Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Fake Nostalgia Is the Best

I love romance comics, but I don't think of myself as a particularly romantic guy. Sure, I can be sappy at times and there's nothing better than two people really falling in love, but romance comics aren't really about love and romance as much as they're about heartache and pain.

And rarely in romance comics is the heartache and pain justified -- it usually ends up being some silly "Three's Company"-esque mixup, where the boyfriend really wasn't cheating on you, he was only hugging his second cousin.

Anyway, I was thinking why I liked romance comics, if not for my own notions of love and passion and whatnot. I think it comes down to this -- I love the era of when romance comics were popular (the 50s), and I love the way that the writers and artists got it all wrong.

I wasn't around in the 50s (heck, I wasn't born until the early 70s), but from reading and research, you realize that the 50s was not this idyllic time of 3-month vacations at a cabin in the country or steady boyfriends who were always gentlemen. It wasn't so much different than now -- just without the iPods.

It reminds me of a story my mother tells about her dating life. She once dated a boy who was the prototypical gentleman when he came to pick her up from her parents' house. He sat and spoke with my grandparents, was kind, cordial, intelligent. They loved him, and weren't bashful about telling my mother that he'd make a wonderful husband.

Of course, once the door to the house closed behind them and my mother got into his car, he couldn't keep his hands off her.

"He pawed me nonstop from when we left the house to when he dropped me off," my mother said.

Certainly not the gentleman my grandparents wanted in their family.

I think this isn't much different than today -- pawing still is the favorite pasttime of boys throughout the nation -- but you really didn't see much of that in comics. Most of the times when the boys kissed the girls (even though she protested), such protests quickly melted away into love.

Somehow I can't see a story in Love Confessions being, "My Boyfriend Was All Hands".

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The 10-year Fad

Trends seem to come and go faster than ever. Perhaps it's the new, Internet era that we all live in, where information and ideas can quickly spread across the country (and world). Perhaps it's the new short-attention span we've all been infected with.

If you think of things like style (which my wife thinks about a lot, she being the fashion maven of the Cheli house), it's even more drastic than before. In the late-70s/early-80s, a new fashion sense came out of New York City, with adidas sneakers (with the fat laces, of course) and track suits, thick gold chains, and more (you can see what I'm talking about in the book Back in the Days, a terrific photographic history of the fashion of that era by Jamel Shabazz). While that was the style of the city of the time, it didn't hit Chicago or Miami or L.A. until later as it slowly worked its way throughout the US, taking even longer for it to reach the heartland.

Eventually it did, and it took over. Kids -- white, black, Hispanic -- all started to wear those shoes, those pants, those skirts. It certainly blew the preppies to bits. But it took years to happen. And, by the time it reached Des Moines, New Yorkers were on to something else.

Now, however, a style can pop up in New York or Palm Beach or wherever, and (especially if it's being shown off by the latest "it" guy or gal) within a week it's splashed throughout the Internet, in the pages of US Weekly, or on Entertainment Tonight. And, because the saturation is so quick, it's just as quickly gone from our collective consciousness.

Look at those stupid Von Dutch hats and t-shirts. For 3 1/2 minutes, they were all the rage. Why, if Ashton Kutchor wanted to wear his trucker hat cocked to one side, then you should too. Off course, 3 1/2 minutes later, they were 80% off at Marshall's.

It's no different when it comes to comics.

Today, comic book news is right there in your face. You know what's coming up (at the earliest) 3 months in advance, and in many cases a year. You see what the popular creators are going to be working on, what new mini-series or company-wide crossover is going to sap your money, and there is little or no "new" when you walk into a comic shop or bookstore. You already know what to expect.

And because of that, there is very little room for something different. Fans (and retailers) already decry something a hit or failure (more likely in this pessimistic industry) before you even have a chance to read it. So we often end up getting the same things from the big publishers.

Super heroes.

A little horror now and again.

More super heroes.

And the failed sci-fi series that runs 6 issues.

And, of course, more super heroes.

Things were different in the comics industry in the 30s, 40s, 50s, and even 60s. Sure, there were still a ton of copycats (every company had their costumed crime fighters), but instead of looking for more of the same, they were looking for the NEXT BIG THING. And because lead-in times for comics were much longer then (the content of a comic had to be completed months before its publication date, compared with weeks or even days now), publishers weren't able to be so quick to jump on the bandwagon.

Look at the return of Marvel Comics to publishing super hero titles, for example. National (DC) had been very sucessful with their return of costume crime-fighters like the Flash, Green Lantern, and others, and it was years before Stan Lee and Jack Kirby matched it with the Fantastic Four.


Today, when there's a hit, within a week a competitor can get something together and, within a couple of months, get it into the shops.

Of course, this quick-to-copy mentality can make for a) boring comics and b) the quick extinction of those types of comics. (Look at the recent 80s revival for a second. G.I. Joe? Transformers? He-Man? They've all died or are in the process of dying [and being resurrected].)

But when Joe Simon and Jack Kirby launched Young Romance in mid-1947, it was a year before something else was on the shelves. And it wasn't until 1949 when there were more than a handful of the titles out there.

And they were selling like mad. Romance comics were regularly out-selling many of the quickly dying super hero comics. By 1952, there were as many as 40 romance comics out on the newsstand any one month.

Of course, by 1957, nearly all were gone, reduced only to the best selling or the throwaways.

But that's 10 years. Ten years where a genre, a style, either dominated or was an integral part of an industry.

When was the last time a style lasted that long, and do you honestly think it will ever happen again?

It might if it's given a chance to grow and progress and develop.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Sauce For the Gander

Not only do I collect romance comics, but I also dabble in romance comic original art (if I can find it cheaply enough, which is getting harder and harder to do).

The great thing about the original art is that, like most comics published pre-1960, it's oversized (15"X20"), so that when you hold it in your hands and look at it, it really jumps off the page. One of the pages I have is a one-page story from a Standard Comic (I have a few from them -- a lot of those originals have survived the years), the story being called "Sauce for the Gander", from Thrilling Romances (with art by Art Saaf, an Alex Toth protege).

It's your typical moralistic tale -- the heroine is always late for her dates with her young beau, and this evening is no different. He's nearly fed up, and when she invites him to meet her aunt coming in from out of town the next night he agrees. When he shows up late, she's furious, but the joke's on her. It was planned all along, just to show what it feels like to have to wait for the one you love.

Of course, I have no idea what "Sauce for the Gander" means, but that makes it all the better, no?