Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Romance in Black and White - Romance Comic Stories Redrawn for Diversity

Swipes, reprints, and reinterpreted stories were not uncommon in the romance comics of the 1960s and '70s. Most often they were done to update hairstyles and adorn characters with more contemporary outfits to maintain relevancy with their primarily teen audience. However, there were a few stories that were redrawn, as well as recolored, to alter the race of the characters. Those such stories are a little more rare. Today I have an example of this from two stories, "Take Me Back!" and "Revenge!" that appeared in Young Romance #151 (December/January 1967) and Girls' Love Stories #170 (June 1972), respectively. The original pencils on the story were done by John Rosenberger.

This phenomena of redrawing and recoloring is extremely fascinating to me. When I thought about the why of it all and the reasons behind a comic book publisher doing this, I had a couple thoughts. First simply being that reprinting a story with the characters redrawn was probably a time saving, cost-effective way to repackage a story for a more modern audience. But then why not just change the hairstyles and outfits like usual? After thinking a bit more about it and coming across the Kerner Commission Report of 1968 (also known as the Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, which can be read here), a line in Chapter 15 (p. 18) stuck out at me. It advised media outlets to:

"Integrate Negroes and Negro activities into all aspects
of coverage and content,  including newspaper articles and
television programming. The news media must publish
newspapers and produce programs that recognize the existence
and activities of Negroes as a group within the community
and as a part of the larger community."

After reading this document, I believe it is very likely that the comic book publishers were affected by this report or at least had some knowledge of it. Of course it will take more research to actually prove (cue dreams of me digging diligently through the DC and Marvel archives -- adorned in white gloves, pencil in hand), but it certainly is a strong possibility.

The story is simple enough... boy falls out of love, girl wants revenge. But our focus here really isn't the plot per se, but the fact that it was redrawn to promote diversity. As you will see, almost all of the dialogue is the same, and the characters' names are even the same. The only major difference besides the race of the characters is the story title.

Don't forget to click on each image to see more detail!

As begins many a romance story, Terry has been cruelly and unceremoniously dumped by her boyfriend, Rich. Time passes and anger and loneliness consume her.

Terry decides that she will get her revenge. She doesn't know how quite yet, but she'll get it.

The answer comes to her in a dream that night -- a dream that recurs over and over for Terry. In the fantasy-like dream, Rich comes back, admits he is a fool, and proclaims his love for Terry. What says the distraught maiden? A declarative "Tough!"

Dreams are one thing, but sometimes reality can be far stranger. A few months later (revenge still a wish for Terry), she is out for lunch and just as her food arrives, so does Rich. The sad sack tells her he is sick. Sick in love... with her! It seems Terry's dream has come true, but how will she react?

As Rich begs Terry to take him back, she suddenly has a change of heart. No longer wanting to get revenge, Terry coolly declares that she no longer is in love with him.

As they walk out of the restaurant together, Terry tells Rich that she had dreamed of the moment when revenge was hers for the taking. She then goes on to tell him that she just couldn't do it when she remembered the hurt she felt when he broke her heart. Upon telling Rich that, he declares what a wonderful person she is, and asks Terry if she would like to be friends. 

And so friends the two become. One day while hanging out, they realize that they weren't even friends to begin with when they were dating. As a result of their friendship, the two seem to like one another more now that they are friends. Rich goes in for a kiss, and well, the rest is history.

Not the most Earth-shattering story on its own, but the fact that it was redrawn and recolored is what makes this tale memorable. For whatever reason DC decided to recolor this story, it does go to show that love and romance are truly universal. I still have more thinking and research to do when it comes to these rare redrawn and recolored stories, but as it stands, this is a fascinating slice of American history when it comes to the examination of race in popular culture.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Preview of Fantagraphics' Young Romance 2: The Early Simon & Kirby Romance Comics

Young Romance 2: The Early Simon & Kirby Romance Comics
By: Joe Simon & Jack Kirby, edited by Michel Gagné
Release Date: March 2014 (subject to change) 

Fantagraphics was kind enough to send me an advance copy of their newest romance collection, Young Romance 2: The Early Simon & Kirby Romance Comics to share with you fine folks! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this archival collection that covers Simon and Kirby’s early romance work spanning from 1947 to 1949, and I think you will too. The stories in this volume are primarily from the inaugural romance title, Young Romance, but two stories are from sister title, Young Love. These pre-Code stories differ quite a bit in style and substance from the beloved 1960s and ‘70s comics I usually cover here at Sequential Crush, but they are undoubtedly a treat to read. 

Young Romance 2 begins with a short introduction by comics historian Bill Schelly and goes on to feature 17 stories in full color, a brief explanation of the restoration process, and short creator bios. In my opinion, the restoration work done for this volume is stellar. It managed to avoid the bright colors that sometimes get worked into modern day interpretations of older comics, yet the subdued colors look fresh and inviting. The pages themselves are a creamy white and reminiscent of what the pages may have looked like fresh off the newsstand. 

Readers will notice that many of the themes in these early stories recur in the 1960s and ‘70s romance stories. One such example is “His Best Friend’s Sweetheart” from Young Romance #3 (1948) (misprinted in the table of contents as “Her Best Friend’s Sweetheart”) in which a young lady waits for her sweetheart to come home from war, only to have his best friend try to scoop her up in the meantime. I think you, my dear readers, will delight in exploring the types of stories in this volume which give a foundation for the material I present here at Sequential Crush.

Other memorable stories in the volume include “I Fell in Love with My Star Pupil!” from Young Romance #5 (1948) (also misprinted in the table of contents as “I Fell in Love with My Pupil”) in which a big city teacher moves to the country, only to fall in love with a non-traditional adult student. Though the townspeople disapprove and run her out of the community, love proves stronger than hate, and the couple ends up marrying. “War Bride,” originally published in Young Romance #7 (1948) chronicles the heartbreaking story of a young French woman who comes to the States after falling in love with a dashing GI, only to have her betrothed die in a freak accident immediately upon her arrival. “War Bride” stands out from the pack for its message at the end which instructs readers to choose love, not fear. My other personal favorite was probably “Too Wise for Romance!” from Young Love #2 (1949) in which a young woman with dreams of Broadway hits a rough patch and turns to taxi dancing. After an old flame comes back into her life, his support enables her to get back on track to pursue her dreams. 

A few notes on the dialogue of these stories…

One definitely has to remember that these are pre-Code stories, and because of that fact are filled with language that wouldn’t be seen in the later romance comics -- “Hussy” and “Sadistic fool” among them. When the main male character in “The Man I Loved Was a Woman-Hater!” from Young Love #1 (1949) lets it be known about his rough and tumble self, “Pete Lewis can be a cutie too!” I just about lost it. This is the type of dialogue you just want to wrap up and hug tight. You’ll also probably notice while reading these stories that overall, each panel is much busier than the panels in later romance comics. Romance comics (and comics in general) were just plain wordy back then. So prepare yourself for lots of reading with these. 

Throughout the volume, the art is also incredibly detailed and strangely enough, it was the mundane things that thrilled me… a cast-iron pan here, a wood-burning stove there. For me, the backgrounds are an education in our material past. Another observation that will stick out for fans of later romance comics is that in these early stories, young women live almost exclusively with their parents prior to marriage. No roommates or independent living arrangements for these leading ladies. 

This volume really gives the reader a clear look at what romance comic book stories were like during the early days, but unfortunately, not what romance comics issues in their entireties were like. For one, I would have liked to see a gallery of covers, such as the gallery of photo covers that was included in volume one. Also what was missing were examples of the advice columns, fashion pages, and other featurettes. Those aspects of the romance comics that make them so different from other genres are certainly missed in this volume. Even a representative advertisement or two would have been a welcome break from the text heavy stories. I would have also liked to see either a longer introductory essay or breaks in-between the stories giving more historical context. A bit of a nitpicky thing, but I was disappointed by the number of mistakes in story titles in the table of contents as it could cause confusion for the reader. However, the high quality restoration of the pages overshadow those minute oversights. 

What you’ll discover after reading this volume is that the early Simon and Kirby romance stories are filled with young women who are steadfast in their dreams, and won’t quit until they reach them -- whether their dreams be fame, wifehood, or a new lease on life. While it is true that the romance comic book stories of the 1960s and ‘70s will always occupy the majority of my affections, these early romance stories still have a special place in my heart. 

Order your copy here,* and be sure to let me know what you think of it!

Photograph by of yours truly by James L. Carey, images from Fantagraphics Books

*Full Disclosure: If you decide to purchase through my Amazon bookshop, I get an itty bitty commission. This will not cost you anything additional, as Amazon has built in an extra cost to each item to accommodate for purchases made through affiliate links. As always, I appreciate your support!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Page Peterson on Where to Meet Boys

"Where to Meet Boys"
Secret Hearts #152
(June 1971)

Page Peterson (resident romance specialist) has some advice for young Secret Hearts readers of 1971 concerning where to meet boys. Her sage advice is as follows:

Get active! Page advises readers to get to know their neighborhoods, volunteer for community happenings, and maybe even get a part-time job: "A weekend job in a department store, restaurant, school, business office, doctor's or dentist's office, is one way to get on the scene with the young men you want to meet." Page also suggests getting a little notebook or planner to keep track of activities.

Mingle! If you want to meet a sweetheart at one of the above mentioned events or settings, it's best not to sit on the sidelines. Introduce yourself, and try to strike up a conversation. 

Throw a party! Invite those outside your regular circle as well. You never know if a new friend will lead to a new love interest! 

Ms. Peterson declares (and quite correctly from my experience) that by following the tenets outlined, "You'll find you've got involved in a pleasant social whirl that begins to take care of itself." 

"People enjoy having you around.
Your phone is busy. You're in demand.
You have become a more interesting person."

At the end of the piece, Page so correctly reminds young and impressionable readers not to be in a rush. Put yourself out there, have fun doing it, and the rest will follow. Another level-headed piece of advice from Page Peterson -- love guru.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Happy Valentine's Day!

We all know that romance comics are filled with quite a few tears. Let's be honest -- they are filled with tears galore. Heck, the tears of fair maidens are one of the trademarks of the genre. But today is not the day for that! Let's celebrate Valentine's Day with no crying... just pure romantic, weak-kneed, sexy bliss! I browsed through stacks upon stacks of romance comics in my collection to bring you some of the most romantic scenes out there; scenes worthy of a breathy gasp, or at the very least, the cover of a romance novel. Sometimes a kiss, sometimes just a touch of the hand, these are some of the most romantic panels (in no particular order) you'll find in the romance comics of the 1960s and '70s!

"A Kiss for Teacher"
Career Girl Romances #47
(October 1968)

"The Melody of Love"
Falling in Love #126
(November 1971)

 "Give Him Back"
Heart Throbs #141
(May 1972)

"We Can't Marry Yet"
Teen-Age Romance #79
(January 1961)

"Tough Girl!"
Young Romance #207
(September/October 1975)

 "Make Love to Me!"
Girls' Love Stories #177
(April/May 1973)

"Three Steps to Heartbreak"
Girls' Romances #130
(January 1968)

 "Price Tag on Love"
Heart Throbs #132
(June/July 1971)

"Come to Me!"
Young Love #73
(March/April 1969)

"I Can't Forget You!
Our Love Story #2

(December 1969)


Happy Valentine's Day!

Credits: 1.) "A Kiss for Teacher" Career Girl Romances #47 (October 1968) Pencils: Luis Avila 2.) "The Melody of Love" Falling in Love #126 (November 1971) Pencils: Tony DeZuniga 3.)  "Give Him Back" Heart Throbs #141 (May 1972) Pencils: Mike Sekowsky 4.) "We Can't Marry Yet" Teen-Age Romance #79 (January 1961) 5.) "Tough Girl!" Young Romance #207 (September/October 1975) 6.) "Make Love to Me!" Girls' Love Stories #177 (April/May 1973) Pencils: Art Saaf, Inks: Jack Abel 7.) "Three Steps to Heartbreak" Girls' Romances #130 (January 1968) 8.)  "Price Tag on Love" Heart Throbs #132 (June/July 1971) 9.) "Come to Me!" Young Love #73 (March/April 1969) 10.) "I Can't Forget You!" Our Love Story #2 (December 1969) Pencils: John Buscema, Inks: John Romita

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Unlikely Romance - Dell's Friday Foster

When I first picked up Dell's one-shot, Friday Foster (October 1972) at a comic book convention a couple of years ago, I had no idea who the character was. I bought it merely because it had a beautiful cover (dig that paisley!) and because I thought it looked romance-ish. What I found after reading it and researching the history of the character was quite intriguing. Friday Foster, written by Jim Lawrence and illustrated by Spanish artist, Jorge Longarón (later Gray Morrow) started as a comic strip in 1970. Not only was it beautifully illustrated, the strip has the distinction of being the first syndicated comic strip featuring an African-American woman as the lead.* After both the strip and the comic book version, in 1975, Friday got the big screen treatment when it was turned into a blaxploitation film starring Pam Grier.

Though Friday Foster and the ensuing story, "The Beautiful People" is not exactly a romance story per se, it deserves a spot here at Sequential Crush for a number of reasons. First off, Friday is a fashion photographer (who in the comic strip started off as a model) and therefore a career girl -- just like many of the romance characters from the 1960s and '70s. The art and story line are also similar to those found in romance comics, which is no coincidence really, as writer Joe Gill and artist Jack Sparling both contributed to the romance genre. In my mind, the issue can also be considered on par with other romance comics for the way in which it acts as both an indicator and forum for the discussion of both racial issues and personal insecurities, two topics which romance comics dealt with particularly well. Read on and judge for yourself!

The beginning of the issue follows Friday and her boss, Shawn North (world famous fashion photographer) on a day's work. They have been assigned the task of photographing the arrival of Princess Shangri of Teri-Aki, AKA Jenny Trevor, the most famous woman in the world. Friday is a little shook up by her world colliding with the princess's. Shawn implores Friday to not let it get in the way of their work.

The crowd of photographers mobs Princess Jenny, firing off questions. When Jenny exclaims to the crowd, "Why do you insist on treating us like, like we're different than anybody else?" Friday can't help but question the princess's reaction to the situation.

Later that afternoon Shawn and Friday go to check in with the editor of She, the women's fashion magazine they work for. Their editor, Mame Van Clive, is none too pleased that they failed in getting a good shot of the princess. Mame is also confused because she knows that both Shawn and Friday are too good of photographers to have done such a poor job. Friday then confesses to sabotaging the whole operation. She wanted the princess to look bad -- after all, Jenny seemingly has everything just for being rich and beautiful, while Friday has had to work to get to get where she is at. Mame takes Friday aside and lets her know that though she feels the same way, she doesn't let it get in the way of her work, and Friday needs to learn how to do the same. Mame also reminds Friday that Jenny's world isn't all glitter and glamour.

We as readers soon see that Mame is correct. Jenny does indeed have her own unique set of problems, the major one being that she and her children are incessantly followed by an aggressive member of the paparazzi, the vile Ferdy Trask.

After a narrow escape from a horrific accident with Trask, Jenny contacts her attorney to sue Trask for invasion of privacy. Her attorney then calls Mame with a proposition for Friday and Shawn. If they can gather photographic evidence that Trask is endangering the lives of the princess and her children, the photographers will in return be granted an exclusive interview and photo shoot for the magazine.

The only catch -- Friday must be Jenny's constant companion for the next two weeks to gather evidence and attempt to get a photo catching Trask in the act of bothering the family.

As can be expected, Friday is not too happy about this situation. For Friday, Jenny Trevor represents all the things she loathes.

After a 16 hour day with Jenny traipsing around town, Ferdy Trask isn't spotted (though Jenny repeatedly says that she feels his presence) and Friday is frustrated. She begins to doubt that Trask even exists and chalks it all up to Jenny wanting publicity.

What Friday doesn't know however, is that Trask has been following the princess, and Friday to boot. After following Friday home to Harlem one evening, Trask vows to find out who she is. Is she a friend of Jenny's or something more? Over the next couple of days, Trask camps out in front of Friday's apartment building. One morning after she leaves, Trask boldly goes to her unit and knocks on the door. Friday's little brother, Cleve, answers. Trask says he is from the mayor's office and inquires about how to reach Friday. Cleve reveals that his sister works for Shawn North. Confused as to why a pair of fashion photographers would be hanging around Jenny, Trask presses on with his campaign to find out who Friday is and why she has suddenly started palling around with the princess.

One day, Jenny takes Friday to Central Park for her first horseback ride. It becomes clear through this experience and the ensuing conversation between the two women, that they come from very different worlds indeed. Just as their conversation heats up and Jenny implores Friday to think of her as "only a person," Ferdy Trask shows up.

In a total jerk move, Trask whips Friday's horse to spook it and the horse bolts off -- with Friday on it! Trask catches up with her and threatens Friday to lay off. He even breaks Friday's mini camera in a further attempt to terrorize her.

This encounter is the first time Friday has actually seen Trask. When Jenny catches up to her, Friday tells her that she now of course believes her that the creep exists. Friday tells Jenny of Trask's threat and Jenny tells her that no one should risk getting hurt for a lawsuit. Friday begs to differ and in a tender moment, tells Jenny that she is a soul sister.

After the run in with Trask, Friday knows that he is a serious threat that must be dealt with. She is determined to continue on with the task of getting photographic evidence of him bothering Jenny and her children so that Jenny's attorney can beat Trask at his own game. Upon entering her apartment later that night, Friday is greeted by an armed Cleve. When she asks her brother why he is suited up in such a fashion, Cleve recounts Trask's visits and subsequent threats to hurt him.  

Upon hearing about Trask's threats to Friday and Cleve, Shawn wants to call Mame and tell her the deal is off. But Friday insists that the operation continues.

"Don't you see? It's more than just an assignment now.
I learned something yesterday, Mr. North. Jenny Trevor may be
rich and beautiful and a princess and all those things I'll never be.
But she's something else too... She's just as scared as I am.
She's a real person, Mr. North. A a real person!" 

Friday lets Shawn in on a plan she has concocted, which plays out on the next few pages.

The next morning, as instructed, Jenny leads her children out the front door of their home -- an unusual thing for the family in hiding. As expected, Trask is there to follow them. Their driver takes them to North's studio. Trask delights in the fact that he thinks he has scared Friday off. But quite the contrary. While at the photography studio, Jenny poses in couture gowns and Shawn gets the exclusive shots for She magazine. Trask looks on from the street and is thoroughly confused. Maybe Friday is just a harmless fashion photographer. And when Jenny appears to come out of the studio after the shoot without Friday, Trask's suspicions that Friday may be up to something continues to wane. What Ferdy Trask doesn't know is that the woman who emerged from the studio with Jenny's children isn't Jenny at all -- but Friday! The real Jenny, Mame, and Shawn follow in a taxi.

A car chase begins and as Trask follows "Jenny," Shawn takes photographs from the taxi. In the midst of the chase, Trask hits an innocent bystander's car and doesn't stop. Friday gets an incriminating shot of that too. A crowd begins to gather around the accident. Stupidly, so does Trask in an effort to get a photo of Jenny. But just as he thinks he will get away with a photo of the princess, Friday turns around and snaps a photo of him!

Soon after the incident, Trask is brought to court and tried for his transgressions against Jenny and her children. Though the story doesn't end with a kiss à la most romance stories, it does have a happy ending. Trask has been punished, and Friday realizes that despite her own situation, she wouldn't trade it in for anything, even the life of a princess.

Sadly for us (and readers at the time), the comic book version of Friday Foster wouldn't make it beyond the first issue. But if it had, we can sure bet it would have been filled with more fashion, intrigue, and more than likely -- a healthy dose of romance for our girl Friday.

*Update: I had a reader ask about Torchy Brown by Jackie Ormes and why that character isn't considered the first African-American female lead in a comic strip. Though I don't think it is super important to get wrapped up in "firsts" when historical significance can rest in so many places, the technicality here is that Torchy Brown was run in segregated African-American newspapers such as the Pittsburgh Courier, while Friday Foster ran in majority papers.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Sequential Crush Loves February!

About how entertained I look
while watching football
Secret Romance #38
(May 1976)

Hey all! Happy Superbowl Sunday, or if you are someone like me who isn't really into the whole thing, Happy Superb Owl Sunday! I love love love this Secret Romance cover by Jorge Badia Romero, and today makes for a great excuse to post it!

I hope you all enjoyed the last post by Joe Simon's granddaughter. If you missed it, be sure to read it here. As for what's in store the next few weeks... February is a big month for Sequential Crush. Not only is it the month containing Valentine's Day, it is also Black History Month. I am currently working on some things to celebrate both properly, so I hope you'll join me for that! Also this month, I will be doing a review of a book I think many of you will be interested in, so stay tuned for that as well! In the meantime, be sure to head over to the Sequential Crush Facebook page if you haven't already, or find me on Twitter and/or Instagram!

I also want to take this opportunity to say thank you to all my wonderful readers. If you feel that Sequential Crush has added a little something to your day, please feel free to leave a little tip via the PayPal donation button. Now run along and have a great time watching the Superbowl or Puppy Bowl, or whatever brings you happiness!