Friday, June 12, 2015

Serious Topics in 1970s Romance Comics - Girl Hitch-Hiker Missing!


When I lived in Denmark and worked in the LEGO Group's archives, there were a few Saturdays I went in the office to work on a collection I was processing. There in the storage -- alone -- was freaky enough, but for some reason I decided that watching old episodes of Unsolved Mysteries on YouTube while I archived materials was a good idea. There was one episode I saw that stuck with me. It was about two young Swedish women that hitchhiked in California, went missing, and were subsequently found murdered. As I watched the grainy video, I was totally spooked. I also thought to myself -- with all the uncertainty it brings, who on Earth would hitchhike? But people did, and for many years (especially around the Great Depression) it wasn't that big of a deal.

The romance story "Hitch-Hiker" that I have for you this evening from Young Romance #206 (July/August 1975) (cover pencils by Creig Flessel, and story pencils by Win Mortimer) tells a cautionary tale of hitchhiking. The story's simple message? Hitchhike and something bad will befall you.

So what happened? How did hitchhiking go from something that was rather commonplace to something that was viewed as incredibly dangerous? Among other events, in 1972 and 1973, a rash of hitchhikers were murdered near Santa Rosa, California, shocking the nation. The case of Kathy Devine in 1973, a young teenager found murdered after hitchhiking in Seattle, no doubt exacerbated the fear of the practice. A hitchhiking ban was even sought by the victim's family via petition. Though it is not certain whether this comic book story is based on any real life headline as it proclaims to be, it no doubt was intended to capitalize on the shock value of hitchhiking, and simultaneously act as a warning to young readers.

"You've read the headlines -- now here is the story --
my story of danger and despair -- and an ill-fated kind of love ---"

Sally is a free-spirited young woman. Along with her friends, she has no qualms of hopping into cars with strangers as her primary mode of transportation. That is, until she is taken on a ride that is more than she bargained for.


The people that pick Sally up range from the fatherly type, to the older cute guy. But one never knows when attempting such risky behavior who will drive by and offer a ride.

Sally thinks she has it all worked out until one day she is a approached by a car of two men who seem suspicious. Though Sally tells them that she is waiting for her dad to pick her up, one of the men insists on introducing himself. He says that he is a newspaper reporter, and the driver of the car, a photographer.

The two are working on a feature for the paper about hitchhikers, and would like to observe Sally. Hesitant at first, Sally eventually decides that the arrangement sounds too exciting to pass up and agrees to let the two men follow her on her next hitch. The reporters give Sally a boost of confidence, and she accepts the next ride despite the fact the men in the car look "unsavory." She soon regrets her decision.


Once the men are notified by Sally that they are being followed by reporters, the driver screeches out into traffic, eventually losing the newspaper men. As the car careens out of control, Herb, the long-haired lunk tells Sally, "You'd better pray, baby!" Turns out the car they are driving isn't just any old car. It's stolen.

The men hole up in an abandoned summer cottage, and in one of the most shocking panels in a 1970s romance comic, lock Sally in the strange attic for the night.

It's hard to see where any romance could enter this story, but when Ralph (the reluctant kidnapper of the bunch) releases Sally from the attic, she begins to feel tenderly toward her rescuer. A brief connection between them is halted when the other men barge in the cottage with a newspaper. It turns out the reporters were legit, and they even snapped a photo of the captors' getaway vehicle. Herb instructs Ralph to watch Sally while they hide the car in the woods. Finding themselves alone together once again, Ralph helps Sally get to the nearby bus stop off the highway to make her escape.

After divulging his love for her, Ralph and Sally kiss goodbye. Will they ever see each other again? While their future is uncertain, the one thing that can be counted on is that after the harrowing experience, Sally will never take another ride from a stranger again -- no matter how cute.


With just enough romance thrown in to stay true to the brand, "Hitch-Hiker" can certainly be viewed as an attempt by DC for relevancy. What do you think? Did DC bring the drama with "Hitch-Hiker" or was this story indicative of the romance genre inching past its prime? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this unusual story!

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16 comments:

  1. Great post!
    I enjoyed reading it.
    m.p.

    p.s. can you get me a job in a Lego factory? I would never go home.

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    1. Thank you!

      As far as the LEGO factory goes, much of it is actually run robotically!

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  2. Hi Jacque,

    Since Joe Simon was the editor and he originated the romance line with Jack Kirby, I suspect Simon was continuing what he did originally:attempting to deal with contemporary issues.

    While the idea of writing about a serious issue like the dangers of hitchhiking was a good one, the plot of the clean-cut Ralph involved with the criminal character and the romance aspect was a little hard to accept.

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    1. Great point about Joe Simon as editor, Nick! It seems in these later issues he favored the work of Mortimer and Flessel -- much to my delight!

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  3. Two things -- that "tenderness towards the nice kidnapper" reminds me of a biker movie plot. See "Glory Stompers" (1967) with Dennis Hopper. The other thing is I grew up young in the 1970's in the full brunt of the hitchhiking backlash, and was taught from every corner not to do it. (Schools, parents, TV shows, etc.). My thought was always "Why would anybody do that to start with?"

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    1. I am going to have to check that movie out, Jay! There are actually a few other romance stories I can think of that involve biker gangs, so it might prove useful there as well. Thank you!

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  4. Jacque: Hi! Thanks for another great post.

    Like Jay, I also grew up in the 1970s, and I recall being taught (not only by my parents, but also by news reports and "ripped from the headlines" TV movies) how dangerous hitch-hiking was. I recall only one time my parents picking up a hitch-hiker--he was an elderly man that we gave a ride for a few miles while we were on our way to the movies.

    I agree with Nick that this story seems a 1970s equivalent of the old Simon-Kirby romance stories that had a contemporary (and often shock-type) angle to them. I don't find "Hitch-Hiker" a very pleasant story, because the threat of violence to our female lead makes it pretty scary. I guess the unresolved ending (Sally never knowing what happened to Ralph) is intriguing (although I hope Sally remembers that Ralph was involved with a group of car thieves!).

    Stories like this one do seem to suggest that the romance genre couldn't have continued for much longer, at least not while staying fairly innocent.

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    1. You are so welcome!

      I also think it is quite a scary story. I can only imagine what readers at the time thought of it! Especially that sad scene where Sally is made to sleep on the dusty mattress. I was pretty shocked to read this one!

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  5. Yeah, I grew up during the '70s too, and I recall the frequent warnings and campaigns against hitchhiking - and the associated horror stories of what could happen to you if you did - quite well.
    So this story definitely has a PSA/after-school special vibe to it, and I think it's unsurprising that DC decided to feature it in a romance story; after all, most of the readership of the romance titles were probably female (mainly pre-teen and teenage girls I assume), and I recall that hitchhiking was viewed as particularly dangerous for young women.

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    1. Though I was surprised to find this story, perhaps I shouldn't be for the reasons you mention, Edo. There are a few of these cautionary tales, and interestingly enough... a few of them also illustrated by either Mortimer or Flessel.

      How interesting that so

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  6. Jeez, that was almost like some grungy '70's horror B-movie that Rob Zombie is even now remaking, with added Stockholm syndrome!
    I only ever hitch-hiked once, and got picked up by the cops for doing it!

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    1. Oops! Too bad you hadn't read this story before attempting it, Pete!

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  7. I can still remember positive treatment of hitch-hiking back in this era, from TV commercials to the song "Hitching a Ride" (Long distance call I got today/Says she's lonely so I'm on my way).

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    1. In a way, I can see the romanticism associated with it, so that doesn't surprise me.

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  8. It wasn't just hitching a ride that was considered dangerous. Picking up a hitchhiker was supposed to be dangerous too!

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    1. Neither seem appealing to me, that's for sure!

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