the protective "mammy" character is a curious one and didn't completely disappear from the romance comics as I will show you later this week... right here at Sequential Crush!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

My Very Special Valentine's Day Gift!

Happy weekend, romance fans! I hope you all had a lovely week and a most wonderful Valentine's Day! I was out of town for the holiday, but upon my return I had something very special waiting for me at the Post Office from my dear boyfriend, Justin!!!

Despite the fact that Valentine's Day isn't celebrated in Denmark as far as he could tell, Justin went all out this year and found and purchased for me the splash page of Win Mortimer's "How Do I Know When I'm Really in Love?" (below). This piece of original art is very cool for a number of reasons... 1.) It is illustrated by Win Mortimer -- no need to elaborate! 2.) It is a splash page! 3.) Not only is it the splash page of the story, it is also the first page of the expensive and scarce romance comic, DC 100 Page Super Spectacular #5 (1971)!

Original Page with art by Win Mortimer
DC 100 Page Super Spectacular #5 (1971)

Page from the 2000
"Replica Edition"

I just had to share -- I am totally smitten with it! No chocolate or flowers for this girl!!! Hooray!

Justin also seized the opportunity to purchase the original art for the stunning three-page Art Saaf illustrated story, "You're Not My Type... Mr. Winslow!" from Heart Throbs #129 (December 1970/January 1971). He had these pages shipped to him in Denmark, so I definitely can't wait to see these in person once I am there!

All of this was such a huge surprise, so thanks for allowing me to take time to share with you! When I think about the fact that these amazing artists poured all of their energy and talent into these gorgeous pieces it just makes me feel so connected to history and all giddy inside!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day!!!

Wishing You a Most

Happy Valentine's Day!!!

Today, don't let anything get in
the way of love and romance!!!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Girls' Love Stories Advice Column Tackles Interracial Friendship

When reading romance comics from the '60s and '70s, it is often tempting to skip over the advice columns and head straight onto the next sequential story. Many of the letters are rather repetitive and often feature young girls in love with older boys, and the tensions and turmoils between blossoming teens and disapproving parents. Once in a while, however; a letter will stick out as being more than ordinary, just as this one from the Girls' Love Stories #164 (December 1971) column, "From Barbara Miles, with Love."

(click to enlarge!)

Though by 1971 our country had come a long way from the days of Jim Crow and government sanctioned segregation, it is obvious from this letter that the effects of discrimination were still very real and felt by many. If you look hard enough, it becomes obvious that romance comics weren't just a disposable mode of entertainment, but at times -- agents of change. And that's just another reason to love 'em!

Have a wonderful weekend!!!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

African-American Couples on the Covers of 1970s Romance Comics

At first glance, these ten covers seem to have no apparent unifying theme, other than that they are quite lovely and from a relatively short range of time -- late 1971 to Spring of 1973. Take a closer look at them and you will see that in the background, each has an African-American couple as witness or participant to the focal events. Interestingly, the majority of these ten issues have stories in which African-American characters are either the main characters or primary supporting characters in at least one of the interior stories. More interestingly, the issues from this time period that do not have African-American characters on the covers tend not to have African-American characters featured in the interior. While necessarily not always the case, it is a rather striking trend. As covers are generally the first thing a reader sees when they come in contact with a comic, the African-American couple on each acts almost as a type of "signal" that African-American characters will be found underneath the cover.

Falling in Love #127
(December 1971)

Young Love #92
(February 1972)

Heart Throbs #140
(April 1972)

Girls' Love Stories #169
(May 1972)

Girls' Love Stories #170
(June 1972)

Falling in Love #135
(August 1972)

Girls' Love Stories #172
(August 1972)

Heart Throbs #145
(September 1972)

Young Love #100
(October 1972)

Love Stories #149
(March/April 1973)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Creig Flessel One-Pager - Without A Doubt

The late issues of Young Love and Young Romance feature delicious one pagers -- most illustrated by two of my favorite romance artists, Win Mortimer and Creig Flessel. "Without a Doubt" by Flessel from Young Romance #203 (January/February 1975) captures true romance and all the groovy aspects of the 1970s -- bell bottoms, platforms, and the Afro hairstyle that gained prominence during the Civil Rights Movement.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Visit the Sequential Crush Bookshop!

You may have noticed the above image in my sidebar as of just the other day -- I have finally opened an Amazon astore filled with books that are pertinent to the topics I discuss here on the blog! When you click on the image, it will take you to my store! So far, the books I recommend are divided up into the following categories:

♥ Career Girls
♥ Romance Comics
♥ Comic Book History
♥ 1960s and 1970s
♥ Romance Genre
♥ Women's History

I will continually add books to the store,
so be sure to check it out!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Man I Married - Heart Throbs #138 (February 1972)

Our first story for Black History Month is "The Man I Married" from Heart Throbs #138 (February 1972). While some romance stories featuring African-American characters deal with issues of race, it is most often the case in the romance comics that when both the leading man and woman are African-American, it is a typical romance story and race is irrelevant. I think this one is particularly good. I am fond of it because of the beautiful color pallet and the O. Henry style ending -- which are always fun in my opinion! This three-page story is best read in it's entirety -- enjoy!!!

*Thanks to Nick Caputo for identifying the art of this story as being the work of Mike Sekowsky and Vince Colletta!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Black History Month at Sequential Crush!

Friends! February is a very special month! Not only does it contain the lovely Valentine's Day holiday, it is also Black History Month! I have acquired a number of issues since last February with stories of African-American characters, and I can't wait to share them with you. This is especially exciting for me, because I am doing some long-term research on the portrayal of racial integration and diversity in romance comics and you, fair reader, will get a preview of that research! In anticipation for what I hope will be a stimulating month at Sequential Crush, below are a few links to posts from February of last year!

The saga of Margo and Chuck
Black + White = Heartbreak!
Parts one and two

The kiss-less romance,
Marvel's "I Failed at Love!"

Out of This World also did a great series
on African-American characters in comics
including the interracial romance,
"Full Hands, Empty Heart"

Looking forward to seeing you around this month!