Saturday, February 28, 2015

British Girls' Romance Comics: Marilyn 3rd June 1961

British girls' comics of the 1950s through 70s consisted of a complex, stratified assortment of publications designed for specific age-related markets. In retrospect, the most famous became Jackie, which has been discussed previously on this blog. According to James Chapman in his British Comics: A Cultural History:

Jackie formed a bridge "between juvenile girls' comics and another group of publications that appeared in the late 1950s and early 1960s. These were the so-called 'romance' comics exemplified by Amalgamated's Marilyn (1955-65), Valentine (1957-74), and Roxy (1958-63), Pearson's Mirabelle (1956-77), Thomson's Romeo (1957-74), and City Magazines' Boyfriend (1959-66). These titles were intended for older girls (the over-sixteens) and for a short time in the early 1960s they enjoyed significant popularity: Valentine (407,000), Romeo (329,000), Marilyn (314,000), and Mirabelle (224,000) were the best-selling titles (Chapman, 2011).

That's a lot of comics, especially considering they were weekly! But so few seem to have survived. These comics are so rare nowadays that collecting a complete set would be extremely difficult, and very costly. In this post we're going to take a look at a copy of Marilyn, the June 3rd 1961 issue, and dissect it to see what it's made of.

Of particular note is that the first story starts out on the front cover (see above), which seems to have been the norm for the Amalgamated titles (see Valentine 21st December 1963 on Out of This World). Counting the cover, this is a four-pager, untitled, but the art is signed and possibly by the famous Spanish comic artist José de Huéscar. It is certainly a fine piece of work. The story seems to be a cautionary tale because we see Julie (lamenting at another woman's wedding on the front cover) lose the man who loved her, because she wanted too much in the way of material comforts, that he couldn't guarantee on his honest, livable, but working class wage.

Page 5 features advice for young Beat ladies with fair complexions, with the summer just upon them. From what I remember we did have quite a good summer that year in the UK, so it was a timely intervention by the publisher!

While the first story in the comic was complete in four pages, the next is a two page installment in an ongoing court drama and love story. Very nice artwork. Different style.

This next one pager seems to be a regular feature. Tab's a bit of a ladies man, and he has them competing for his attention by having a bake off!

Next, a good old romance comic horoscope, plus an ad for hair dye!

Next, a three page story, another cautionary tale, in which a girl learns a hard lesson when she uses one boy to make another jealous.

Next, a full page ad for ODO-RO-NO roll-on deodorant - terrific stuff!!!

Next, a four page text story interspersed with ads and advice on the latest hot platters! British comics, more so than American, are an amalgam of sequential art and text features, so this is British comic tradition.

More nice artwork in this next three page story in which Pam finally finds true love! Thank goodness for that! With all the cautionary tales so far I was thinking there would be few happy endings in this issue!

The next page... well, I have to be honest, I have never heard of the Allisons. It looks like they were trying to be a British version of the Everly Brothers, but their sound had a strong Buddy Holly influence. My wife remembers their song "Are You Sure", which made second place in the 1961 Eurovision Song Contest, and she knows all the words! Oh, and girls, don't forget to grab your copy of Honey! Don't be the one left out!

This next one also seems to be an ongoing saga - "The Heart of a Teenage Girl." Plenty of angst here, and also some fine artwork. Lovely last panel.

The half page ad on this next page tells you that males were not expected to be reading this comic. And they probably, for the most part, did not, in the gender polarized world of the early 1960s. What seems strange looking back, but maybe not, is that there was no equivalent to romance comics for teenage boys, nothing that dealt with relationships anyway. If you were into the military, sports, espionage, or imagining life as a space traveler, there was something for young males.

Quarter page ads for other romance comics by the publisher - Roxy, which as you can see looks similar to Marilyn, and the latest issue of Love Story Library - this is a digest-size romance title like the ones featured recently here on Out Of This World - complete this page.

This next is an interesting version of the problem page. It presents some problematic teenage behavior and asks the reader to contemplate it. The more standard 'agony aunt' type exchange with readers is at the bottom of the page.

This last story is only two pages, and starts out like it's part of an ongoing saga. If so, this is the last installment of this particular story. The art is signed 'Julian' - possibly Julian Vivas? Any experts out there?

The back cover features a photo of Edd Byrnes, the star of the American TV series 77 Sunset Strip, reflecting the tremendous influence of American pop culture on British audiences at that time.

And that's it. 28 pages for five old UK pennies, while American comics were 10 cents in the USA and nine old UK pennies in the UK, so nearly double the price. The British girls also read American romance comics, but with the British weeklies they had more to look forward to because of frequency of publication. If you include all the digest sized British romance comics, I'd say there were a lot more British romance comics being published than American at that time. You saw from the figures earlier that their print runs were equivalent to their American competitors, but at least four times more frequent! In Aladins Bookshop on Hornsey Road, Islington, in London where I used to buy my second hand comics from the proprietor, Shirley, with her blonde Dusty Springfield beehive hairstyle, in the 1960s when I was a kid, there were large numbers of the digest type British romance comics of all types, probably more available than the American comics I was looking for. But it's all gone with the wind...   ...and on the subject of all things eventually having to pass...

Leonard Nimoy.
May your voyage home to your final destination be full of beauty, bliss, and knowledge.
Thank you for everything you gave us.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Diversity in Comics: Friday on Sunday

Jim Lawrence anJorge Longarón's Friday Foster newspaper strip ran for about four years and featured the exploits of the vivacious photographer, whose life was a constant stream of drama and events. Friday Foster was the first syndicated strip to feature an African American female lead character, although Black female leads did exist decades before in the form of, for example, Torchy Brown in Heartbeats by Jackie Ormes, which was printed in the Pittsburgh Courier. But Friday Foster represents a real leap forward on the road towards an accurate depiction of diversity in American comics, besides being a quality strip with fabulous artwork.

The Friday Foster stories included a romantic component, and the strip could be argued to belong to the romance genre as much as any other. The above example is from the Chicago Tribune in the strip's first year - the date is 11/29/1970. Friday gets out of Harlem and ends up being something of a globetrotter, and her adventures are not restricted to being a photographer. She gets involved in all kinds of goings on. Here's a couple of consecutive Sunday strips from 1971 (3/14 and 3/21) in which Friday is unknowingly getting herself enmeshed with members of the criminal underworld:

I wish I had the next few weeks' worth of strips so I could find out what happened!

In these next excerpts, from 1972, Friday encounters a big shot Broadway actor, Dirk Maroon, while on a fashion shoot in the Caribbean (07/30):

By the following Sunday, Friday is resisting Dirk's charms, even though those around her seem to think he's a great guy:

But... poor Friday! By the end of the month she's caved in to the pressure, and allowed herself to fall for the player's charms, only to have her heart broken:

The 1972 Sunday strips are too large for my scanner so that's why I'm only showing part of each. These last few illustrate nicely how Friday Foster fits into the romance genre. The single Dell comic book version of Friday Foster was featured a little under a year ago in the premier romance blog, Sequential Crush, and I direct readers there for Jacque Nodell's coverage of that Joe Gill/Jack Sparling rarity.

I can only echo Jacque's lament that there was just the one comic book, and add that there is no reprint collection of these superb newspaper strips either - it's long overdue Dark Horse or Fantagraphics, if you're listening!!! Collecting the comic strips is an expensive business. I haven't come across any of the daily strips for sale on eBay, but the Sundays go for around $3 to $5 each, or more!

There's more information about the strip here and there on the Internet. For example:

Dave Karlan's Original Art Blog

Some nice example of the original art are featured on the comicartfans galleries and marketplace:


Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed savoring the wonderful artwork of Jorge Longarón. 'Til next time...

Thursday, October 9, 2014

British Romance Comics: Love Story Picture Library 1333 - "Drop-out"

Having said recently that I saw a significant difference between British and American romance comics, I have to eat my words now. This short story is from 1976's Love Story Picture Library #1333. I've no idea who the artist is, although there are some things about it that remind me of a crude version of something Demetrio might have drawn. The story runs pretty much true to the sort of simple and well-tried plot you'd find in contemporary Charlton romance books from this side of the pond. It's one of those 'he turns out to be not quite what he initially seems to be' stories about a respectable and fairly level-headed girl who falls for a beach bum. See what you think.

Seven pages doesn't provide much room to develop the plot, so it succeeded in covering quite some ground in an economical sort of way. I'm not sure where this beach is supposed to be - somewhere in the UK probably, since it's a British comic. Even with Britain's varied coastline, there are few places where you have sand, rocky cliffs, sand dunes, and the right kind of waves for surfing, but it would probably have to be the South-West (e.g. Cornwall), or even South Wales maybe. I wish there was a version of Overstreet for these comics, something that identified artists. It would be a daunting task to compile such a tome, and may even be near impossible for European comics at this point in time.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

British Romance Comics: Love Story Picture Library 752 - "Sheriffs Mustn't Cry"

Unlike the example in the previous Out Of This World post, Love Story Picture Library #752 features just one story, the one advertised on the cover - "Sheriffs Mustn't Cry." The quality of the interior artwork in this story is simply outstanding, and although I am at this point unable to identify the artist, I would guess that it is drawn by one of the Spanish artists. The story itself is not that bad either. It is an interesting genre crossover - romance and western, recalling the romantic western sub-genre of the American romance comics of the late 1940s and early 1950s. This one is a little different, though. It is set in the 1960s, and starts with a British girl selling cosmetics in the American wild west, which somehow seems to have survived relatively intact in this real backwater town that she's visiting, the ominously named Rockbottom! Aside from the odd car and other Twentieth Century electrical devices, the town looks straight out of the 1880s. The girl's name is Bernice Granger, and she's about to experience the adventure of her life! The whole story is 55 pages long, so I've tried to pick the best pages, and filled in the gaps with synopses of what's taking place. Truthfully, every page is worth savoring!

As soon as Bernice enters Rockbottom, she's commandeered by the local sheriff, who needs her assistance in going after a thief. There's just been a robbery, and it's a car and a chauffeur he needs. Bernice figures she might as well help out. They catch up with the crook, but things don't work out too well for the sheriff. He gets wounded and the crook gets away. Bernice runs to help the sheriff...

The town's new sheriff is a big hit with the locals. They've never had a lady sheriff before, and a pretty one to boot! The local newspaper editor sees an opportunity to boost his circulation, and figures he'll start by helping Bernice look the part...

While the Federal Marshall figures out a plan of action to deal with this unorthodox development, the newspaper man has gone to press with some fabricated background stories of the supposed crime-busting exploits of the new sheriff:

Meanwhile the Marshall has appointed a new sheriff himself, Jed, and sent him to Rockbottom to clear up the mess, at this point unbeknownst to Bernice, who hasn't forgotten that she initially came there to sell cosmetics:

Bernice finds herself falling head over heels for Jed. There's not much going on in Rockbottom for a young couple looking for places to hang out together, so they go off for a ride into the desert, which turns out to be a suitably romantic option:

But when Bernice finds out Jed came to replace her as the sheriff, and Jed realizes that Bernice is the illegally-appointed sheriff he's been sent to oust, a spanner is thrown into the cog-wheels of their romance. Bernice insists that she'll walk the 10 miles back to town, but Jed's macho, chauvinistic, traditionally sexist world view convinces him that forcibly grabbing Bernice and bringing her back to town is an appropriate course of action. Bernice lets him know otherwise when they get back to Rockbottom:

Press man Brad Nolan has a new idea that he thinks will help Bernice, and sell more papers. He's arranged for an election in the town for sheriff. The next day...

Then there's another unexpected turn. The festivities surrounding the election provide the perfect cover for a bank robbery. And guess who the townsfolk are expecting to apprehend the thief? Bernice accepts her responsibility, and drives off in pursuit of the robber in her classic Cadillac. She realizes that it is probably the same thief she was originally deputized to help bring to justice. It doesn't take long for her to figure that she's out of her league, but of course Jed wouldn't let her face such danger alone:

The robber steals Bernice's Cadillac and heads back to town, to the railroad yard. Jed has his man in his sights, however. With the bad guy behind bars, we can have ourselves a wedding! All ends well for our happy couple, and the newspaper has another front page story! Hopefully Bernice won't have too much trouble getting a green card and eventually American citizenship!

Amazingly, that was all based on a true story! Well, it could happen, couldn't it!? So, any ideas on who the artist of this little masterpiece was?