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.
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!