Cliche Critics

By Poison Ivy,

I meant to post this a week ago, but I got so aggravated that I had to walk away for a while. Yes, even mild-mannered romance comic editors get testy.

So, what was the problem? I went to this really annoying web site called BeaucoupKevin (dot)com on which a romance comic story entitled “I Don’t Love You Anymore” from 1972 (published by DC Comics in Falling In Love) was held up to scorn as “the worst romance comic I’ve ever come across.” Pretty harsh criticism and I thought it was quite unfair.

[Quick-and-dirty synopsis: Girl leaves town on a visit to her cousin, promising to be faithful to her longtime boyfriend. Girl goes on group dates with her cousin, the cousin’s fiance, and the fiance’s brother. Girl discovers she has fallen in love with the new guy, and they admit their feelings to each other. Girl goes home, miserable at having to tell her old boyfriend that he’s history. Girl discovers that while she was away, her boyfriend met a new girl and has realized his feelings have changed too! Girl reassures him that no one is to blame.]

Romance comics written 35 years ago were aimed at teenagers. This story was a fable illustrating that typical parental warning, “You will grow out of these feelings.” Regardless of when sexual activity begins, in our culture there is considerable maturing to do all through the teenage years and beyond them into the twenties. Paul Anka had a hit pop song about “Puppy Love.” What parents told their kids about puppy love 35 years ago is still true: “These feelings will pass. You need to date other people. You’ll grow out of each other.” Well, Romeo and Juliet being the big exception—but that’s because they killed themselves rather than stick around and change their minds.

The theme of this comic book tale is well-intentioned and sensible: First loves, especially teenage loves, can fade, and that fading can occur mutually. It’s convenient that while the heroine is experiencing the headiness of freedom, the hero is doing the same. Thus both partners are done with the relationship at exactly the same time, leaving neither one to feel let down or guilty. In real life it probably doesn’t work that neatly. But this is romance, where the happy ending is important.

Okay, I admit it’s not the best comic book romance story I’ve ever read. Yes, the dialogue is cliche-ridden and generally atrocious. Inker Vinnie Colletta butchered the art as usual. But as I was explaining to the Representative of the Opposite Sex who lives with me, it isn’t that the heroine deliberately dates another guy. She’s thrust into a pairs situation in the social context of the visit. And to her shock and dismay, she finds that she develops romantic feelings for this new guy. Despite his god-awful cliche chitchat.

Why then did my Somewhat Significant Other think this was a bad story? Because he thought that even group socializing (basically, double dating) with her cousin’s fiance’s brother was a betrayal of the hometown boyfriend. I disagree, because this story is taking place in an old-fashioned social landscape in which men and women did not mix much except through overt social occasions such as dating, dances, and parties. Thus, opportunities to meet new people were rigidly defined.

As for the web site guy’s low opinion of this story, I’m not so sure he even likes romance or has any understanding of it. His comments were in the form of a ha-ha quiz. He used a vulgar term for lovemaking that suggests he does not have the romance sensibility.

At least two men who read this story did not like it. Sorry, but when it comes to romance stories aimed at a female audience, I am not inclined to give men equal voting rights. Yes, the dialogue is cliche. But this kind of dialogue is symbolic. The words are not meant to show individual personality. They are meant to explain a situation in the fewest sentences possible. No twists or turns of distinct personality are included, because this heroine is Every Girl, not a specific girl. In a seven page story, it’s pretty hard to turn her into someone unique, and the writer does not even try. The same goes for her new lover, who frankly has nothing to say of any interest, and all of it trite. This guy is merely the New Guy. There’s nothing distinctive about him. And suddenly, this girl who has had a settled dating relationship for five whole years is shocked to discover that she can fall for a new man.

Hmm…maybe that’s what my tiny sample of male critics didn’t like. The heroine of this story falls out of love and pays no consequences. She does experience some angst, but she does not even have to confess her change of heart. He old boyfriend confesses his own first. How convenient for her.

Anyway, I’ve had a few days to cool off and be more moderate about my total rejection of the criticism of this romance comic story. I even dropped the word “stupid” from my description of what the male critics said. Mature of me. At least I didn’t claim that was “the worst blog I’ve ever visited.”

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