Monday, November 30, 2009

Money is the Honey

Reading "Will The Real Prince Charming Please Stand Up" from Girls' Love Stories 147 the other day on Sequential Crush set me thinking about the role wealth plays in the stratification of our society. When anyone mentions the Indian caste system you'll hear groans and judgmental attitudes from all over, but when you think about it, our society is in its own way just as hung up on wealth and status. Things have changed a bit over the years, maybe. Instead of a young woman's father telling her suitor that he expects him to be able to keep her in the manner to which she is accustomed, the women themselves do the talking. In Indian society a woman traditionally would marry a man of equal status to herself, but could also marry a man of a higher caste if he'd have her. But to marry 'down' to a lower caste man would violate accepted norms. This expectation of remaining within one's stratum in society is also there in the west - we just don't call it a name like 'the caste system', and it's a little more subtle, more informal than formal, but it's a force at work in society nevertheless. In Girls' Love Stories 147 the 'loser' in the story was a 'gold digger', a woman planning to snare a wealthier man so she could up her station in life. I started to look around and quickly came across some variations on this theme. Heart Throbs 1 (Quality Comics, August 1949) has a couple of stories with differential wealth as a stumbling block on the path to romance. In "Spoiled Brat", lonely millionaire's daughter, Mona Barclay, surprises herself by falling in love with a hired hand on board Daddy's yacht.

The assumption of superiority that accompanies wealth appears to be a barrier that Mona uses, in this case, to avoid confronting her true feelings regarding Bill. Those feelings become evident to Mona later in the story when the yacht is in trouble in a Caribbean storm. Mona sees Bill injured and instinctively goes to his rescue while putting her own safety in danger. Its also a new side of Mona that Bill hadn't known existed, and its enough to tip the scales in his heart towards declaring his love for Mona.

What we don't see is Mona's father's reaction to this union. Will he suspect Bill of using his daughter to get at the Barclay fortunes? Will Mona really be able to cope with such a drastic reduction in household income if she and Bill live true to the statement that they'll manage on a sailor's wages? The cultural differences between the two are likely to create distance in a number of areas of their marriage. But the story's author stops at the point where everything's really hunky dory, without troubling our minds with worries about what might not work out.

Another story in the same comic, "Double Masquerade", is a version of the gold digger story mentioned above. Judy is an office worker, a typist, fed up of existing in the lower socio-economic stratum of society. She's saved up a bunch of money, bought herself some great clothes, and she's off to stay at a swanky country retreat, Lakeshore Manor, where she fully admits she will make every attempt to find herself a well-to-do husband. Very similar to the Girls' Love Stories 147 plot. At the Manor she plays it cool, then the opportunity for a handsome gentleman to step in is provided by Judy's horse bolting. It looks to Judy like everything's going according to plan.
They fall in love, but Judy has to repeatedly avoid Marty's questions about her family. Judy doesn't want to let go of him, believing him to be a member of a wealthy banking family, but her love for him is real, and her conscience won't let her go through with the charade. She fesses up to Marty that she's just a poor stenographer, but runs off too soon for Marty to tell her it doesn't matter 'cause he's from the lower echelons of society himself. Marty's persistence catches him up to her where they can both come clean about their masquerade and their true feelings for each other. They can both live with their failed ambitions to become rich by tricking the other because they've found something more. And don't you think their comparable backgrounds will assist in allowing them to make a good go of their marriage?

Then I took a look at the second story in Intimate 1 (Charlton Comics, December 1957), entitled "Late Love". This is a 5-page short story highlighting awareness amongst the impoverished of how financial difficulty places additional stressors on a marriage, putting it at greater risk of failure. So accepting of this principle was Carmen, that she never entertained the idea of marrying the man she'd loved since high school, because he couldn't provide the financial security she required to make her feel that her future marriage would succeed.

Carmen turns down Brick Howell's proposal's of marriage, telling him straight it's because he's poor. She doesn't count the acreage his grandfather left him as worth anything, but Brick has faith that one day, as the area develops, his plot will be sought after and worth a bundle. Carmen dates one guy after another, but can't connect with them because she's in love with Brick. She finally gets a handsome, rich guy, Clay Mason, interested in her, and mentally prepares herself to settle down with him. But seeing Brick brings it all back to her, and she knows he's the only one for her. She gives up her requirement for her man to be rich, and agrees to marry Brick. Just then Clay turns up, steps aside seeing that Carmen obviously  adores Brick, and announces that he's just purchased Brick's land for a tidy sum. So Carmen gets her financial security after all - if only she'd had more faith in Brick's vision, they could have been together all this time. Still, better late than never. Again, though, this story brings up the issue of wealth, in this case being the concern of a woman requiring monetary assets as a precondition of marriage. Strangely enough, this behavior is supported by research that shows women are more attracted to guys with money, while men are more interested in a woman's looks, and its all very Darwinian and down to what's going to produce offspring most likely to survive. So when romance comics incorporate these societal stereotypes (comic book writers pull ideas from, for example, existing media or simply from life itself) there's a lot to the stories in terms of giving us glimpses of patterns in human behavior. Comic book - 10 cents. University research - thousands of dollars. Hmmmm...!

Nurse Romance Stories: Harvey Comics Hits 58 "Shameless"

The full title of this 1952 comic is Private Lives and Loves of Girls in White, in the Harvey Comics Hits series. An entire issue dedicated to "nurses' confessions torn from the pages of real life". The first story in the book, "Shameless", chronicles the successful attempt of a rebellious nurse to capture the heart of the lonesome but dashing young doctor she's sent to the Florida (?) wilds to assist. Nurse Jenny Deane has an over-inflated view of herself, and her boss at the hospital is kind enough to point this out. Of course, at this point she's not able to hear him. The relocation to the 'boonies' is his prescription. The story has some stereotype disconfirming information - on page 2 Nurse Deane's boss refers to a popular misconception that believes all a nurse has to do is hold a patient's hand and look pretty. On the other hand, Jenny, as a nurse, plays into the stereotype of the doctor-husband-hunter, while as a woman she exhibits the stereotypical tendency to want to mold and manipulate the man she captures to enhance her own vision of their place in society.

Nurse Jenny Deane is such a schemer that she deliberately sabotages the doctor's chances of passing an upcoming inspection by his superiors, hoping that he'll be forced to leave the 'jungle' and return to the city. There she can help set him up to operate in high society, although to her credit she also believes this to be in his best career interests as well as the way forward for herself. From a professional point of view, her actions are horrendous, putting the local community at risk by allowing the medical supplies to be ruined.

Doctor Temple is disgusted with Jenny's antics when he finds out how she has jeopardized the unit to suit her own plans. Then the hurricane hits and Nurse Deane starts to realize how important the facility is for the care of the local people. Jenny has a timely epiphany, rallies to the cause, and in the end wins the hearts of the locals, as well as recovering the affections of her doctor sweetheart.

Exhausted but blissfully happy, she ends the tale in her future husband's arms, ready to battle it out in the wilds of Florida alongside her doctor, finally at rest in her designated womanly role. Any illusion of power she had during the story was exactly that, and she achieves happiness by accepting her subordinate position. Besides the suggestion that she's a doctor-hunting nurse, she's also succumbed to the self-sacrificing angel stereotype as well, although instead of having to sacrifice love, it's yuppie life in the city that she's let go of, so as things go for nurses she's well off in the romance department.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Wartime Romances

Romance comics aren't the only place to look for love stories. From time to time a romance story appears in a war comic, often with a nurse as the female lead character. There were actual wartime romance comics, such as this one, Wartime Romances 1, with cover drawn by the great Matt Baker, and published in July 1951 by St. John. I don't have this issue, and I'd really like to see "Lovelife of an Army Nurse" for my current project, if anyone has a scan or can point me in the direction of a reprint.

But in regular war comics the romance theme occasionally appeared. Here's an example from Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos 4, "Lord Ha-Ha's Last Laugh" (Marvel, November 1963). Fury is in London during the Blitz, and meets Red Cross nurse Lady Pamela Hawley, who just happens to be the sister of the infamous British traitor, Lord Ha-Ha (in reality Lord Haw-Haw was the broadcast name given by the British to several traitors used by the Nazis in WWII to spread propaganda by radio).
Fury doesn't rate his chances with Pamela, but later in the story he ends up at her father's house where they meet again. The Howlers are sent on a mission to abduct and return with Lord Ha Ha, but the latter ends up mown down by the Nazis while trying to escape from Fury. Fury takes on the task of sensitively informing Pam of her brother's death, obscuring the painful truth and picturing him as having been a hero when he met his demise.

By issue 5 we find Fury and Pam have developed something of a relationship. Indeed, Pam seems to be one of the few people who can actually tame the sergeant:

A good old piece of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby humor, from Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos 5, "At the Mercy of Baron Strucker" (Marvel, January 1964).

Monday, November 23, 2009

Latino/Spanish Artists at Charlton: Demetrio (4) - Secret Romance 30

Well I did say that Just Married 102 is probably the most famous Demetrio Charlton romance cover but this one is definitely a contender, especially because it has the trippy, full-blown Steranko-style psychedelic bit on this gorgeous cover. This is a re-posting of a scanned story in the Romance Comics Reading Room, "Ring Twice" from the January 1975 issue of Charlton's Secret Romance.
Demetrio's stories seem to gravitate towards the wealthier, middle and upper middle class set. He certainly draws them like he's part of that scene himself. This one's about Bob, maneuvered towards engagement and pending marriage by his high school sweetheart, Carolyn Davies.
Carolyn sets up a super-trendy engagement party populated by lots of beautiful people apparently drinking electric Kool Aid! But Bob stands his ground when Carolyn tries to push him on the wedding date. He wants to be self-sufficient before they take that step, and Carolyn acquiesces.
Bob works for his uncle, who has noticed Carolyn's ongoing tactics to get her fiancee to the altar as soon as possible. Bob's uncle, Wyatt Forbes, needs someone to go to Puerto Rico to evaluate a new line of merchandise for their business, and he'd like Bob to be the one to deal with this account, AND it will give Bob a couple of weeks' breather from the pressure to get hitched to Carolyn. The paintings in the office building look like they're original Demetrios from his early tribute-to-Steranko phase.
Of course there's a beautiful girl waiting to meet Bob in PR, the lovely Rita Martin, whose family owns the business Bob's uncle has been purchasing from. Panel 3 looks like Demetrio took a lesson from Gene Colan here, with all the shading. Bob obviously likes Rita.
Rita gives Bob the VIP treatment appropriate for an important business associate, with everything well organized - food, entertainment, transport, accommodation - but there's a little more to it than simple business for Rita as well.
Demetrio draws a fabulous wrought iron gate on this page. Rita has made Bob realize how he really feels about Carolyn.
 Bob is forced to acculturate to the Puerto Rican way of doing things - they don't work 24/7 but lead a more balanced lifestyle. They're at another posh Demetrio style party but not, because they're really more interested in each other. Things are really warming up between Rita and Bob.

After work the next day, as promised Rita takes Bob to a lovely Puerto Rican beach where they snorkel in the clear water and sample the visual delights of a Caribbean coral reef. Bob's made his mind up to break off his engagement to Carolyn - he's falling head over heels for Rita, and the feeling's mutual.
 The two weeks over, Bob's life is transformed, Rita's on her way to NYC on the invitation of Uncle Wyatt, and yes, Carolyn will be annoyed, upset, but just as well Bob realized now that he wasn't in love with her, BEFORE they got married and started having kids. Having successfully averted a future broken home and the suffering any potential children would have had to endure, Bob looks like he's found a solid prospect in Rita. She's obviously smitten with him. It's going to be an inter-ethnic marriage, and judging by Bob's first experience of Puerto Rico, he's going to enjoy learning about his new wife's culture. The two families will also be united, which will hopefully be really good for business.

Gotta love Demetrio!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Latino/Spanish Artists at Charlton: Demetrio (3) - For Lovers Only 79

This June 1979 story drawn by Demetrio is set in a ski resort in New Hampshire. Cindy, on a break with three girlfriends from the office and meeting up with four guys they know, starts out in a miserable mood. She's away from the rest of the group, heading up on the ski lift just with Lance, the guy she's partnering with. It's clear they're not getting on too well: he's making rather clumsy approaches, and it's just adding to her foul mood.
Cindy just isn't into Lance, and takes off on her own from the top. She unwisely chooses the expert slope.
Lucky for Cindy the ski patrol guy who watched her start off from the top realized she wasn't sufficiently skilled for the slope she'd chosen. When she inevitably fell, he wasn't too far behind.

By the time Cindy is rescued and diagnosed with a broken leg and ribs, she starts to wonder whether Lance cares about her, even though she didn't like him before her accident.
Cindy is transported to the local hospital by Kirby Nord, the ski patrol guy who rescued her. He informs Lance and Cindy's friends about her predicament, but it seems they're all so engrossed in having a great time that they haven't the inclination to visit her. However, someone has sent flowers, and Cindy wonders whether it was Lance. It seems she just wants some kind of sign that he actually cared about her as a person rather than seeing her as an object to be exploited for sense gratification on the weekend away.

It turns out Kirby sent the flowers. Kirby's quite a guy - runs a farm in the summer and today he's out in the freezing weather clearing snow off the interstate with a plow. But it seems sending flowers isn't his usual MO. Kirby turns up having skipped cleaning up so that he could make it to the hospital in time to see Cindy. His comments indicate he hasn't exactly endeared himself to the local females, so we're getting clues that he sees Cindy as something special..

Cindy has to leave the hospital as the bed is needed. She reveals to Kirby that she's lonely back in the city, and has developed a liking for this mountainous New Hampshire area. Kirby suggests she stay with his widowed aunt, who has two teenage girls, and convalesce at her home. Kirby's aunt is pleased to accommodate Cindy.

Things start getting pretty domestic. Kirby's got Cindy walking with crutches. Cindy's hanging out with Kirby's younger cousins and finding out things about him. To pay back Kirby's aunt for her hospitality she's doing chores and a bit of baking, much to Kirby's delight.

Naughty Kirby has been persuading the doctor to recommend that Cindy stay put longer to aid her recovery. It reaches the point where the two of them come clean about how they feel about each other. Kirby's aunt excuses herself, claiming chores to do, and Cindy and Kirby can finally express their love for each other.

Basically this is a straightforward boy meets girl story where they fall in love and, we hope, live happily ever after, but set in the New Hampshire winter. A plot with no real complications this one. Note Demetrio's psychedelia accompanying the rapturous moment when the lovers kiss at the end. But it is one of those stories about two people thrown together almost as if fate had intended it that way, and don't some couples feel that way about how they met?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Nurse Romance Stories: Young Love 41

Third in the DC series of Young Love and The Private Diary of Mary Robin, R.N., issue 41 features a nurse romance story, "No Tomorrow For My Heart", that hits right at the heart of nursing stereotypes present in the 1960s media.

Mary exemplifies the self-sacrificing angel image of nurses that hearkens back to the origins of the profession itself - she puts her dedication to her work before romance and marriage. This story is unusual, however, in that it points out an important reality for female nurses, that they have to expect amorous reactions from male patients for whom they have cared, as a kind of hazard of the job. And although the self-sacrificing angel is a stereotype, where there's smoke there's fire as they say, and there is an element to nursing that demands a dedication to the job because it is a helping profession. Importantly, this is something that a potential mate for a nurse would do well to understand. A nurse married to a man who doesn't see this about nursing is likely to experience problems when her husband starts feeling that he's being sidelined by his wife's job.

So when Mary backs out of the chance to marry Ray, realizing that she needs a man who understands and accepts her commitment to nursing, it puts the book in a kind of advice-giving category. Even with the changes that have taken place in the nursing profession since the 60s, and there have been big changes, this much is still true about nursing for most. If you're a nurse, you need your partner's support because it is a demanding, although rewarding profession (see the responses Mary receives from various patients, that do somewhat reflect reality).

Mary's real interest is in Dr. Will Ames, which tends to support another media stereotype of nurses from the period, that women become nurses so that they can marry a doctor. However, even though Will is clearly interested in Mary, the two haven't figured out a way for their relationship to move forward in a mutually acceptable way that also harmonizes with their work commitments. In an old style heterosexual patriarchy, where the woman stays at home and the man goes out to work, this problem is of a different nature.

But then Mary goes and falls in love with her patient, violating professional ethical conduct, and at the same time reinforcing another old media stereotype of nurses, that they are these vulnerable women who can easily be romanced by male patients, and that a hospital stay for a man equates to an opportunity to become romantically involved with a nurse. The suggestion here is that nurses are 'available', and with further exaggeration this notion evolves elsewhere into the 'naughty nurse' image.
Pencil artwork is by John Romita, Sr.