Monday, March 16, 2015

Women’s History Month – Libbers Say, Down with the Romance Comics!

The beauty (or perhaps aggravation) of research is the tendency for bits and pieces of information to reveal themselves slowly over time. There have been quite a few occasions when I've made a post, only to learn something significant later on that takes my understanding of a certain story or artist to another level. Today's post looks back at one such Marvel story that I've gathered a new piece of information on, and sheds a different light on the cultural climate surrounding the romance comics.

Remember this one?

Back in September of 2009 I ran the Marvel story, "No Man is My Master!" and a nice little discussion was had over the yarn. Just the other week, Sean Howe (author of Marvel Comics: The Untold Story) sent me a link for an underground newspaper on eBay, letting me know that there was something special in the publication that would probably be of interest to me. Naturally, it was of interest! Behold, the center spread of the January 15th - 21st, 1971 issue of the influential Californian underground newspaper, the Berkeley Barb

This find on Sean's part was quite fortuitous timing-wise, and I’m so thankful to him for sharing his find with me. Not only is it Women’s History Month and this historic document is incredibly relevant, a reader also made a generous donation, allowing me to make the purchase of the newspaper and add it to my collection.
It takes a few seconds to orient oneself to the spread, thick with age and lavender ink (from its creation on a spirit duplicator) to realize that the full story, “No Man is My Master" has been replicated in its entirety, complete with the following editorial message courtesy of the Liberation News Service

The sisters and brothers of Liberation News Service -- who felt the underground should know what Women's Liberation is up against -- had this to say about the accompanying comic art: "Comics are becoming increasingly more political. We're reprinting 'No Man Is My Master' not because it's so unusual but because it is a good example of what Marvel Comics is up to. Read on and let three men tell you what women's liberation is all about.

One of the things people who aren't familiar with romance comics are shocked to hear is the fact that the romances were in the majority, created by men (in this case, Stan Lee, John Buscema, and John Verpoorten). This spread in Berkeley Barb is a strong and definite push against the story of women being told by men at a time when the role of women in society was quickly changing. While I don’t have a definitive answer concerning if men can completely and accurately tell the experience of women (and vice-versa) I am reminded of something that Irene Vartanoff told me in her 2009 interview for Sequential Crush: "A truly excellent writer ought to be able to write from the perspective of either gender, any age, and any personality, race, national origin, or whatever." In that same interview, however, Irene went on to say,

I think it is part of feminism that we should not have our fantasies dictated to us or even related to us by men. It is important for women to learn what their fantasies are, rather than be told what they should be, or worse, what they should accept as a happy ending.

Irene's words, taken in context of the romance comics, ignite the imagination as to what the romance comics would have been like had they been primarily created by women instead of men. 

So what do you think? Were the romance comics successful depictions of the longings of womens' hearts? Or were they cheap stabs for monetary gain? Was this jab from the Liberation News Service via the Berkeley Barb warranted? I'd like to hear your reaction to all this! 

One other thing before we say goodbye! If you missed it -- last week, Women Write about Comics ran an interview with your truly! A fantastic site worth checking out, and I'm honored to have made a contribution. Check it out!

Thanks so much for reading!
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