Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Water Damage

I made a vow to myself that I wanted this blog to be about romance comics, only romance comics, and not let the real world or my own life get in the way. And while I was the only one to know about this vow, please allow me to break it and talk a bit about what's been happening in the world (specifically the Gulf area of the U.S.) these last few days and try and have it relate to comics.

In September of 1999, I was living in a first-floor apartment in Manville, New Jersey, a town known mostly for its asbestos factory and the numerous deaths and lawsuits that came from it. My apartment looked out onto a park and the small river (a stream, really), the Raritan, that ran through it. It wasn't a great view, by any means, and not a great apartment.

But it didn't much matter because Hurricane Floyd came through on the 16th of that month, dumping inches of rain on the region, saturating the ground. That night, as the hurricane passed, high tide pushed millions of gallons of water from the Atlantic back into the Raritan, making what was just a lot of water into an immense flood. By midnight my apartment had 5 feet of water in it. Half of Manville was submerged. The neighboring town of Bound Brook had it even worse.

Other than my cats, my roommate's computer, and a few boxes of my most valuable comics, I lost everything.

I realize that my plight, as devestating to me as it was (and it was quite devestating), seems to pale in comparison with what's happening in the wake of Katrina, but this week has brought back a lot of really bad images and memories, much of which I'd like to never have to think of again. And while those in Louisiana and Mississippi who lost their lives or whose family members perished have pain worse than I could ever feel, I still feel a great sense of personal empathy with them.

I know what it was like. I saw and felt the muddy, cold water. I did unrealistic things thinking I could save my things, putting myself in harm's way.

The comics I tend to collect, the old ones at least, are for me to read and are not for investment. I don't really mind if they have tears or pieces missing or tape, just as long as they're complete and readable. I don't have the money (nor the urge) to buy pristine copies of things when I could use the same amount of money to buy 20 different copies of comics in lesser condition (I don't begrudge those who look for condition, however, as we all have our peculiarities).

But since 1999, I won't buy a comic with water damage. I won't buy a book with a water stain. If an album sleeve has water-related problems, I'll put it back. When you walk into your apartment and see your things completely water logged, dozens of boxes of comics, numerous bookshelves full of books, hundreds of CDs and records, all which had been under water for 24 hours, you tend to want to avoid that sort of thing, even if the damage is miniscule in comparison.

It also bothered me very much that many of the comics that were destroyed in my flood (I'm very possessive about it) I had had in my collection for 20 years. They were mine. They never had another owner, and if they had survived, they likely wouldn't have had one for many decades to come. They all had a personal history.

That's why when now if I see two copies of the same old comic, same price, same condition, if one has a name written on the cover, I'll take that one. Because some kid (or teen or adult) bought it (or traded for it or had it passed down from an older sibling) and thought enough of it to write their name on it. It's mine. Forever. (And for a kid, forever really isn't that long at all.)

I never wrote my name on my comics (and I never have), and I don't even write my name on the inside of my books (as some people do), but it doesn't bother me at all when I buy a used book or comic that someone had done that to.

It's history.

I feel terrible that the people in the Gulf have lost their personal history, at least their material history. I know it's how I felt when I lost my own.

If you have the means and the urge, please donate to the Red Cross or Operation U.S.A.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Turn Off That TV and Read a Book!

This blog is something of a continuing research project for me. What I'm going to do with this is unknown (a book? long article? a musical?), but the more that I look at the history of the genre, the more that things tend to not clear themselves up and instead become even murkier.

Take television's relationship to comics, for example. I always assumed (and I think a lot of other people, as well) that the introduction of the TV into more American homes made comic circulation drop. Yet as the number of TVs increased (44,000 in the US in 1947, 2 million by 1949, and more than 23 million by 1953), comic circulation seemed to also surge (Walt Disney's Comics and Stories, the perennial leader, had a monthy total nearing 3 million in 1952, compared with just under 2 million six years earlier).

And I always assumed that television soap operas dragged the housewife (which was romance comics' earliest market) away from the printed page and instead placed her in front of that tiny little screen, causing the first major romance comics purge in the early 50s. Now I'm not so sure.

Soap operas of the 50s were nothing like those of today. The first soap operas were broadcast in 1951 ("Search for Tomorrow" and "Love of Life"), yet they were only 15 minutes long (and didn't expand to a half-hour until '56). I'm not sure if a couple of 15-minute television shows could have that much of an effect on house wives deciding on whether or not to buy a comic book.

Plus, throughout the 30s and 40s (and even well into the TV age), there were many radio soaps that outnumbered their TV counterparts. Why would they have been that much less of an issue, even though there were many more of them?

If you look at the incredibly informative list of romance comics that Dan Stevenson produced, you'll find that nearly 1/4 of all comic titles began and were cancelled before the first television soap opera even aired. Whole companies (like Fox) weren't around to challenge the soaps, and in some cases, other publishers (including Ajax-Farrel and Charlton) produced the majority, if not all, of their work in the post-TV era.

So what was it? Well, I think we've overestimated the number of housewives who bought and read romance comics in the first place. Yes, Young Romance sold extremely well. And yes, Atlas produced dozens of romance comics geared to the housewife in the late-40s that likely helped keep their company afloat. But by the early 50s, well before the TV soap had fully controlled the minds of American woman, it seems obvious to me that they had stopped reading romance comics at the rate at which they first did. Why do I say this? Look at the stories. Comic stories were less about married couples or even girls looking to marry and more about teenagers looking for that first love, first kiss.

Of the popular Simon/Kirby produced comics, which one had the fewest issues published (and never broke that bi-monthy schedule)? Young Brides. And one of the most successful romance comic of the early 50s (at least sales-wise) was Fawcett's Sweethearts, which featured stories mostly of the high-school and slightly older set.

I think we've overestimated the whole housewives thing. Yes, it was there. That is obvious. But its impact on the success of romance comicsmay have been on its earliest period and quickly faded away, replaced by teenage girls, who suddenly had a disposable income and a lot of free time.

Were comics' dominance squeezed out by TV? Probably. Was that the biggest issue? Maybe, although the anti-comics backlash of the mid-50s likely had a lot to do with it, if not more than TV. And what of TV's effect on the romance comic? I don't know, but it's becoming more obvious that it had a lot less to do with than many previously thought.

Friday, August 26, 2005

MJ and Me

Marvel Comics yesterday announced that they planned on publishing a new Mary Jane comic. They had two previous series in the past two years (the first was an ongoing, cancelled after the fourth issue; the second was scheduled as a 4-issue mini-series), both written by Sean McKeever and drawn by Takeshi Miyazawa, and I bought and enjoyed them both.

I'm not a Spider-Man fan, however. I think he's a pretty interesting character, but when my best friend and I both started collecting comics at the same time many years ago, we each chose certain titles that each of us would collect. Exclusively. So if I chose Daredevil (which I did), he didn't buy Daredevil. He could always read mine and sometimes we traded, but for the most part we stuck with those original choices.

I didn't "get" Spider-Man, and I've never much read him since. Nothing against him. Just wasn't in the cards.

But I had read McKeever's A Waiting Place, and I liked it enough to try Mary Jane, and it seemed as if Marvel was really trying to do something new and different.

Like I said, they were good, if not a little slow moving (although that seems to be happening a lot in comics these days; both 4-issue series would've been shoved into an 8-page story in Love Adventures 50 years prior, but that's not much different from how comics were paced then and now).

So I was excited to see that Marvel had greenlighted a new ongoing series. The sales for Mary Jane had been some of the lowest at the company, and it was good to see them trying to make something work.

But then I saw the new title.

Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane.

The first 2 Mary Jane series (Circle of Friends and Homecoming) had Spider-Man swing through now and again, but he appeared in the comic as much as his alter-ego, Peter Parker, did. Which was very rarely. It was mostly about MJ, Liz Allen, Flash Thompson, and Harry Osborn. And while Mary Jane had a big crush on the web-swinger, it was a secondary storyline to something that seems more real -- the pettiness of high schoolers.

Now, however, it's Spider-Man and Mary Jane. Together. Swinging on the cover, for crying out loud.

Yes, I realize I haven't read it, and yes, the press release said the title was "tentative", but it still seems to me that comic companies (at least the big ones) still feel that all other genres must tie into super-heroes. I talked about it a bit in this entry, and it's something that I expect to see over and over again. Western? No way. Western with cowboy who can shoot beams out of his eyes? You bet! Romance? Pass. Romance where the character falls in love with a super-hero? I want 5 copies!

I suppose Marvel wants this series to be a stepping stone for people who usually don't read their comics to try this and then buy some others, but I'm not sure what else they'd want to buy (certainly not the other teenage girl comics they have out now -- Arana and X-23). Is Mary Jane the obvious predecessor to Spider-Man? I don't think so.

And this is nothing new from Marvel. Patsy Walker, the main character in many a teen-humor comic from the 50s and early 60s (along with her "friend" Hedy Wolfe) became The Cat (and later Hellcat) in the 70s (and married Son of Satan!). What will become of Millie's red-headed rival, Chili? I suppose she'll flame on like the Human Torch.

Genre can still work in and of itself if it it is only allowed the chance. I'm sure of it.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

P.S., I Love You

I remember reading an interview with either Paul McCartney or John Lennon about how they wrote the lyrics to their earliest songs, and a point was made that they always wanted to have a personal pronoun prominently in the title and chorus. They though (and rightly so) that it made the person listening to the song more in-tuned to it.

She Loves You
Love Me Do
From Me to You
I Want to Hold Your Hand

And so on and so on.

They eventually changed their songwriting quite a bit, and their lyrics (and titles) became more introspective, less about the listener and more about themselves, but those first couple of albums were full of the stuff.

And, in case you didn't know, they were pretty sucessful.

That connection with the listener (reader) is similar in to what one romance comic publishers did a decade before the Fab Four. Fox published 21 different romance titles (not including a few that were merely rebound copies of older issues, with a new cover slapped on). Of those, 19 featured the word "My" to begin the title, and there was one "I" (the other was Women in Love; the publisher must've been out the day they decided to name that one). The titles were:

I Loved
My Confessions
My Desire
My Experience
My Great Love
My Intimate Affair
My Life
My Love Affair
My Love Life
My Love Memoirs
My Love Secret
My Love Story
My Past
My Private Life
My Secret Affair
My Secret Life
My Secret Romance
My Secret Story
My Story
My True Love

That's something, eh?

Here's what I know about Fox. I know that Victor Fox, the founder, worked for DC (then National Periodical Publishing) in the beginning of the Golden Age, possibly as an accountant. Rumor has it he saw how much money Harry Donenfeld was making from the new Superman character and raced and hired someone (Will Eisner) to create a super-hero comic that could be rushed to the stands. Donenfeld sued and won, and Wonder Comics (featuring Wonder Man) was cancelled (well, changed to Wonderwold Comics, sans Wonder Man).

Fox went on to publish several popular super-hero titles in their early-40s hey-day, including Blue Beetle, Mystery Men Comics, Big Three, The Green Mask, and more. But as the super-hero age started to fade away by the mid-40s, Fox got out of the hero business and into other genres, including crime, humor, and, of course, romance.

When I think of Fox, two things come to mind: 1) The covers were as provocative as you could get for comics. (Check out those Matt Baker Phantom Lady covers here if you don't believe me.) 2) The interiors were very subpar. Fox paid some of the worst page rates in the business, and many of his artists were either not very talented or just getting their toes wet and couldn't demand good money. Wally Wood did some of his first (and certainly his worst) work for Fox.

The printing was not very good (if you look at the covers to the two comics in the post, you'll see how there are odd red splotches -- they seeped through onto the other side of the cover as well; that's not a printing error, per se, just a bad printing job), and the inside comics often had off-register coloring or the plates were crooked.

Fox also did something odd with where they started their stories. The first page of the first story was published on the inside front cover, usually in either black-and-white or in 2-color (black, white, and red). I'm not sure why they did it (if anything, they gave up a cushy ad page), but it made it espectially odd when they published their reprint giants.

Fox took old, unsold issues of their comics, slapped four of them together, put a new cover on them, and sold them as for 25 cents. That Exciting Romance Stories is an example. While other companies did similar things (those EC giants being a good example), with Fox that inside front cover made for a problem. You see, for the first story for each of the four re-bound comics, you didn't get the first page! It just began with page #2!

I'm not sure if Fox or his editors cared much, frankly.

The stories themselves are some of the more adult-themed romance comics -- many involving women getting knocked around or threatened to, and many involve crime. (Fox also published at the time a couple of comics revolving around the no-good ladies -- Crimes by Women and the western Women Outlaws.) But they always tended to still end up with a happy ending, the guy who threatened his girl with a gun is either knocked unconscious by the man in the white hat or runs away, making the decision easy for which guy the gal should choose.

By early-1950, just a few months after they started their large publishing push, the largest in the company's history, they stopped their output completely, with all 21 romance (and another couple dozen crime, western, jungle, and humor) titles cancelled. Why? I'm not sure, and I have yet to be able to find out. Maybe the poor quality made for poor sales, and it caught up with them. It was before the more-serious comic witch hunts of later in the decade, so I don't think it was outside pressure.

Maybe if they would just have thrown in a "Your" now and again in the title of the comics, it would've changed everything.

"My" sounds so selfish, doesn't it?

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Love Is Not Funny!

Millie the Model is not a romance comic.

Neither is Sunny or Candy or Mortie or Leave it to Binky or any of the other dozens of Archie rip-offs that started to flood onto the newsstands starting in the early 40s. While they preceded romance comics by nearly a decade (Archie first appeared as a back-up in an issue of Pep Comics in 1941), there really isn't a correlation between the two. I mean, romance comics weren't an off-shoot of the teen humor genre. (I'm not sure who dubbed these comics "teen humor", but they hit the nail on the head.)

Romance comics were a reaction to the popular romance and confession pulps and magazines, and the earliest issues were aimed squarely at adult women. That they changed (rather quickly) into being geared toward teen-age and younger girls is for another segment of "Thirty-two Pages of Love" (I'm sure you can't wait).

Anyway, Bob Montana (or, if you believe Archie publications, John Goldwater) created Archie in the early 40s as a comic book version of the very popular Henry Aldrich. Aldrich, a character in the stage play What a Life, in 1939 became a very popular radio show and was quickly dubbed "America's Favorite Teenager". His character, portrayed on the radio by Ezra Stone, and then on the radio and in movies by Norman Tokar, Dickie Jones, and others, was extremely successful, and the radio show lasted a very respectible 14 years.

Archie, however, surpassed Aldrich, both in comics (a Henry Aldrich series published by Dell starting in 1950 lasted only 22 issues) and longevity (Aldrich is now all but forgotten, while Archie Andrews is still a popular comic and licensing tool).

And while these types of comics preceeded and outlasted romance comics, they have certain characteristics that make them very different. First off, the style is much more cartoony. Montana, Dan DeCarlo, Bill Woggin, and others drew in the gag-strip style of exaggerated eyes, flailing limbs, and birds circling the head of an injured character. Also, romance comics didn't have a punch line. The final panel of Young Romance usually was either the loving embrace of a guy and his gal or a dejected, crying young woman watching her man walk away, arm in arm with her rival. Nothing funny about that!

Teen humor titles featured (obviously) teenagers, and such grown-up things like love, marriage, or even divorce were never mentioned. Instead, stories focused on getting some money to buy a malt or out-foxing your teacher or sneaking out of the house after your parents had grounded you.

Even titles that featured older teenagers (or early twenty-somethings) like Millie the Model rarely had anything to do with a serious situation (unless you call wearing the same dress as your rival to the Spring formal serious).

And lastly, romance comics never (or, rather, very infrequently) featured the same character month after month (the exceptions, like the two-issue Molly Manton's Romance or the soap-opera stories of the late 60s DCs, are blips on the radar). Once the story was over, the love won or lost, happiness or sadness, it didn't seem necessary to meet these characters any more. Their stories were powerful enough as they were. Those Riverdale kids, however, are back again and again, month (or week) after month, for 60-odd years.

I like some of these comics. I have my fair share of Patsy and Hedys, and the humor titles from Harvey (Stevie, Mazie, etc) have nice art and off-beat stories, but these feel likel the stepping stone from Disney comics to romance comics (and novels). As if you wouldn't read these comics long enough to get bored with the characters.

But they're not romance comics.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Put Up Your Dukes

In my first installment of why I think romance comics (as my mother would say) went the way of all good things, I talked about the idea that the new comic artists and writers coming into the business in the 70s wouldn't enjoy creating love stories. Since nobody made any comments against this assertion, I will assume that everyone agrees with me. (The best way to win any argument is by not having anyone argue with you about it in the first place.)

I kid.

Anyway, another big issue regarding the loss of romance comics is the fact that it wasn't only that romance comics were dropping left and right, but comic companies themselves had (since the mid-50s) begun disappearing at an alarming rate. From '50 to '77, companies that published romance comics that went out of business (or stopped producing comics) included EC, Ziff-Davis, Fawcett, Ace, Star, Superior, ACG, Fox, St. John, Quality, Prize, Avon, Ajax/Farrell, Lev Gleason, Standard, and many more.

By the early 70s, what publishers were left? DC (which absorbed several titles from Quality [Heart Throbs] and Prize [Young Love, Young Romance]), Marvel (which had attempted to revise romance comics with My Love and Our Love, otherwise hadn't produced romance comics since the final issues of Love Romances in 1963), Archie and Harvey (which never produced romance comics to begin with), Atlas (a short-lived publisher with only one romance title, the magazine Gothic Romances), Charlton (which had around 6 romance titles going up until the 70s), and Dell/Gold Key/Western (which had no romance titles). (If I'm forgetting something, which I probably am, please remind me.)

So you went from a time 15-20 years earlier, when there were dozens of publishers putting out anywhere from 15-30 (or more) romance titles a month, to three publishers with around a half-dozen titles coming out any one month. This is against 40-50 super-hero titles, a dozen teen humor series, plus the latest cartoon/TV comics, etc.

(Also of note, none of these now-defunct publishers stopped publishing romance comics before they went out of business. They were all just part of their larger line that stopped publishing altogether.)

The comic publishers that survived into the 70s were mostly of two ilks -- they were super-hero/horror/sci-fi publishers (Marvel and DC) or they were specialty publishers (Archie, Harvey, Gold Key). There really wasn't anything out there any more that mirrored the publishers of the 50s, which would have many different titles with many different genres. And because of that, niche genres (like romance or war or western) got squeezed out. The fewer the number of titles published in a certain genre, the smaller the market, the smaller the number of people who were aware of them, the fewer the number of people who would buy them.

I really think that there could have been a market for these titles. Westerns could've thrived or horror (which mostly disappeared by the late 70s) or romance. But they just weren't there. There weren't enough to challenge the dominating super-hero titles.

The same goes today. It's difficult to get a genre in edgewise, when all you're seeing on the stands are spandex-clad do-gooders. Yes, there are tons of non-super-hero comics out there, but go to most comic shops, and they're pushed off to the side, outcasts. Unloved.

So to sum up, that's my second key to why romance comics failed: they didn't have a fighting chance.

Friday, August 19, 2005

No Crying Here, People!

About a year ago, Fantagraphics released a book reprinting about a dozen St. John romance comics called Romance Without Tears. It is one of the few books that reprint romance stories exclusively (the other two are True Love, which reprinted various early Simon & Kirby stories, and Heart Throbs, which reprinted stories by DC); both are long out of print.

This is a very solid book, and I'm impressed with its scholarship (a well-researched introduction and accurate artist attributions) and its format. The stories are scanned directly from the original comics, so the art isn't crystal clear. But they are very readable -- along the lines of having a 50-year-old comic.

It's highly recommended.

A few thoughts on this book (specifically) and romance comics (in general).

The editor, John Benson, writes an interesting introduction, where he talks a lot about the writer of these stories, a man named Dana Dutch, someone whom I never heard of before. (That's not uncommon, however, as finding out the writer of old comics is no easy task -- they were hardly, if ever, listed.) Benson really admired Dutch's style, and he goes to great length comparing how the St. John stories have a much stronger protagonist than other comics of the time, and that the conclusion of these stories doesn't always revolve around the woman either a) getting the man of her dreams and being happy or b) not getting the man and walking away in tears, alone, not a whole woman.

I'm not sure if I agree wholehartedly with this assessment, as Benson seems to be selling some of the other writers short. Were there many stories whose basis is all on the woman trying to attain the "ideal" of the perfect 50s housewife and if this ideal isn't reached, it is only because of the failure of the woman? Of course. Was it as widespread as he states? I don't think so. (He writes, "At some companies, there was not a single story in which the heroine didn't feel overwhelming guilt.")

But it will make me look at that more closely, to see how often this occurred.

I do agree with him that the Dutch-written stories are more mature, but I think most of the earliest romance comics had a similar bent. The shift to telling stories about teen-agers instead of those in the early-20s or already married started to happen around '52 or '53, and many of the early romance comics had the women in positions to not just fall for the right fellow but to also want to marry them. (I wasn't able to find it when I looked yesterday, but I have a St. John issue -- Pictorial Romances #20 -- that has a story about a brothel! That's certainly pretty mature!)

One of the most popular artists of St. John' (and others) was Matt Baker, and he does the art in 11 of the book's 15 stories. Someone should really do a biography on him, as he stands out as a very important person in the history of comics. First of, he was one of the few (and possibly only) black artists working in comics then (and really, up until the 90s, there was only a handful of African-Americans working in comic). Also, at his peak, he was drawing some of the sexiest women in comics, whether it was in romance titles for St. John or Atlas or the Phantom Lady for Fox. By the mid-50s, however, it seems his career wasn't all it had been, and he was working in the Vince Colletta studios, churning out page after page, much of which lacked the spark of his early work. He died very young (in 1957 at age 34).

And Archer St. John, the founder and publisher, is an interesting character, whose story is briefly mentioned in the introduction, and he merits a more thorough biography (and if he's had one already, I can't find it anywhere).

I'm somewhat disappointed in the exclusion of Ric Estrada from Romance Without Tears. His art, while not as glamorous as Baker's, is solid, and his women were drawn very well. (Estrada also drew some of the last romance comics for DC in the late 70s.) The only thing I could think of this omission is that he didn't draw Dutch's stories, and instead worked with a different writer.

Benson and Fantagraphics have put together a terrific book, with solid examples from some of the best comics, not just romance comics, of the late 40s/early 50s. Go out and buy yourself a copy, won't you?

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Fancy Dress

I like all kind of comics, not just romance ones. The first comics I read were super-hero, and I still read a lot of them today. At their best, they're very entertaining. Challenging, even. At their worst, they are juvenile or just plain boring.

But, for the most part, that's what we have with comic books today. While there are many publishers out there that don't touch the super-hero genre with a ten-foot pole, the two biggest (Marvel and DC) publish dozens of titles each month featuring your favorite costumed crime-fighter.

And super-heroes (likely because that's all that are out there) seeped into other genres. You don't publish a Western any more. You publish a Western with people who can shoot ray-beams out their eyes. You don't publish a sci-fi comic. You publish a sci-fi comic that has some bizarre, and likely dubious, tangental relationship with super-heroes of the past.

And you can't publish a romance comic without there being something involving super-heroes. (DC had a series out a few years ago called Young Heroes in Love. It wasn't particularly good. Even Marvel's recent Mary Jane series -- which I enjoyed -- had to have Spider-Man in them. A real shame.)

So it's not unexpected to find a series like Love in Tights, which ran (as best I can determine) 6 issues, from late 1998 to 2000. The anthology was edited by J. Torres, who's gone on to do a lot of work for DC and others, including some of their underrated Johnny DC titles, and assistant edited by B. Clay Moore (who's also gone on to bigger things comics-wise, including writing Hawaiian Dick).

I bought the first two issues at the recent Wizard World Chicago convention, and I sat down last night to read them. Anthologies are a tough sell, because often times one really bad story can ruin an entire book, and if there isn't a focused direction to be found, things can go awry rather quickly.

That's sort of what happened with issue #1. There are 4 short stories in the issue, and a few 1-page gags, but none of them are very fulfilling. The best of the bunch is Takeshi Miyazawa's "Crash Course", a story where two young lovers get accosted by a group of thugs, and while the boy faints from the pressure, the gal shows off her super-powers and beats the bad guys to a pulp. The art's solid, the story's okay (if not a little thin), but it seems like there's a lot missing. The other stories are very much slice-of-life tales involving either falling in love with a super-hero (J. Torres and Francis Manapul's "While You Were Sleeping") or being a super-hero and falling in love (Torres, B. Clay Moore, and Brian Clopper's "Fatal Hesitation" and Justin Steiner and Rick Cortes's "Fast Girl"). But they're not really stories. There is no progression; there is no plot. Things just happen, someone is heart-broken, and then everything ends.

With romance stories (I think much more than with action ones), there must be an emotional resonance. It's much more important to feel what the characters feel, show some sort of empathy, than just have a little twist ending. Nothing in Love in Tights #1 did that.

(And look, I'm not sure if I ever feel much empathy for the girls in Young Romance or True War Romance. But it would be nice if it came close.)

The second issue, however, was a big improvement. Of the five stories in the issue, only "The Caped and the Cowled", a soap-opera spoof, really dropped the ball. Perhaps it was because two of the stories were done with established characters (Randy Renaldo's "The Real Julianne Love", featuring the Rob Hanes Adventures cast, and Steve Conley's "Made for Each Other", featuring Astounding Space Thrills' Argosy Smith). But more than not, they're romance stories (which feature deception, hope, love at first sight) with just a touch of super-heroics.

The last story is "Another Perfect Wedding" by Randy Lander and Steve Remen, a take on the super-hero wedding which we've seen a lot in "serious" super-hero comics, but it works here on funny level (although not much love).

If the second issue was on par with the first, I doubt if I would've looked for the other 4, but as it is, I'll search out and try to find them. I noticed that a couple have covers and stories by Andi Watson (who I really like), so that's certainly an incentive. I think Torres quickly realized that the best romance stories involving super-heroes are better off featuring love than tights.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

What Does John Johnson Have to Do with Comics?

John Johnson, the founder and publisher of Jet and Ebony magazines (among others), died last week. He was a pioneer in many ways, mostly in changing the way that Americans looked at sucessful African Americans (athletes, entertainers, etc.), but also in creating a product aimed at a black audience in a time when, even in the more "civilized" North, they were looked on as being less than whites, and not having as great of an economic importance.

I think we take niche markets for granted. I mean, go to any Borders bookstore and you'll see hundreds of magazines, from the obvious Time and Newsweek, to "extreme" sports like Thrasher's skateboarding, to Modern Ferret. MODERN FERRET!

But when Johnson started Negro Digest in 1942, Ebony in 1945, and Jet in 1951, these were revelations. (Of course, these weren't the first magazines aimed at a black audience; they were just the most successful. Also, I'm not trying to argue that being black is "niche" in any way; I'm merely trying to say that in the 30s and 40s, marketing to blacks was likely not where companies would think to see a lot of money coming their way.)

Comic publishers, while not as daring to initiate this on their own, looked at the successes of these and other magazines, and like they were so apt to do, copied them. As I mentioned before, if Westerns were popular in the movies or on the radio, well Western comics should be published. And if romance comics were popular, then combine them with the Westerns, dammit!

Publishers saw the sales figures from the other publishers. They saw how many were being distributed, how they were selling, where they were selling, and they knew that if someone was doing well with a new type of magazine, they had better copy it and put out something of their own just like it. (In comics, look at Mad. How long after Mad came out did you see dozens of other titles on the stands: Eh, Crazy, Flip, and even a copy-cat from the same publisher [EC], Panic.)

So it's not surprising that Fawcett (one of the largest magazine, book, and comic publishers in the country) saw those Ebony sales figures, then looked at their romance comic and confessions magazines sales figures, and some editor said, "Negro Romance, people! Stat!" Three bi-monthly issues were produced, the first cover dated 6/50. (A fourth issue, published by Charlton in 1955, was a reprint of Fawcett's second issue.) Although I don't have sales figures from this series, I suspect it didn't do well for numerous reasons.

At the time, the romance deluge was in full force, and there was likely 20-30 romance titles being published that month. That's a staggering amount, considering that only two years prior, there were at most 3 titles being published at any given time. And when faced with that number of titles, magazine sellers often didn't even bother to put out many of the comics. They'd merely lop the top third of the cover and return it for credit.

Another reason is having the word "Negro" in the title. Remember, this was the 50s. I can picture many men, opening up their comic bundles, seeing Negro Romances, and simply refusing to sell it. I wouldn't be surprised that the distributor did the same thing and not even bother to send it out to the newsstands.

I'm not sure what problems Johnson had in getting Ebony and Jet on the newsstands (although I'm sure they were plenty), but he obviously had much more perserverance than Fawcett. And it paid off for him quite nicely.

But those four issues of Negro Romances were it for many years, even when it came to having black characters in romance comics (I'm not talking about titles or covers -- I'm talking about even having characters in the stories being black). In fact, I'm not sure if I remember any African-Americans showing up in stories, period, until the late-60s.

Makes you respect people like Johnson more than ever.

(And don't worry, I'll be talking about Jack Kirby's Soul Love in the not too distant future.)

Monday, August 15, 2005

First and Last Kiss

A few people have asked me what I think about John Lustig's Last Kiss comics.

For those of you who don't know, Last Kiss comics are a grouping of panels that came from Charlton's First Kiss series, with new dialogue. (Lustig acquired the rights to the 40-issue series in 1987.) The art is usually by Vince Colletta (and his assistants) or Dick Giordano, although a few other artists sneak in there from time to time. I've railed on Charlton comics in the past (here and here and I'll likely do some more in the future), but if I've been hard on them, it's not to disrespect the creators in any way. Charlton was notorious for paying the worst page rate in the industry, and many artists and writers have said that when you're getting paid half the rate from what you get elsewhere, you tend to do half the work.

I can't blame them.

Anyway, back to Last Kiss.

I first saw Last Kiss in an issue of the Comics Buyers' Guide, then a weekly newspaper, sometime in the early-90s. I wasn't a fan of romance comics at the time, but I still read the one- or two-panel strips each issue and enjoyed them quite a bit. Things changed, however, once I started collecting romance comics and even moreso once I became a romance comics nutcase.

I've noticed that the more passionate someone gets about something (a cause, a belief, a collectible), the less likely they're willing to joke about it. Say you're friends with a vegan. I suggest not to make too make steak tar-tar comments, even in jest. Your best friend collects beer cans. Try not to joke that you're taking them all to the recycling center. You're dating someone willing to chain themselves to an abortion clinic? I recommend you not forward that RU-486 joke you got from a co-worker. (Okay... that may be a little far fetched, but you get the idea.)

Same goes with me. Since I really enjoy romance comics, I don't really like making fun of them. And, really, they're easy to make fun of. They're dated and silly -- easy targets. And, to me, jokes against easy targets get old really quickly. (To me, "George Bush is stupid" jokes got old right about 3 minutes after I heard my first one. Not because I think a certain way about his intelligence, however, but because that sort of thing gets old real fast. Give me something new, people!)

So while the first couple of Last Kiss comics were witty and humerous, they quickly became repetitive and not very funny. And yes, I realize that I sound like a romance comics snob. And yes, I understand that defending this sort of thing looks pretty silly. But indulge me.

I still get a new comic strip sent to my e-mail Inbox every week, and I always read it, but I try my damnest not to enjoy it (and if I do laugh, I quickly remind myself that romance comics are too important to make fun of).

Don't you think?

Now have you heard the one about the vegan with the beer can collection?

Friday, August 12, 2005

Stop crying, woman, and get up off the ground!

My favorite romance comics publisher, by far, is DC, especially those published between 1955-1965.

While Alex Toth's Standard stories are what I consider to the best, and Matt Baker's St. John's the sexiest, the DC stories were the most consistent.

DC (publishing under its Signal imprint, most likely to differentiate it from the super-hero, western, and sci-fi titles that made up the majority of its outout) released its first romance comic in late '49 (Girls' Love Stories), and followed-up in the next year with Romance Trail (which had some nice Toth stories), Secret Hearts, and Girls' Romances. What made the DC issues stand apart from the competition was twofold. One, the art was extremely clean and professional. Artists such as Bernard Sachs, Alex Toth, John Romita, Gil Kane, and others graced their pages, and the panels and pages are less crowded. The other is that the dialogue and expositional text is much less than in other publishers' comics. While some (especially the Joe Simon-edited Young Romance family of books) laid it on pretty thick, the DC issues used it much more sparingly.

I think it's effective.

DC titles also had what I like to call the "inner monologue" story, usually about one every issue. In these stories, the girl usually goes on for page after page with tons of self doubt: Is this the right thing to do? Is he the right guy? Am I really in love or is it something else?

In Girls' Romances #42, the final story, "Three Minutes to Heartbreak!" (also on the cover), tells the story of a girl (Denise, although mostly referred to as "darling") who waits with her boyfriend Brian at a bus station (the three minutes refer to the time she spends hugging him before the bus is scheduled to leave). He has to go to "the coast", where all the good jobs are, but she's sure that once he leaves, he's never coming back. In the 8-page story, Brians speaks only a handful of times, and when he does, it's the sappiest, saccharin sweet stuff you'd ever read. While walking along the beach he says, "It's hard to believe that half a world lies on the other side of that ocean!" Watching planes take off (you can tell he's a cheap date), he says, "I wish I were up there in that plane with you, Denise -- going somehwere -- anywhere -- as long as it's with you!"

Denise's dialogue isn't much better.

"I've never seen such dark eyes! They're like dark worlds! Wonderful dark worlds!" or "It's one minute to five... Only one minute before he leaves me... Forever! One minute... just one minute more with him... and then... and then... a lifetime of emptiness!"


So, as they hear the last call for the bus, they kiss, and Brian walks away. As the bus pulls away, and Denise nearly has to hold herself back from throwing her body in front of it, she catches a heel in a grate (she first met Brian when she caught her heel in an elevator's stair), and nearly falls.

But no, Brian, who didn't get on that bus after all, is there to catch her.

"I can't go anywhere without you, darling! And as long as you wear those shoes, it looks as if you'll never be able to go anywhere without me, either!"

Double blech.

I guess if you're a woman in the world of DC romance, your mind if full of nothing but doubt and sadness. And tears. Always tears.

While many romance comics feature someone crying on the cover, the tear:cover ratio with DC is staggering. And not only that, but the women, like in the cover to Heart Throbs #90, will often throw themselves on the ground!

Doubt and sadness, indeed. I mean, I'm not a woman, but I know quite a few (the wife included), and I'm not sure I've ever met anyone who's THROWN THEMSELVES ON THE GROUND BECAUSE THEY'RE SO SAD! (If you have, please tell me.)

By the mid-60s, DC and Charlton were really the only games in town romance-wise (ACG had a title or two), and many of the artists that had done work for the now shrunk Atlas had moved over to DC, including John Rosenberger, Mike Sekowsky, Gene Colan, and Jay Scott Pike. DC also continued publishing several titles that other companies had cancelled (such as Young Romance and Young Love from Prize and Heart Throbs from Quality). When everyone else was contracting, DC was expanding.

And even though DC had little or no competition, they still were publishing good titles, with good artists (and sappy writers).

And tears. Lots and lots of tears.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Manga for Me! Manga for You!

There are a lot of people in the US or Canada or the UK who read comics who hate manga. They despise it, mostly, I think, because it's not what they're used to. It's not men in spandex and women with huge boobs. It's nothing like what they grew up with or expect comics to be.

Manga is the Japanese word for comics (and, for our purpose here, I speak of them as either comics created in Japan or, increasingly, inspired by it). There are plenty of defenders of manga who say that comics are very popular in Japan, that everyone reads it, not just the post-pubescent males that dominate the US market. They also have to constantly challenge the notion (just like American comics are all super-heroes) that manga isn't only giant robots (mecha) or stuff for kids (ie, Pokemon, Dragonball).

I don't hate manga; I just haven't read enough of it.

When translated manga first started making its way to the US in the late-80s (Lone Wolf and Cub, Area 88, Mai, the Psychic Girl, et al.), I read it all. As I mentioned before, I worked in a comic book store, so I had the time and discount to read whatever I wanted. Slowly, Viz (which was doing much of the packaging and translating of the comics) went out on its own and started to publish English-editions on their own, and I bought much of that (especially Ranma 1/2, Lum, and Nausicaa).

By the time I went to college, however, I didn't have the a) disposable income or b) time to read these comics, and I stuck with those that I had either grown up on (standard super-hero stuff) or the indie comics that I thought would make me seem less geeky ("Sure I read comics, but look at this stuff by Dan Clowes!"). I stopped buying manga.

I picked up a few titles here and there (I bought Eagle, the Making of an Asian-American President, and thought it was one of the dumbest things I've read, and I bought the Astro Boy and Lone Wolf and Cub reprints from Dark Horse), but I missed out on the manga boom, which seemed to have started around the time of the influx of anime on TV (from Sailor Moon, Pokemon, and Dragonball) and has only gotten bigger.

I go into Borders and I see a couple of shelves of "standard" US trade paperbacks and graphic novels next to piles and piles of manga reprints, with teenagers (many of them girls) all sitting down reading them. Bookscan (which is like the Billboard of books) notes that in most months, manga titles are 8 or 9 out of the top 10 graphic novels sold.

They're everywhere.

But I don't know where to start. It seems obvious to me that manga is the new romance comic. That what teenage girls were reading in the 50s (romance comics) are now manga.

So that's where you come in. There has to be one or two of you out there who read manga or know about manga that can tell me where to start. Is Fruits Basket a romance comic? Boys Over Flowers? Are these standard romance comics, or are they more along the lines of teen-humor titles like Archie or Pasty and Hedy?

I've never asked for your help before (nor have I even asked for comments, even though I really would like to see a few now and then, to know that people are actually reading this), but I come to you today.

Enlighten me. Educate me.

Tuesday, August 9, 2005


I observed a couple of interesting things during my trek around the Wizard World Chicago convention this past weekend. One was that it wasn't nearly as crowded as in years past, which made me pretty happy. Not because I wish financial ruin on Wizard, but because it made for easier maneuvering and less jockeying at the dealer tables. There's nothing I like less than being elbowed out of the way of the 50-cent and dollar bins. It also meant that there were less customers spending money, which meant the dealers dropped their prices so they could move product. By Sunday morning, there were deals-a-plenty, and being as I'm the second or third cheapest man in the country, this made my weekend.

Another was that I saw more non-comic dealers at the show than ever before, which I don't much care for. Comic book-related toys and other merchandise doesn't much interest me, and there were stretches of the con that had nothing but cards or gaming or swords (yes, swords), and I just passed them by.

For my personal purchases, one funny thing happened. As I was digging through a long box Friday afternoon, I came upon a comic and thought to myself, "This would be a good thing to talk about on my blog." So feel good, people (all 3 or 4 of you who read this), because I was spending money on your behalf!

The comic in question was Lovers #34, and the reason I bought it was because it was a Canadian version. Several publishers, Atlas (Marvel), EC, and Quality to name just three, had their comics printed and sold in Canada, often times under the Bell Publisher head.

They featured stories originally published in the US, although not always in the corresponding American issues (for example, the Canadian Lovers #34 is actually the American Lovers #35). Of course, as Timely-Atlas historial Michael Vassallo has said, "And just because the Canadian has a #31 does not mean that there is a #1-30."

There was no rhyme or reason behind the numbering or even for why they published certain issues and not others. The issues usually featured substandard printing (think mid-60s Charlton), with many of the ads altered, just so nobody from Flin Flon, Manitoba, would be able to send away to get something that only those south of the border were supposed to.

(A very good overall history of Canadian comics by historian John Bell was published in a recent issue of Alter Ego.)

For the most part, I try to avoid Canadian titles. All the stories (I believe) were already published in the American versions, and while some of the titles are pretty silly and esoteric (Moonlight Romance, for example), they're not something I'm going to actively search for.

For this blog, however, and my many nameless readers, I'll do just about anything.

Another book I got was Great Lover Romances #7 by Toby Press. Toby was a small outfit, not publishing much more than 3 or 4 comics a month (they were eventually bought out by Charlton, along with other companies that stopped publishing comics, ie, Fawcett), and Great Lover was their only entry to the romance comics scene. The cover (and one story) is by Ben Brown (not to be confused with Bob Brown) and Dave Gantz, a team that also did a lot of work for Atlas.

The best story in the issue, however, is "Momism or Me", a story about how a mother tries to keep her son at home and away from the girl that has stolen his heart. There are two great scenes -- one is when Clem (the son) tells Vicky that he loves her just as a blue jay is devouring a worm (romantic, eh?). The other is how their house cat knocks over a oil lamp, setting the house on fire, nearly killing Mother (of course Clem saves her). In the end, Mother realizes how she should never let anything come between she and her son and the woman he loves. Sometimes it takes a cat and a burning house to teach an old woman what love really is.

I picked up a few other books, a couple of Atlas titles, some Fawcetts, one or two DC books, but nothing else that exciting. I noticed, however, that when I gave the comics to the vendors to add them up, they always would stop and look at the romance titles, and they'd often comment about how cool they looked.

They do look cool, don't they?

One last thing: there were an abunance of Charltons at the con, many of which were in the cheap-y bins ($1 or $2 each), and while I needed many of them, I couldn't get myself to buy them. I've mentioned this before, but I don't like them very much. The stories and art were sup-par and the printing was terrible. Charlton comics remind me of the rock band Chicago. Every time you turn on the radio (go to a convention), you're innundated with a song (comic) from one of their seemingly 100-plus albums (titles), and while, yes, I admit that they are a form of music (comic), it's nothing that I really want to listen to (read) ever again.

Friday, August 5, 2005

Buy, Buy, Buy, Buy, Buy

Today begins the Wizard World Chicago comic convention, one of a few I go to every year (I'll also attend the Chicago ComicFest in the Spring, and I put on my own con twice a year, the Chicago Comic Book Marketplace, although I rarely actually get to go shopping at that, I'm too busy running around figuring out how much money I'm losing).

I attend these shows for two reasons: 1) to meet up with friends who I haven't seen since the last con, have some lunch, a few beers, talk about Wonder Woman, whatnot , and 2) to buy comics.

All kinds of comics.

(It also gives the wife a few days without me, which I'm sure she appreciates.)

For the sake of the theme of this blog, however, I'll focus on the lovey-dovey comics.

By one person's count, nearly 6,000 romance comics were published in from 1947-1980. I have around 600. There are a lot I still don't have, obviously, and conventions (along with eBay) are the best places to find them. Since there are so many to choose from and my pockets aren't bottomless, I usually have a few guidelines of choosing what to buy.
  1. Price: I'm cheap, and if I can get a pile of comics for $2-$3 each, I'm very happy to walk away with a pile of them.
  2. Unusualness: I have a ton of Atlas, DC, Fawcett, Quality, Harvey and ACG romance titles. I have very few from Toby, Superior, Star, Fox, and many others that may have had only one or two titles. If it's a choice between another Falling in Love or some title I've never seen before, Falling in Love goes back in the box.
  3. Charlton: There were many great writers and artists who worked on Charlton comics. Steve Ditko, Dick Giordano, Pete Morisi, etc. Unfortunately, most of them didn't do their best work for them, and the stories are terrible. Slap-dash art (with what they were paying, I couldn't blame them), boring writing, bad printing. Put it together, and you have a not-so-hot comic book company, and since I already have dozens of Charlton books from the 50s to the 80s, I'll pass up most any one unless they're just willing to throw it in my stack for free.
  4. Original art: I have a few pages and stories of original art (much from Standard Comics, as those pages seem to have survived more than others), and in many cases, I don't have the coresponding issue. For those that I'm missing, I'd gladly pay a little over my budgeted amount. Also, if someone's selling some romance original art and the price is right, I'll maybe pick up a page or two.
So that's it. I'll be heading out shortly for the convention, want list in hand, hoping to snag something good. On Sunday, I'll scan some of the best in and show you (show and tell is the best part of buying old comics, I think).

Wednesday, August 3, 2005

Complete Love

My birthday was last week, and the wife, who puts up with my comic book hobby like the trouper she is, got for me Jamie Hernandez's Locas and Gilbert Hernandez's Palomar, two massive books that collect all of the Love and Rockets stories by the brothers (missing are those by the third Hernandez, Mario, who didn't do much with the comic after the first couple of issues and a recent multi-part story in Love and Rockets volume 2).

I mentioned earlier that the modern independant comic is the closest current type of publication to romance comics of old, and of all those that are being published now or in the recent past, the Hernandez brothers' work is by far the best.

In the mid-80s, I was working at a comic book store in Bethlehem, PA (Dreamscape Comics -- it's still there) and buying nearly everything I could get my hands on. It was the beginning of the black-and-white boom and new series and publishers were popping up daily. Of course, the number compared with today is miniscule, but at the time, it was a very exciting thing. First, Comico, Capitol (briefly), Mirage, Dark Horse, etc., were putting out new and different material, much of which was mediocre, but some which was outstanding (Concrete, Grendel, Nexus, to name a few).

Fantagraphics had been around for a while, primarily as the publisher of The Comics Journal, the still-running comic criticism magazine, but they had recently started to release more comics of their own. I loved Jan Strnad and Dennis Fujitake's Dalgoda, Peter Bagge's Neat Stuff, and at a time when comic strip reprints were at their peak, they published nice volumes of Hal Foster's Prince Valiant and Walt Kelly's Pogo.

I was able to get my older sister to read a few comics as well, most notably Elfquest, and when she stopped in the store one day with her friends, she bought an issue of Love and Rockets (most likely in the early teens). I had tried to read it previously, but most of the stories seemed to be about girls -- tough girls, whether they were Maggie and Hopey living in Los Angeles or Luba and her family living in Mexico -- and I just didn't see the appeal in them. A year or so later, I went back and read the first few issues (reprinted in Love and Rockets Vol. 1), and I was hooked. Maybe it was that I was older; maybe it was because I just was stupid and didn't "get it" the first time. Whatever the reason, I got it now.

Initially, I favored Jamie's stories. They were much more... real. They dealt with people who I think I may one day meet; kids who liked punk music, drank too much, screwed around. (I was much too afraid to do any of these things, but I wanted to know the people who did.) It took me a while longer to get into Gilbert's, which at first read were more complicated, more morose, more about being an adult.

I like them equally now, albeit for different reasons. Maggie and Hopey (and their friends) have grown up with me. They age (not as fast, it seems, as I am), and their lives have changed. They're no longer best friends, and their relationship has had its ups (and way ups) and downs (and way downs). Nearly all of the stories are about love -- unrequited, messed-up, complicated love. And, like the romance comics of old, there usually is some kind of message to be gleaned, an "I-told-you-so" moment much more subtle than in True War Romance.

Palomar focuses on Luba, a gigantic breasted Mexican woman, her husband (scarred in a fire), her children, her village, her past. It's profoundly sad at times, and uplifting at others, and the complex weaving of various times, places, and characters make for a compelling read.

This is the true evolution of the romance comic. From 8-page story. To the subplot of a super-hero's life. To 8-page underground comix story. To Love and Rockets. (Note, there are some pretty huge jumps between these, but take my word for it.)

If you haven't read these stories before, do so. If you already have, buy these books and read them again.

They're worth it.

Tuesday, August 2, 2005

I'm Serious!

Although nobody has commented on this (hell, nobody, except for the wife, has commented at all), I'm sure there are some of you readers out there who think that I don't really like romance comics, that it's all just a kitsch thing, that it's just one person's attempt to look hipper-than-thou by grasping at some quirky part of a quirky hobby.

To that, I say hogwash.

I really do like -- no, LOVE romance comics. I think that, beyond their silly stories and dialogue, they are full of a real sense of what the by-gone era was all about, another forgotten part of our past. These stories represent real people, real situations. Sure, they're hammed up and placed in some odd settings, and many of the characters are more ideals than real, but they give you a feel of what the 50s and 60s were about.

A very good friend of mine brought a book to college my freshman year -- The Facts of Love and Life for Teenagers, by Evelyn Millis Duval. Written in 1950 (and revised for paperback later in the decade), this gives the teenager (and older) a how-to for dating, grooming, and *gasp* petting.

It was a great book. Funny, because it was so outdated; silly, because, we figured, even then kids and teens didn't actually talk and behave like that. (My favorite passage was when she described the best way to cool down a petting session so it doesn't go too far. Her advice? Ask your partner to slide on to the other side of the car seat and go get a hamburger.)

I've since collected a lot of these types of books, and while they're great, none have compared with Ms. Duvall's classic (or even her 1965 follow-up, Why Wait Till Marriage?).

Romance comics are for the most part etiquitte lessons in story form. All the how-to's and do's and don'ts are there, and you can learn from the mistakes of the guys and gals in the stories. Aren't sure if it would be a good idea to date a few guys and take advantage of their good graces all at the same time? Well, Teen-Age Romances will give you plenty of reasons not to.

So, I really do like them. My collection numbers around 500, and I've read nearly all of them (the ones I haven't are always on the top of the ever-expanding "to read" pile). And, to my wife's dismay, I'm going to buy and read more of them. And, to your dismay, I'm going to keep on writing about them, too.

Monday, August 1, 2005

Love That Comes Right at You!

I hate 3-D movies.

Having worn glasses most of my life (save for a few years where I thought the only way to impress a lady was to be sans specs), the cumbersome 3-D glasses were a gigantic pain in the ass, and I was never really able to see the the effects up on the screen. While others would back away as the deadly monster came running toward the camera, I merely sat there and tried to not get a headache.

According to this site, the big 3-D movie craze began in 1952 with Bwana Devil (an Oscar snub like no other). The next year, 27 3-D movies were released (the most famous being House of Wax), and in 1954, 16 were made. By '55, the fad had blown over, and only 1 (Revenge of the Creature) was released. (I remember watching that film on WPIX Channel 11 out of New York some time in the early-80s; you had to pick up the glasses at local Burger Kings.)

Not to be outdone, comic publishers went 3-D nuts. In 1953, several dozen were published, including several great comics from St. John's featuring Joe Kubert art, and in 1954 EC joined the ranks with two comics featuring 3-D versions of some of their already published stores. (Ray Zone has a great Web site explaining this whole phenomenon, and he was also instrumental in the 80s 3-D comics revival.)

There were a couple of 3-D romance comics -- 3-D Love and 3-D Romance, both put out by Steriographic Publications, with art by the team of Ross Andru and Mike Esposito. (I have a copy of 3-D Love, a gift from the wife, natch. It's an average comic, but the claim that it "the ageless story of love in a new dimension" makes it worth the read (or, in my case, trying to read -- just like movies, my eyes and brain don't really "get" the whole 3-D thing).

The 3-D process was expensive, however, and having to include those cardboard glasses in every copy surely put a crimp in profits, even considering the comics were usually 25 cents instead of the then 10. After '54, there were no 3-D comics published until the '80s (and more to the point of this blog and this ever-expanding entry, no more 3-D romance comics).

ACG had a different idea when it came to 3-D, however. Beginning in on of its horror titles, Adventures into the Unknown, they featured something called "TrueVision", a technique where each panel in the comic would have something extend beyond its border, giving it the feel of three dimensions, but in color and, as the cover bragged, "no glasses."

There were only a handful of TrueVision comics published by ACG, including three issues of Lovelorn. I have only one of them; they're pretty collectible and very expensive (my copy was the most I've ever spent on a romance comic, and likely the most I ever will).

But while the effect on horror or war stories may have been exciting, with romance it was pretty boring. I mean, do you really want the kiss to come right at you? (The lone TrueVision story in Lovelorn #49 features circus performers who fall in love, get injured, think they're going to lose one another, get better, and live happily ever after. Sweet, eh?)

A typical panel shows something -- in the case here hair or tree branches -- breaking through the panel border into the black background (which was, I suspect, for the effect of being on a movie screen). See how it gives the image of the drawing coming out at you. See it? See?

Yeah, me neither.

I can't complain, however. The whole "no glasses" thing gives it a leg up on the competition.