Women of the Romance Comics - Liz Berube's "The Stranger Next Door!"
Happy International Women's Day! To celebrate, I've got a visual knockout of a story illustrated by Sequential Crush fave and one of the few women to work on romance comics during the 1960s and '70s -- Liz Berube. While Berube's fashion featurettes and horoscope pages are plentiful, she only illustrated two full-length romance stories. You can read the other one, "Kiss Me Only in My Dreams" here. While you're at it, check out the interview I did with Berube a few years back for more insight on her career! Now, on to "The Stranger Next Door!" from Girls' Love Stories #148 (January 1970).
As a little girl, Suzie is head over heels for Nickie, the dreamy boy next door. Ahhh, puppy love!
Not only is Nickie kind, he is thoughtful. But Suzie wants more than just friendship. When Nickie gifts her a doll on her tenth birthday, she appreciates the gesture but wishes for a kiss instead!
As the years pass, Nickie continues to stick up for Suzie -- especially when it comes to fending off cruel advances from town bully, Joe Jackson.
While Suzie still appreciates Nickie's friendship and protectiveness over her, she laments that he continues to view her as a "kid." Suzie wants to be acknowledged by her crush as the woman she is becoming.
On her seventeenth birthday, Suzie dons a swingin' floral minidress in hopes of grabbing Nickie's attention and affection. Much to Suzie's shock, Nickie is seeing someone else. As he drives off with his date, Suzie cries "scalding tears." While Suzie is completely heartbroken for being skipped over for another girl, Nickie doesn't even seem to realize that she is wild about him.
Suzie's mother starts to worry about her daughter. Suzie is spending more and more time in her room moping. Suzie overhears her mom talking to Nickie one day about it. Nickie reassures her mom that Suzie is just going through a phase, but he adds salt to the wound by declaring "She's still just a kid, remember?" Though he doesn't see Suzie as the young woman she is, he does see her as a friend that's hurting. He goes up to her room and asks her to go for a bike ride. Clearly, she isn't having it.
Deciding she's had enough of being cooped up in her room, Suzie goes to the lake with the rest of her friends. While everyone pairs off, she sits alone. Because she is on her own, Suzie is receptive when Joe Jackson approaches her. The fun and games end quickly, however, when Joe tries to get an unwilling Suzie to go off with him to an undisclosed location. All of a sudden, Nickie swoops in and gives Joe a stern warning to back off. Not letting Joe off the hook, Nickie gives Joe a shiner and tells Suzie he is taking her home. Though Nickie clearly had valiant intentions, Suzie is understandably ticked off at Nickie's constant patronization:
Suzie refuses to budge and Nickie threatens to carry her home if she won't walk. She struggles against his attempts at taking her home and yells out that she hates him. As Nickie holds Suzie in his arms, she starts to cry. Nickie begs her not to and declares that all he wanted to do was protect her. In that moment, he finally realizes he has feelings for the little "kid" next door.
Youthful, fun, and bright, the art on "The Stranger Next Door!" exemplifies why I absolutely love this era of romance comics. Though the plot is rather simplistic and Nickie's overbearing personality makes him a problematic heartthrob at times, the stylized art makes it all worth it. Ms. Berube's work is a delight and I'm confident her contribution to the romance genre will inspire women to make comics for many years to come!