A Bit of Romance Comic History

By Tony Neale,

We often describe MyRomanceStory.com as a cross between a romance novel and a graphic novel. The romance comic is also a close relative. A recent discussion of the life and death of the romance comic (and any earlier posting by Devin Kellogg) prompted our own Poison Ivy to unlock her vault of comic book knowledge as well as her archives of classic romance comics. (We’ll be putting up some classic romance comic covers on our site soon.) See below for

A Bit of Romance Comic History

by Poison Ivy

In the mid-1950s, faced with ruin after the congressional investigations of EC Comics and the salacious accusations Dr. Frederic Wertham made in his book, Seduction of the Innocent, the major comic book companies decided to self-censor, establishing the Comics Code Authority. A rich vein of dramatic, true-to-life stories were abandoned, and romance comics became quite bland and innocent, tiresomely reiterating themes insisting that women should pursue marriage above all—in other words, the typical party line of the 1950s era. Cover art, which had been mostly photographs in the early romance comics, became equally bland. In fact, mid-1950s romance comics are notable chiefly because they were so boring. By the end of the decade, the publishing of most romance comics ceased, presumably due to lack of sales.

DC Comics, even though left with the field largely to itself, was constantly updating its image to try to hold on to readers. For a while there was even a separate romance comic logo—National Romance Group—on the covers, and prominent house ads were run in the mags encouraging readers to buy the entire line of titles.

As the 1960s opened, DC was actively trying to invigorate the moribund romance comic genre. DC bought up titles from other companies, including Heart Throbs (from Quality Comics) and Young Love and Young Romance (both from Prize Comics). Soon DC Comics had a big line-up of romance comics. Dramatic and handsome cover art was done by people who would go on to fame as superhero artists, notably John Romita and Gene Colan. Dynamic covers were matched with beautifully drawn stories.

But the themes didn’t change until DC tried romance serials: Nurse Mary Robin kept falling for various doctors and patients. At the end of each story, it all came to nothing, of course. Sometimes, she was in the arms of a man who by the next issue, had mysteriously vanished and was never mentioned again, but often, she was tearfully saying goodbye to love. Airline stewardess Bonnie Taylor had similar serial experiences, falling in love with a Scot from a Brigadoon-like village, a doomed fisherman, a soldier with post-traumatic stress syndrome (he mistakes her for his lost love!), and so on all over the world before finally finding true love with an airline pilot. A Hollywood starlet, April O’Day, kept falling for unsuitable men, like older actors.

Then there was the advice columnist, Amy Ames, who somehow became directly involved with the lives of the girls who wrote to her, and often had some romantic adventure herself as part of it. These soap opera-style stories could be read separately or in series. Each issue would feature another story about the same heroine and a different guy. A lot of fantasy was involved; sometimes the heroine and her new love interest barely exchanged a word, just embraced. All the series eventually ended in a happily ever after that was no more or less than some of the individual chapters. In other words, no big wedding finale. (I don’t have all the comics, so I’m guessing that Amy Ames lived happily ever after.) It was all very innocent, of course; a kiss or two was the most that happened.