Back Issue, edited by Michael Eury, focuses mostly on comics from the 70s and 80s, with plenty of interviews with their creators, and some "lost" art (usually from fans' sketchbooks). To me, it is the Wizard magazine for those over 30, and like Wizard, it is not very good. The articles are thin, the scholarship (if you can call it that) is weak, and it seems that in every issue I've read (about 4 of them) the questions that seem most important never get asked.
I hadn't bought or read an issue in about a year until I saw the ad in Previews for the most recent issue, #13. They were going to have an article on the death of romance comics.
I had to buy it. And I did.
The article, "The Terrible, Tragic (>Sob!<) Death of Romance (Comics!!)" (all punctuation theirs), was written by John Lustig, the Last Kiss creator. In its seven pages, Lustig illuminates why he (and others) think that romance comics stopped being published. There are numerous reasons he cites, many of which are backed up by romance comics fans or those in the industry. Some, like Dick Giordano or Michelle Nolan or Richard Howell, I've heard of. Others, I have no real clue about what makes them any more of an expert than my wife. (Boy, I sound real bitchy here, don't I?)
Anyway, the big reason Lustig says romance comics died was television.
Virtually everyone who was interviewed for this article blamed TV (at least in part) for the decline in comics readership in general and romance comics in particular. To find romance and sex all you had to do was turn on your TV. And if you watched some of the increasingly racy soap operas... you'd learn more than you could get out of any romance comic.
Why does everyone blame television for the demise of comics? Since the beginning of comics, there was competition. Radio, movies, TV -- it was always there. But somehow, in the mid-70s, it hurt romance comics.
Joe Gill, prolific writer for Charlton, said in the article, "Television changed all the values of the (subsequent) generations... enormously. They found out about sex and drugs. It was pretty sordid. And these harmless little comics had no place in their lives." That is an argument you hear every year: that kids and teens are getting too adult, that they're too mature, that they won't like things that their parents did or their parent's parent. Bull. You don't have to be a sociologist to know that people like the same types of things, regardless of the era, and that we are no less moral, less innocent, than those living in the 50s.
So while the "values" argument is bunk, what about TV itself? Well, while I'm not so sure that outside media help the sales of comics (the Spider-Man movie didn't really increase the sales of the Spider-Man comic), it didn't hurt it. In the 50s, Westerns on TV were huge. My mother loved them. Couldn't get enough of them. What was the most popular time for Western comics? Why, the 50s! So why didn't Westerns on TV ruin Western comics?
Who knows. But we know they didn't. So I don't see any evidence that soap operas on TV would make people less likely to buy romance comics.
Other reasons given in the article were the proliferation of Harlequin romance books in the 60s, underground comics, the demise of the newsstand, and romance in super-hero comics. Those reasons just don't fly with me.
By the 60s, when Harlequin romances were first flourishing, the romance comics readership was almost completely teens and younger. You could tell by the stories within the comics -- they focused on teenage girls or those just out of high school. They were not competing with Harlequin romances. It's almost like saying crime comics in the 50s were competing with Jim Thompson or David Goodis. That's not competition. It's the same genre, in a different medium, going after a different audience.
Undgerground comics were not competition. I don't know how else to say it, but Zap and its ilk did not make people less likely to buy Young Romance. How do I know? Because by the time that underground comics made their way out of the head shops and into "normal" society, romance comics' fate had already been sealed.
Demise of the newsstand? Nah. When did the direct market begin and when did it become viable? The former in the mid-70s and the latter in the late 70s. No romance comics then, people. Not a factor. (In fact, growing up in Bethlehem, PA, population 80k, I bought my comics at Matz's newsstand until 1985, when Dreamscape Comics opened up.)
Romance in super-hero comics? Well, they were there, that's for sure. Peter Parker's love troubles were often the key to the issues, but I'm not sure how that would've affected romance comics sales. For one, by the time the Marvel Age came around, romance comics were already in a severe tail-spin, with only 4 publishers even doing romance comics (Marvel, DC, Charlton, and ACG). For another, while girls were reading Marvel super-hero comics more than others, I can't see that a person reading romance comics would stop collecting them because you could find them in that month's Fantastic Four. Perhaps that would make them read FF as well, but I doubt if they would be at the expense of Secret Hearts.
Lustig does touch on our shared idea of the new creators of the 70s, who grew up on super-heroes, would be less likely to want to create romance comics, but he relegates that to end.
The article ends with a question: Could anything have saved romance?
Dick Giordano answers: "No, I think the time for romance comics was past and no amount of doctoring could change that."
I can think of a lot of doctoring could've saved them. Just like I think things could've saved sci-fi comics or Westerns or any of the other genres that disappeared once the people in charge stopped caring about them and focused only on super-heroes.
It was a good shot by Lustig, but I think he took the easy way out. Why romance comics died in the mid-70s have more to do with why they became less popular in the late 50s than in the late 60s, but he skips that completely.
Not to worry, though. I'm on the job!