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.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Real Talk - Are You Too Young to Marry?

Hey there! I'm back! So good to see you! I had a very productive last bit of Summer, but you better believe me -- I missed you guys (or missed y'all as I'm supposed to be practicing now that I live in Nashville). I was going to share a sequential story with you today, but I came across this absolute gem of an advice piece a bit ago, and I just couldn't hold it back any longer!

The two-page "Are You Too Young To Marry?" from Girls' Romances #149 (June 1970) may look a little long and boring, but believe me -- it isn't. You will thank yourself later for reading it, as I believe it may change your perspective a bit on the romance comics of this period. The title question, "Are you too young to marry?" is completely rhetorical. The unknown author of this piece (hailing from the Girls' Romances editorial staff) was out to convince readers that they were indeed too young to marry. Advising young ladies to enjoy their youth, this article is decidedly feminist and ahead of its time. In an era when women in the United States did tend to get married much earlier than they do today, this article encourages female children to be just that -- children. Seeing that romance comics were a form of entertainment that so often depicted young marriages, this promotion of the sanctity of childhood is comforting; especially since we know little girls as young as nine years old were reading these comic books.

 Click each page to enlarge!

I think at times, we are too harsh on this time period, and certainly, romance comics have been blanketed with a bad rap for depicting mores that we as citizens of the 21st century may find hard to understand. "Are You Too Young To Marry?" is, in my opinion, one of the best advice pieces ever published in the romance comics. And though we aren't as concerned with teen marriage in the United States today as we once were, this piece has some excellent points that resonate still. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

August Break - Final Update






I suppose I should explain that last one! I recently found a good source of 1960s and '70s fashion and teen magazines, and I figure I ought to collect a few of them as a sort of compliment to the romance comics. I am interested in how much overlap there is, especially in the advice columns. I'll probably be letting you know at some point! Well, that's it for my little photo posts! I'm nearing the end of the current phase of the other project I've been working on, so you should see me back here around the 15th or so! Until then -- stay groovy!