Saturday, September 11, 2010
Nurse Romance Stories: Linda Lark Student Nurse 1
Following on the heels of Charlton's foray into medical romance comics, Dell responded with Linda Lark, at first a student nurse in this Oct-Dec 1961 issue. The series was at least partly written by John Stanley, whose work is examined in detail on Frank Young's blog 'Stanley Stories', so please check there for Frank's analysis of Stanley's work on this Dell series. While I respect Frank's expertise on Stanley's work, I disagree with his claim that this book was primarily meant to be humorous and that the "stagnant drawings" mute this characteristic. In my opinion the title is a romance comic, part of the medical romance sub-genre, with humorous sub-plots. My evidence for this is that Linda Lark includes many of the elements found in mainstream romance books as well as the medical romance variety. The humor would be Stanley's individual stamp. As you'll see, it's Charley who is the funny character. Linda, the main protagonist, undergoes the trials and tribulations familiar to romance readers, without departing from the expected formula.
From the nursing image point of view, the cover of this first issue immediately tunes the reader in to the romantic potential for a young nurse working in a hospital frequented by handsome interns. Here Linda is prettying herself up ready for such an encounter. Note the caption on the cover that was clearly later 'borrowed' by Marvel for the cover of Night Nurse! On the inside of the front cover, however, there's a change of mood, with this historical piece about the mother of nursing, Florence Nightingale. Here's the archetypal self-sacrificing angel and pioneer of liberation for women.
It doesn't take long to realize that this comic is written to a higher than usual standard, yet the same elements familiar to readers of nurse romance comics are there. I like the suggestion that the doctor's advances might be considered harassment - note the cop's protective reaction. But in a few pages we've got the romantic interest, the klutzy, less attractive friend for Linda in whom she can confide, and the rival who already had the hots for the doctor who was instantly attracted to Linda when he saw her outside the hospital.
This issue is split into sections that act as chapters in Linda's progress through nursing school. The nurses live in the dorm and their lives are full of work and hopes for romance. This section introduces another doctor, potentially making Linda now the target for two men. Charley may not be attractive but she makes up for it in street smarts, and acts as a kind of counselor for the oft-bewildered Linda. Linda encounters an amorous patient whose wily maneuver to get a kiss embarrasses her in front of this second doctor. Stanley has all the nurse stereotypes down, as evidenced by his inclusion of the older 'Miss' - the spinster senior nurse, although she's not a particularly nasty battle-axe. The nurse stereotypes of the time are packed into this story.
In this next chapter we find that Doctor Mayne, who made clear his attraction for Linda before she even walked in the hospital door at the beginning of the story, is more complicated than he at first appeared. He's been engaged to Eugenia, although he called it off some time back. When Mayne takes Linda along with him to give his grumpy aunt attention, Linda spots Eugenia collapsed having taken an overdose as a suicide attempt! Heavy stuff! Linda's swift intervention saves Mayne's old flame but results in further embarrassment for this student nurse. Being connected with a well-known doctor assures her of some unwanted publicity.
The book now takes a brief interlude to get really serious about nursing and attracting young women into the profession. This text piece describes nursing as the noblest profession. It lays out the variety of career options in nursing, explains the need for nurses and hence high likelihood of employment, the good salary, the prospects for career advancement (interestingly noting that this is because there were still fewer men in nursing!), the high academic standards demanded by the profession, and the admirable qualities possessed by women who become nurses. Also noteworthy is that this is the only item resembling an ad in this comic - it's ad-free with a cover price of 15c in 1961!
It's time in the book for things to start going Linda's way, and they do, as she inadvertently takes a ride in Doc Blasko's car as he heads for the countryside to unwind by photographing some barns!
Having safely guided the reader to a comfortable point in Linda's love life, Stanley finishes with a comic piece focusing on the ever hopeful Charley and her encounter with a poetry-spouting beatnik.
The inside back cover picks up on something mentioned in the text piece in the middle of the book that describes the virtues of a career in nursing. Here's the future nurse's club that girls hoping to eventually become nurses can join in preparation. The back cover then gives a brief but interesting history of nurse uniforms.
This comic was the earliest I found that actually mentioned male nurses. It's the flip side of the coin of gender equality that was beginning to muster in the early 60s. I found this to be an excellent book as I reviewed it. A lot of thought, research, and skill has gone into the writing of it, and the art isn't shoddy either. Indeed this whole series was enjoyable reading, and I'll be sharing a few more scraps from it in future posts.