Wednesday, January 4, 2012


I don’t recall when I purchased my first romance comic book; it might have been Our Love Story # 5, with a Steranko story, at a convention, but eventually the stigma of a male buying romance comics dimmed, and, like my interest in other genres; western, crime, mystery - I gained an appreciation for this neglected and demeaned genre . While it often suffers from repetitive plots, that is also the case in many genres, including the beloved superhero. Romance is important in the context of superheroes, specifically the melding of those elements into the 1960's story lines. Stan Lee incorporated aspects of the romance strip, as he did with humor and teen strips, fashioning a "new" superhero formula in the process.
Young Brides # 25, Nov-Dec 1955, Prize. Kirby pencils; Simon inks, alterations? The dog in the background adds the perfect touch to the cover!
­­Romance comics have a rich history, again tied to superheroes, due to Joe Simon and Jack Kirby's involvement. The team that created Captain America and a plethora of superheros took  notice of what magazines girls were buying, and turned out comics of a similar bent. When their romance comics became an overwhelming success, other companies jumped on the bandwagon. Romance comics flourished during its heyday of the 1950's, including Timely-Atlas, National, Avon, Fawcett and Charlton, to name a few. Some stood out due to the distinguished artwork of craftsman like Alex Toth, Matt Baker, Don Heck and many others. Vince Colletta was one of the best in this genre, even though he later became associated with superhero comics as an inker. 

Sales slowed down considerably in the 1960's, but romance comics held on, especially at DC and Charlton. John Romita, who penciled many romance features for DC, put his ability to draw attractive women to great advantage when he moved to Marvel in 1966, turning Spider-Man into a strip that emphasized romantic angst, as did Gene Colan. By the 1970's romance was dying out, perhaps due to changing tastes and stagnation. There were a few experiments, such as full-length Gothic romance stories at DC, but nothing lasted.
I grew interested in romance comics when I began researching Marvel’s 1960's output for my book, since I believed it was important to look not only at the superhero material, but all the concurrent titles, including western , teen-humor and romance. With the help of Timely-Atlas scholar Michael Vassallo I was able to pore through many titles, including Teen-Age Romance, My Own Romance and Love Romances , which continued into the early years of Marvel’s hero line. I eventually began to track down some of the issues on my own, adding them to my collection, especially the Kirby drawn stories that were concurrent with his  western, monster and superhero output.
My Own Romance # 75, May 1960, Kirby pencils, Vince Colletta inks
While Marvel’s romance line ended in the early 1960's, replaced by superheroes, there was a return to the genre in 1969, when Marvel launched Our Love Story and My Love , featuring new stories and artwork by the same folks that toiled on the superheroes, including Stan Lee, John Romita, Don Heck, Gene Colan and John Buscema. I suspect some of the stories were prepared from old scripts, redrawn (and edited), a system which cut down on the work load (this also occurred on some of the concurrent mystery stories), but it was a thrill to see “new” work from those familiar artists. Some, like Don Heck, were more comfortable here than in the costumed hero arena (and graced with better inkers, like Frank Giacoia and John Romita), but the storytelling skills, ability to draw attractive women and attention to clothing and hair styles pointed to the versatility of all the artists.

I was pleasantly surprised by the combination of artists and inkers paired together, many who never worked together on superheroes. Young artists were given a chance to learn their craft on romance stories, including Jim Starlin, Alan Weiss and Steve Engelhart - as both a writer (under the name “Anne Spencer”) AND an artist, inked by pros John Romita and Jack Abel. Engelhart, who began his career drawing for Warren, soon found his niche as a distinctive writer, turning out some of the better superhero fare for Marvel in the early-mid 1970's.

"Must I Live Without Love?" Stan Lee story?; John Buscema pencils; Sal Buscema inks? My Love # 1, Sept 1969 

"I Dream of Romance" Stan Lee script?; John Romita art, My Love # 1, Sept 1969. Romita's eye for design is in evidence on this page. In the early issues there were no credits, so this may be a Lee script, or a revision of an earlier Atlas story.    

"Jilted!" Stan Lee story?; Don Heck pencils; John Romita inks, My Love # 2, Nov'69.
Heck's storytelling skills excel in realistic settins, and Romita's inks add lustre.
My Love # 14, Nov 1971. Gray Morrow cover and colors? Marvel exploited contemporary events with this cover and interior story taking place at Woodstock. 
As Time Goes By!", Gary Freidrich script, Gene Colan pencils, Dick Giordano inks, My Love # 16, Mar 1972
Colan was excellent as facial expressions and body language, and here we get to see his interpretation of Bogie!
"Puppet on a String!" Gary Freidrich,script, Steve Englehart pencils, John Romita inks, My Love # 16, Mar 1972
"One Day a Week!", Author unknown; Jim Starlin pencils; Jack Abel inks, My Love # 20, Nov '72, as reprinted in Our Love Story # 33, Apr '75 

"How Do We Know When It's Really Love?", Stan Lee story, Gene Colan pencils; Sal Buscema inks,Our Love Story # 4, Apr 1970

I'm surprised that Sal never inked Gene anywhere else, since he did an excellent job on this story.  

"As Good As Any Man!" Holli Resnicoff story, Alan Weiss art; Our Love Story # 16, Apr 1972 

"The Game of Triangles!", Joy Hartle script, George Tuska pencils; Paul Reinman inks; Our Love Story # 20, Dec 1972.
I find Reinman's inking more appealing than Mike Esposito, Tuska's frequent inker.  
I’ve been lucky enough to acquire all the new material Marvel issues, a number of earlier Atlas material, and assorted work by companies like DC and Charlton. DC had wonderful covers by Nick Cardy and Dick Giordano, as well as interior work by Don Heck, Mike Sekowsky, Creig Flessel, Tony DeZuniga, Werner Roth, George Tuska and Alex Toth; Charlton featured early work by Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, and, surprisingly, a few stories by Steve Ditko, some only recently discovered (I can only hope a few more exist in the plethora of Charlton romance titles, but it’s doubtful).
"Surfing, Fishing and Kissing", Joe Gill script ?; Steve Ditko artwork, Time for Love # 13, Nov 1969. While Ditko is not known for his romance art his skills are evident on this page, particularly on the face of the father in the last panel.
I’ve learned much more about romance comics, mainly through my pal Jacque Nodell:                          

Her blog is a mixture of information, cultural history and just plain fun. Jacque is a historian that has developed her own style in discussing romance comics of every time and era.  You can’t go wrong checking out her blog, its the best of its kind. Another excellent resource is the Grand Comicbook Database:  where you can view covers from all the companies. It's wonderful to see the variety of styles and some truly beautiful artwork. I've also contributed by identifying quite a few cover artists. 
Over the years I’ve learned that the romance genre is just as rich and interesting as any other, and though I (like most boys in that time-period) steered clear of them, I’m glad that I've matured - a bit - since then, and can truly appreciate the quality and variety that romance comics have brought to the field.  
Special thanks to the queen of romance comics, Jacque Nodell, for her time, knowledge and friendship. 


Don Alsafi said...

Nick - it looks like the links in the article aren't actually directing to where they're supposed to go.

I too have a soft spot for the romance comic, and hope that some of these might start getting the attention they deserve in Marvel Masterworks and the like.

You mentioned "my book" though - is this something you've published, or something you're currently working on? Either way, I'm interested! :)

Nick Caputo said...

Hi Don,

Those "links" were actually an error that occured when I was cutting and pasting parts from Jacque's corrections. Thanks for noticing (that's what I get for trying to get the post done before bedtime!).

I would certainly enjoy seeing more romance material from Marvel (and other companies), but, aside from the Simon and Kirby work I don't know how viable it is. I'll have to check with Cory, the Masterworks editor, to see if he has any plans.

As for my book, its been in progress for many years. I've been adding, revising and sculpting it into something I hope will be worthwhile but have no firm date for publication. I suspect it will be a few years from now, when I retire from my day job, but sooner or later, when you least expect it....

Lefisc said...


Technically, one of the first Marvel comics I ever read, in 1959, was a Modeling with Millie comic my mother found somewhere and brought home to me.

My next journey into that realm was when Marvel, in the early 1970s had some of their best artists do romance magazine, but the stories held little interest for me. As I recall, the comics soon turned to reprints. But there was something else happening, or not happening.

Romance stories were about people, their feelings and their lives. While, of course, the Comics Code was in effect, these stories, in my opinion, slowly became detached from the real world the modern woman, or the modern teenager was living in. All the choices the girls made in these stories were about which boy to choose. Yet, with “women’s lib” occurring, real girls were making lifetime choices about college, jobs and their role in life in ways not portrayed in the stories.

A major reason, I felt is that most of these stories were being written by men, mostly 10-20 years out of the age range of the reader. They couldn’t relate to the new world, perhaps because in their lives they didn’t see it comings.

To make my point stronger, watch an early TV show from the 1950s and 1960s and see how women are portrayed, and see how young woman are often ignored. Then pop over the Mary Tyler Moore show and see how things were beginning to change.

I saw a rerun of the Danny Thomas show. The premise was that his daughter decided to run for class president. Danny decided that women shouldn’t do that and ACTUALLY worked with the boy running against her to make sure she lost!!! It had a happy ending because when she lost, the guy asked her out on a date. That archaic mentality was still in those Marvel romance comics of the 1970s.

PS: I know who "told" this to Nick Caputo. Just send my your Ovaltine boxtimes and I will tell you!

Nick Caputo said...


Marvel ocassionally attempted a relevant storyline, and they tried out a number of women writers, including Jean Thomas and Holli Resnicoff (was Joy Hartle a pseudonym? Jackie?) but overall they failed to keep up with times, retaining the tried and true formulas of the past.

From what I've observed, other companies attempted more contemporary storylines more often than Marvel. One of the reaasons there was little innovation is because young creators, mostly coming from fandom, were not interested in the genre, prefering superhero or horror. Imagine what someone like Steve Gerber might have done or Engelhart if he remained on.

The romance genre needed an editor with a distinctive personality to guide it, but that never happened, and they failed to retain a readership.

Lefisc said...

Hartle sound s close to Al Hartley (just the y is missing) His wife's name was Hermin, not Joy, but I bet it was in the family.

Roy Thomas mentioned that by 1972 Marvel had lost most of their female readers and they could not get them back.

But I also, see, as you point out, that there was a disadvantage to the Marvel Universe in just having one or two editors. At DC they had many and they needed a separate editor for the romance mags.

Nick, now that I think of it, it must have been usual to have the same editor, writers and even artists for the war mags and the romance ones. In the 1970s, Marvel needed a younger female to edit those comics. I know I needed a younger female back then too!

Jacque Nodell said...

Just did a quick Facebook search for Joy Hartle and viola! The results gave me a Joy Hartle Friedrich and guess who our common friend is... Gary Friedrich! I am guessing Joy is his wife? I sent a friend request -- perhaps she would be up for an interview?

Great post, Nick! I always am interested in hearing why people enjoy romance comics! :)

Nick Caputo said...

Thanks for the kind words, Jacque, and the help! I guess Joy could be his wife, certainly a possibility. Let me know what if you discover anything!

Booksteve said...

As I read the piece, I kept saying to myself--"I wonder if Jacque has seen this?" and then I see at the end and in the comments she has. Always nice to see more coverage of the neglected genres of comics.

Jacque Nodell said...

I thought I was on to something, but the Joy Hartle I got in touch with is Gary Friedrich's sister-in-law. Just a coincidence I guess!

Nick Caputo said...

I suspect Gary may have used Joy's name as a pseudonym.

Jacque Nodell said...

That was my next guess, Nick. I will try to contact him and ask!

Darci said...

So many dangling threads here...
Any news from Cory about Masterworks?

Nick's book?

What does Gary Friedrich know about Joy Hartle?

I wish I was more patient! ;-)

Nick Caputo said...

Hi Darci,

Nice to hear from you. I doubt there are any romance Masterworks in the works at the moment. The production schedule has been cut, meaning less Masterworks collections appearing every year. Stll, you never know if things might change.

My book is a work in progress which I go back to whenever I have time, updating and revising as needed. I keep discovering new information, which has me rethinking my earlier conclusions, which I believe i healthy and will make for a more fully realized book, but one day a conclusion wil be reached.

I don't know if Gary Freidrich is conducting any interviews lately, being busy with his legal issues with Marvel.