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.