Friday, June 13, 2014

(Don't) Put a Ring On It - The Curse of the Engagement Ring in Romance Comics!

Over the years I've been studying romance comics, I've noticed something; hardly ever does a marriage proposal in the romance comics culminate with the giving of an engagement ring. Actually, more often than not, when a ring does make an appearance, things tend not to turn out very well for the parties concerned. Today, media, advertising, and other cultural expectations make engagement rings seem like the cornerstone of any engagement, and often, almost eclipse the actual romance of the event in its retelling. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not against a little bling as a symbolic token of one's love, affection, and commitment, but their almost curse-like properties in the romance comics is a pretty fascinating phenomena!

First, let's take a look at a few stories in which a ring is given. 

A pin takes the place of a ring in "A Lesson for Linda," but the outcome is not good. The couple eventually splits because Ron doesn't approve of Linda's career ambitions. 

"A Lesson for Linda"
Love Romances #94
(July 1961)

In "He Laughed at My Tears!" Janie receives a beautiful ring, but it isn't enough to keep the romance going. Things eventually sour with her fiancé when Janie falls in love with another man. Oops! Too bad for Billy!

"He Laughed at My Tears!"
Heart Throbs #98
(October/November 1965)

You know something is awry when I story starts, 

"I only met Jerome Riall eight days ago...
but there's a fantastic diamond on my finger now and we're
engaged to be married in less than a month! It's all according
to the plan I had when I applied for this job in the Las Vegas
hotel... Where I knew there were more rich men than
could be found anywhere else!"

Angela does end up marrying, but not Jerome, and not until she learns the lesson that jewels and riches should not come before love. The engagement in this story is especially interesting because it associates a gold digger with the pursuit of a "fantastic diamond."

"A Rich Man's Kisses"
Secret Romance #10
(December 1970)

Just because it's sparkly, a ring does not make up for an unsparkly relationship, as demonstrated in Charlton's "I'll Be Alone..." 

"I'll Be Alone..."
Secrets of Young Brides #5
(March 1976)

"Obey That Impulse!" is one of the rare stories that features an engagement ring and ends well for the two lovers. But when you take into consideration that Wayne already had a fiancée, maybe "ends well" is open to interpretation!

"Obey That Impulse!"
Young Love #98
(August 1972)

Now, let's look at what non-ring bearing proposals look like. 

Though their engagement has a few bumps in the road, this Young Love story ends as happily as that 100-watt smile.

"Too Much in Love!"
(March/April 1966)

Who says a proposal has to be fancy? Jim's simple proposal in the car won him mega points with his lady. These two crazy kids wind up getting married, and the story finishes with a happily ever after worthy of a fairy tale. 

"Too Shy for Love!"
Love Romances #94
(July 1961)

Lovebirds Dean and Holly may have had a little physical distance between them during their betrothal, but all ends well! Let's just hope they got a little closer on their honeymoon! 

"Winner Take All"
Falling in Love #137
(October 1972)

True love doesn't discriminate when it comes to location. Sometimes, a guy just has to pop the question while at work, and in front of his future mother-in-law! 

"Forsake My Love"
Girls' Romances #156
(April 1971)

Just on the cusp of the 1960s, there was nothing wrong with a simple moonlit proposal in "A Lifetime of Love!"

"A Lifetime of Love!"
Girls' Love Stories #60
(February 1959)

It seems as if Raj and Leah have just gotten to know one another, but a no-fuss beach side proposal suits their carefree personalities.

"Don't Trap Me Darling!"
Teen-Age Love #67
(November 1969)

Now, I won't leave out the possibility that there could be plausible explanations for the lack of/negative portrayal of engagement rings in the romance comics. Perhaps, it could be complete and utter coincidence; or, the fact that engagement rings just simply weren't as popular with the primarily male, depression-era generation creating the romance comics. Another explanation for their infrequency could be that in the romance comics, so full of impulsive romantic fantasy, premeditated proposals were few and far between. With so many of them being spur of the moment, doesn't that make them more romantic in a way?

It's funny that something we consider so normalized now (the giving of an engagement ring) was portrayed as anything but just a few decades ago. The famous De Beers slogan, "A Diamond is Forever" doesn't really carry a whole lot of weight in the romance comics. From what we've seen, in the lives of romance comic book characters, a diamond really doesn't mean much -- but true love sure does mean everything. 

Credits: 1.) "A Lesson for Linda" Love Romances #94 (July 1961) Pencils and Inks: Vince Colletta 2.) "He Laughed at My Tears!" Heart Throbs #98 (October/November 1965) 3.) "A Rich Man's Kisses" Secret Romance #10 (December 1970) Pencils: Charles Nicholas, Inks: Vincent Alascia 4.) "I'll Be Alone..."Secrets of Young Brides #5 (March 1976) Pencils and Inks: Art Cappello 5.) "Obey That Impulse!" Young Love #98 (August 1972) 6.) "Too Much in Love!" Young Love #54 (March/April 1966) Pencils and Inks: John Romita 7.) "Too Shy for Love!" Love Romances #94 (July 1961) Pencils: Dick Giordano, Inks: Vince Colletta  8.) "Winner Take All" Falling in Love #137 (October 1972) Pencils: Win Mortimer, Inks: Vince Colletta 9.) "Forsake My Love" Girls' Romances #156 (April 1971) Pencils: Ric Estrada, Inks: Dick Giordano 10.) "A Lifetime of Love!" Girls' Love Stories #60 (February 1959) 11.) "Don't Trap Me Darling!" Teen-Age Love #67 (November 1969) Pencils: Charles Nicholas, Inks: Vincent Alascia

Thank you for reading and have a fantastic weekend!
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  1. I think you're on to something when you mention the role of impulsiveness in romance stories. Ring or no ring, getting engaged puts a buffer between the clinch and the consummation (not THAT kind of consummation!) of the relationship. "Will you marry a couple of months." Ending the story with the clinch implies "We'll get married tomorrow!" and is more emotionally satisfying.

    If the couple become engaged earlier in the story, the relationship must be endangered somehow for dramatic purposes. Either the heroine falls for someone else but discovers her fiance is the Real One; or she falls for the Real One and realizes her engagement is a mistake. There have been plenty of both kinds of story, but I think that mechanically the second plot works better because the heroine goes somewhere new rather than back the way she came. Just a thought.

    1. That's a great exposition, Smurfswacker, of how engagements tend to go in the romance comics. The pursuit of the "Real One" is a theme that runs throughout most stories. I agree that the second plot is definitely more interesting, and often, truer to life!

  2. Very interesting post, Jacque--I appreciate your hard work and research in putting together pieces like this one!

    You make an interesting point about whether the fact that many of the romance comics creators were "Depression babies" may have affected their view of diamond engagement rings. It does seem like, when one sees a man offering a diamond ring in a romance comic, it often seems to symbolize romantic insincerity on the part of the man (he's an oily seducer) or the woman (she's a materialistic gold-digger).

    You may also be right that diamond engagement rings just weren't as common at the time. I do know of people of my parents' generation who bought a diamond engagement ring years after their wedding, because they couldn't afford one when they were starting out!

    Incidentally, you didn't identify the illustration at the top of the post, but I'd recognize Mike Sekowsky anywhere! :)

    1. Thanks, Dave! This one was super fun to put together! Doh! I don't know why I didn't credit that first image -- I guess because it was sort of outside the narrative. Anyhow, yes! Sekowsky! I find myself loving his work more and more over time. Always distinctive. I can't help but look at it and think, Wonder Woman!

  3. IIRC, the diamond engagement ring didn't take off until the 1930s, and only because DeBeers pushed to make it seem like the only appropriate thing to do. So yeah, maybe the older generation didn't catch the wave.But I think you're right, the impulsiveness angle makes sense.
    It reminds me a little of the way the perfect man in Rom Coms never gets the girl--it's the surly, unemployed, seeming loser who winds up being the right one (Reality Bites, Sunday in New York, Midnight, Hands Across the Table ...)

  4. I love this post! What a great theme, and you sure did it up right. I can easily imagine a great book of a compilation of the best of your essays from SC. It's interesting how the ring - that glittering material token - becomes a symbol of doomed love in romance comics, while the folks that simply propose marriage sans jeweled token fair much better. Well done.

    1. Thank you, Mykal. That means so much :) As far as a book... stay tuned!!! ;)