- Posted by Johanna on June 1, 2011 at 7:54 am
- Category: Books and Prose
- CREDITS: by Michael Barson
- PUBLISHER: Harper Design; $29.99 US
This affordable softcover coffee table book offers a selection of romance comic stories and covers for enjoyable browsing of a kitschy genre. With content dating mostly from 1947-1957, you’ll get a glimpse of a very different time and its expectations for love, romance, and marriage.
This isn’t a work for scholars (unless they just want to read it for entertainment). The reprint material is captioned only with title, issue number, and cover date. No writers or artists are listed. (With two exceptions, both Western stories. Best Love #36 had art by Bill Everett, and Rangeland Love #2 had art by Russ Heath.) Bizarrely, some few items are credited as “Unknown issue, circa (date)”. I don’t understand how you reprint material without knowing where it came from — didn’t you have to find it somewhere?
But this isn’t intended to be academic. Instead, it’s a fun book to flip through, and where else are you going to be able to easily read a selection of romance comic stories? The pages are shot with yellowed borders, and some of the covers reprinted show spine roll or other flaws, making it a realistic version of flipping through someone’s comic collection. I particularly enjoyed the inclusion of some of the letter columns, quizzes, house ads, and other short fillers (but no fashion pages), to give a full flavor of the books. I did find it a little odd that the writer insisted on telling us, several times, how happily married he is to his wife. It’s ok, Michael Barson, you don’t have to prove your status to justify being a guy writing about girls’ comics. (It does seem a little weird when he’s authoritatively stating what “young women” were doing and thinking in post-War America, but he’s trying to give a flavor of the times, speaking in wide generalities.)
After a lengthy introduction about the history of comics, cribbing from Love on the Racks, including the creation of the romance comic genre by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, the reprint material is grouped into five themed chapters: Bliss, Jealousy, Despair, Marriage Hell, and Class Struggles. Much (all?) of the content comes from Barson’s personal collection, but he’s done a good job selecting material that’s enjoyable to read today, either for its portrait of the times or universal appeal. People today still wonder about
- when to propose (or how to get him to propose)
- how to balance work and love
- whether they risk losing a beau for being too jealous of his time spent with others
- how to balance saving and responsible spending
- whether they can put up with a controlling mother-in-law who doesn’t want to give up her son
Well, maybe that last one is a bit stereotypical, although it occurs here several times. I also rolled my eyes at the story about a flighty young newlywed who finally learns to stay home, cook, and take care of the house (instead of going out with her college sorority sisters) only when her husband winds up in a wheelchair because she left the laundry on the stairs. The later story about a woman we’d today call a bridezilla who has to learn that it’s the marriage that counts, not the wedding is much more palatable.
An early favorite of mine here features a couple of aspiring writers. I enjoyed seeing her attempts to create and make a career for herself, although the ending, where he manipulates her into good results (because he knows her so much better than she knows herself) is definitely retro. One of the Western tales is about going to Reno for a divorce, and a young lawyer who believes people shouldn’t break up because marriage is sacred. It’s an interesting perspective, especially read in a world where the “defense of marriage” bigots are picking on the wrong people.
The last chapter is the most significant, with stories about teaching parents that couples that cross religions can be ok, and the classic “rich girl loves poor working boy” setup, and even one about a girlfriend learning to accept her war veteran boyfriend who returns home without an arm. I’m glad I got a chance to check out this book, because it’s a terrific time capsule of what popular women’s entertainment looked like sixty years ago. I hope that there will be a sequel, this time focusing on the weird and wild romance comics of the 1960s, when publishers struggled madly to be relevant and quite often failed miserably. (The publisher provided a review copy.)