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Tuesday, September 27, 2022 

Fishy article about romance comics from John Hopkins university

The John Hopkins university magazine wrote a history item about the romance comics from the 1940s to the 1970s, a few of which Jack Kirby and Joe Simon have credit for from the Golden Age, but it appears to be the kind of questionable history article saddled with political correctness in how to view past writings:
Herr says the collection offers an unfiltered look into the past, and it's often not a pleasant picture. In addition to wholesome meet-cutes at a dance or concert, the stories contain undercurrents of racism, domestic violence, male dominance, and date rape. Throughout the late 1940s into the early '60s, women in their pages too often suffer physical abuse at the hands of a man, only to later accept blame for the act, as happens in the Young Romance issue titled "Gang Sweetheart! The shameful confessions of a wayward teen-ager!"

"It's cringy to read some of these stories and look at the panels," Herr says. "It's sadly a recurring theme, especially in the early years of these books, though over time you do see more women stand up for themselves and show a stronger level of independence and self-worth."

The advertisements depict cultural shifts in America over the years. Each decade increasingly values female skinniness, with weight loss ads popping up and weight gain ads fading away. The models in the ads get slimmer and more exposed; dresses give way to bikinis and miniskirts. There are ads for celebrity fan clubs, nail sets, cheap jewelry, and ridiculous knickknacks and toys like Dawk, a mop head with feet.
While I'm sure some of these oldies have morally questionable storytelling, I can't help but wonder if they're implying that keeping healthy by keeping thin and avoiding obesity is inherently wrong, along with the ads for bikinis and miniskirts. The inability these journalists have to make specific distinctions is insulting to the intellect.
While the stories were mostly written by men in the 1940s and '50s, the publishers did eventually hire female writers, illustrators, and editors, perhaps most notably DC Comics' Barbara Friedlander. She started working in the subscription office in the early 1960s, but was more a lover of soap operas, Hollywood romances, and comics like Archie and Brenda Starr. She eventually became an associate editor at DC working on their romance comic books.

"Once she came on board, the artwork began to get a little bit better,"
Herr says. "If you look at this issue of Falling in Love here, or even Heart Throbs, the characters begin to look much more with it, much more fashionable, and their costuming and their hairstyles were based on fashion spreads you'd see in Vogue magazine. One column featured a young woman with Reddi-wip beehive hair and amazing Twiggy-inspired fashion straight from Carnaby Street. I love it."

Herr says that Friedlander often cast the women as more nuanced, independent, and in control of their fates, not merely victims of circumstance. She also wanted women to look fun, fabulous, trendy, and aspirational. The comic Secret Hearts features a Friedlander-penned multi-issue storyline called "Reach for Happiness" about a young woman who scandalously ditches her fiancé at the altar to elope with a movie star. The actor would later die in a horrific car crash, leaving the young widow with no choice but to go back to her quaint New England town. There, she encounters her former fiancé and, after some awkward catching up, asks him to marry her.

"We might roll our eyes at this now, but that role reversal was revolutionary for the era. To look back at these stories you must consider the age when they were written," Herr says. "You have to enjoy them for what they are, a look back at our past and changing attitudes on sex, fashion, love, and relationships. Have we grown some? I hope so, but you can also just sit back and buckle up for some wild and groovy rides."
What I do know is that, if today's writers dealing with romance tales believe physical ugliness is superior in every way to physical beauty, and even drain morale further by romanticizing violence (which would be ironic, considering this article cites early stories with allusions to sexual violence), not to mention drug abuse, that's where they bungle it all very horribly.
Herr says that the genre didn't so much end abruptly as phase out. She says it's likely that readers' interest gravitated toward the growing cadre of superhero comics replete with female superheroes, and that the dawn of the after-school TV romance specials and Judy Blume books also played a part. By 1974, the romance comics genre was mostly extinct.
If they were drawn away by Blume productions, I'm honestly not happy, not so much because she purportedly dealt with challenging issues involving puberty and all that, but rather, because she had to be such an ultra-leftist. But it's admittedly a bit strange romance comics faded with hardly any turning up again for many years, even in the indies, although being aware of the sad influence of social justice propaganda on the entertainment industry, that's why it's hard to look forward to them again, because of the PC directions that have become so entrenched in their development. One need only consider the recent employment of Young-Adult authors in mainstream comicdom to understand what's happened. If there's anywhere unsuited today for romance comics, it's at DC/Marvel. The indies are hopefully a better place to develop new ones.

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  • I'm Avi Green
  • From Jerusalem, Israel
  • I was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. I also enjoyed reading a lot of comics when I was young, the first being Fantastic Four. I maintain a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy in facts. I like to think of myself as a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. I don't expect to be perfect at the job, but I do my best.
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