Spin a comic book rack in July, 1961 and there would be a one in four chance that when it stopped you would be face to face with the tearful, hopeful or tragic cover of a romance comic. It could be Brides in Love #25, Secret Hearts #72, First Kiss #21, or Just Married #20.
No fewer than twenty romance comics were being published each month during the early sixties despite the second coming into dominance of the superhero (the very genre whose near demise after World War II led to the rise of romance comics). Titles like My Romantic Adventures, Sweetheart Diary, Young Love, and I Love You were only a dime away from providing 30 pages of entertainment to legions of young girls and women, not to mention the occasional curious male.
Young Romance, Love Romances, Teen-Age Confidential Confessions, Teen-Age Love, Teen-Age Romance…
The roll call is a long one, so I’m going to limit myself to discussing the five books published that month by the “National Romance Group”, otherwise known as DC when they were publishing books with Superman or the Flash on the covers.
Secret Hearts was arguably DCs most consistently high quality love book, especially when it came to the art, which benefited from the talents of legends like Gene Colan and John Romita. The hallmark of any Secret Hearts cover was the thought-balloon. The heroine always had some secret that she could share with no one but the reader. July ‘61’s issue #72 was no exception:
A frightened young blonde is shown dancing with a handsome man in white. “Thanks for the dance, Kris” he says, “I’ll give you back to your date.” As Kris’s cruel and sour looking date stands in the background, Kris is thinking, “N-No…Please…Don’t!” An incongruous blurb appears over this menacing scene that certainly must pertain to a different story: “He was so gay and carefree that he didn’t see I had fallen in love – and that I wanted him to HOLD ME FOREVER!”
Girl’s Love Stories was DC’s “career girl” title. Every issue had at least one story about a young woman (often a model or actress) facing the dilemma of having to choose between her career and her man. The stories with a “happy” ending inevitably are resolved by the heroine choosing to quit her job and settle down. Another theme, (on display in issue #80) is a woman jumping through hoops to win a man’s love only to find his heart belongs to another:
A freshly crowned beauty queen is confronted by a woman shielding the man whose love the “queen” sought to win. “There’s one man your looks won’t get you – and that’s Jeff!” And the accompanying story blub: “I thought when I was chosen queen I would be closer to winning Jeff. But my crowning was only, AN INVITATION TO TEARS!”
Falling in Love was a strange one. The editor was apparently obsessed with hospitals and all things medical. You might think that the heroines were always nurses but as often as not they were crippled, disfigured, blind or terminal patients. Alas, the cover of the issue on our spinner rack (#44) depicts a tearful nurse saying goodbye to a patient she has secretly fallen in love with:
Before the recuperated and handsome patient leaves the hospital with his lovely blond wife, he says to his crestfallen nurse: “Goodbye, Bernice and thank you for being so sweet – even if it was in the call of duty.” And Bernice is thinking, “N-No, it wasn’t duty – I love you!”
Girls’ Romances was basically a clone of Girl’s Love Stories but filled, it would appear, with stories rejected by her sister magazine. As if to give credence to its second-best reputation, the issue on our rack (#77) has a cover depicting one of the most clichéd themes in romantic comicdom:
Our heroine tearfully watches as her true love marries another woman: “It should have been me! It COULD have been me!” At least she is sitting in the pews and not standing beside the bride as a bridesmaid.
Heart Throbs was one of the Quality comics that survived the acquisition by DC in 1957. Although the title stayed the same, the style shifted toward themes that would appeal to a younger reader; first loves, dating, and teenage jealousy. Jealousy is, indeed, the cover theme on display on our July ’61 spinner rack. Issue #72:
“Don’t think your cheap trick will work, Peggy! He’ll find out soon enough you’re not his type!” You have to wonder what sort of cheap trick Peggy is up to. Does it have anything to do with the perfect balance she displays sitting on fence posts?
Update: For more (much, much more!) about romance comic books in the ’60s and 70′s check out Sequential Crush.