Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Romance Comics in the Music City - Young Love's "Operation Star"

Young Love #103 (March/April 1973) is a bit of an anomaly. Not only is the Bob Oksner penciled cover striking (only a few covers utilized the view from under the legs stance), it also only contained two stories. While the majority of romance issues from the 1960s and '70s had at least three sequential stories and some filler, this particular issue only contained two -- one of them being the rather long 16-page "Operation Star" that I am sharing with you today.

One thing you may notice about "Operation Star" (penciled by Jack Katz) in particular, is its locale. Most romance stories were set entirely in New York City, a tiny nondescript town in middle America, or Hollywood or Paris for a little glamor. I was delighted to discover that this one was set partially in Nashville (my new hometown!), and I think as you will see, it adds a little bit of a unique flavor to the story. Seeing as country music and the country aesthetic were incredibly popular in the 1970s, it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise.

Marilyn works for her fiancé, Freddy at his fly-by-night, semi-scam of a small business -- the "Anything for Anyone Agency." While leaving the office one evening for a party, Freddy asks Marilyn to try to "drum up" some business while socializing, and she reluctantly agrees.

 Easter Egg alert!

The party in question is the 21st birthday celebration for Jim -- the gorgeous, fringed-jacket wearing, not-so-great-at-singing, brother of Marilyn's friend, Alice.

Though Marilyn loves Freddy, she is super intrigued by Jim. Marilyn has Alice introduce her to Jim, and Marilyn wastes no time in trying to convince him that he could use the services of her agency to get his singing career off the ground.

Jim is intrigued by the prospects, and tells Marilyn he will be in touch. The next morning, Jim rings Marilyn and asks to meet her in person. The two grab a coffee and Jim asks if Marilyn and her agency will help him become a "top recording star." Marilyn is a little hesitant to agree to such a lofty request right off the bat, but Freddy isn't. Upon hearing that Jim has a trust fund, Freddy demands that a contract is drawn up toot sweet. Knowing that Jim isn't that great of a singer and Freddy a con man, Marilyn feels some dissonance. Though Marilyn has her doubts, Freddy has Jim come in the next day to "audition." He warns Jim that making him a star will incur some expenses. Jim is game, and "Operation Star" begins.

Freddy puts Marilyn in charge of the project, and her first task is to take Jim to visit the leading players in the country music scene to observe and study their methods and ways. And where else will they do this but in Nashville?

With her superb connections in the music industry, Marilyn arranges recording sessions and other activities for Jim with Music City's finest. Though Jim thinks incredibly highly of himself and his talents, he still just isn't really all that good at playing music when it comes down to it. Despite his lack of talent and disproportionate self-esteem levels, Marilyn finds herself inexplicably falling for him -- all the while retaining feelings for Freddy.

One evening while still in Nashville, a barn dance and hayride is thrown (with Jim's trust fund money, shhhh... don't tell him that!) to help promote his career. Other, established country stars such as "Johnny Glory" perform to get the crowd riled up. But when Jim takes the stage... well... nothing. Perhaps the world just isn't ready for Jim, Country Music Superstar. Or more likely, as Marilyn knows, he just doesn't have that much talent.

I dare you to find a more heartbreaking
panel in a comic book of a guy chewing
on straw, than that one right there.

Though unsure of Jim's talent, Marilyn does seem to be sure that she is attracted to him and his unwavering belief in himself. But, she is still conflicted over what she sees as him being overly self-involved.

Typical Friday night in Nashville.

 Back in NYC, Freddy continues to arrange tours and other various press activities in an attempt to sell Jim as a star. Slowly but surely, Jim's publicity coverage starts to increase. After a somewhat successful trip out to Los Angeles, Jim and Marilyn make their way back to New York.

Back at the "Anything for Anyone Agency," it is clear that Freddy has taken liberties with Jim's money. In fact, Freddy has spent Jim's entire trust fund on the lavish trips, promotional parties, and incredulously, a renovation of the agency's office. Marilyn has had enough. She can't hold back her love for Jim any longer, and she certainly can't go on conning him with the help of Freddy.

After an abysmal concert given by Jim at Carnegie Hall (arranged by Freddy, much to Marilyn's protest) in which he is practically booed off stage, Marilyn breaks the news to him that all his money is gone. She explains that though she wanted to teach him a lesson at first for being so self-involved, ultimately, it was Freddy who conned them both. Though broke, Jim and Marilyn have their love for one another -- and Jim a gig in the East Village, which hopefully, will lead to bigger and better things.

While I am not the biggest fan of Katz's leggy characters, I do appreciate his supreme eye for detail. Overall, "Operation Star" is a unique and entertaining story with entertaining characters. And if you will, notice at the end that this oh-so-very-modern couple has shacked up, with no mention of marriage -- definitely something that didn't happen all that often in the romance comics.


  1. Cool stuff. I've never really been interested in romance books before, but the more I read about them, and take them for what they are, the art, the great covers etc...I'm becoming more intrigued into acquiring some. A local comic retailer here has a bunch of these bronze age books for 1-3$ each...I just might have to him 'em up for a few...

    1. That's awesome, Tony! I'm glad the bug is spreading! ;)

    2. I'll let you know when and what I get :)

  2. Thanks, Jacque, for another entertaining read! I had noticed that issue's cover before when looking at romance comics on the GCD. The "crotch shot" is intriguing--usually one sees such scenes depicting (or exploiting) a woman, but here it's a male, with tight pants and all! I wonder if the creators were thinking of their (predominantly) female reading audience when designing the cover, or whether something else was at play.

    I also was surprised by the "shacking up" ending. I haven't run across that kind of relationship before in early 1970s comics, although I think there were one or two stories where it was implied.

    All in all, a highly interesting story--even if, like you, I'm not completely sold on Katz's art! :)

    1. Now that I'm thinking of it, I am sure that I have come across a few stories of pre-marital cohabitation. Definitely something I am going to try to be more cognizant of, as that could make for an interesting post. Cohabitation wasn't explicitly prohibited by the 1971 Comics Code revision, but still seems a little risque for this time! Maybe not?!

  3. Wow! Gotta love Jack Katz's elongated people.

    Jacque, have you run across any other extra-length romance stories? I thought they were all 8 pages or less.

    Jake Oster

    1. I have, Jake. There are quite a few that were around 12 pages, but the longest that I am aware of is in Heart Throbs #124, which is a whopping 24 pages long! They billed it on the cover as a "complete romance novel!"

  4. Jacque,

    Thanks for sharing such an offbeat and intriguing story. I found Katz's storytelling effective, particularly his montage panel. For you completsts the inking appears to be by Mike Esposito.

    1. Thanks, Nick! It looks like most of the Katz romance stories were inked by Esposito.

  5. Jacque, Nick, hi. This is nick katradis. I purchased the original art to this complete story directly from Jack Katz about 2 1/2 years ago and his listing on ebay said that he drew and inked this story!

  6. Hi Nick,

    I'm confident that the inking is by Esposito. His wispy line is evident throughout.

  7. Nick Katradis -- Thank you for the info and link! How cool is it that you own this story?! Jealous! :)

    Anyhow, I am certainly not an expert on inkers, but it is good to have all this information to consider. Thank you to both Nick K. and Nick C.!

  8. If Nick C says its Espo inks, i believe him.
    Nick k

  9. "the longest that I am aware of is in Heart Throbs #124, which is a whopping 24 pages long! They billed it on the cover as a "complete romance novel!"

    Hey Jacque,

    I found a story that is 26 pages from Secret Hearts 147:

    1. Oh yes! There are few of those long ones out there. That particular one was advertised as a "novelette."