Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Romance Without Tears: '50s Love Comics-- With a Twist!

2003, first edition, from Fantagraphics Books
Dana Dutch
Edited by John Benson
Various illustrators but mostly Matt Baker
Romance Without Tears: '50s Love Comics-- With a Twist!
Bought newish for $22.95
Slightly worn paperback

Unlike Martinet's romance comic parody of a couple years earlier, this one isn't even unintentionally funny.  Benson argues that Dutch (a man by the way) presented proto-feminist heroines who seldom cried or got punished for their romantic and other errors.  This despite the fact that in at least four of the roughly twenty stories, the heroines cry.  As for not being punished, in the story "Masquerade Marriage," the two underage girls are tricked into a false wedding ceremony, and at least one of them has an off-panel "wedding night" where the man is "rough...almost brutal."  The men end up jail, but the girls' reputations are ruined.

And some of the actions of girls and women in other stories are questionable, like the one in "They Called Me Boy-Crazy!" who is interested in her friend's brother but dates his best friend to not only create jealousy but to show she can have a steady boyfriend!  And no one seems to mind.  Or what about the woman in "Elopement Hid Our Sins"?  She agrees to an in-name-only-marriage and falls for the guy, seemingly only because he's emotionally withholding.  (Of course he turns out to be secretly in love with her, too.)  And I can't tell what the lesson is in the one-page story, "Allergic to Love," where Ellen walks home rather than kiss her boyfriend, and realizes that she was "such a prude" and should've let him drive her home.

The artwork, primarily by Baker, is bland to the point that I couldn't tell some of the men apart in one story.  I wished Martinet could've weighed in, although admittedly these stories from the 1949 to '55 period seem less kitschy than the mostly later stories she chose.  Read this book only if you're really interested in the genre.

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