Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Women Running From Houses on Comic Book Covers: Sinister House of Secret Love 3 - "Bride of the Falcon"

A short while back I was the recipient of a minor revelation - that the pictures on the covers of gothic romance novels almost invariably feature women running from houses. This gem of information has lurked in my consciousness since that day that I read Spectergirl's blog about gothic romances, aptly named Women Running From Houses. Now although there are not too many actual gothic romance comic books, it is nevertheless a recognized sub-genre, so I took a look to see if this same phenomenon held true for our beloved medium. Lo and behold, both of DC's gothic love titles (Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love and Sinister House of Secret Love) sport women running from houses on some but not all of their covers, although I failed to find similar conformity amongst the issues of Charlton's Haunted Love. I've chosen one example from each series to post, starting with this Alex Toth penciled treat, nicely inked by Frank Giacoia, from the March 1972 issue of Sinister House of Secret Love. Written by Golden Age artist Frank Robbins, it's 32 pages long, so I'm going to use small thumbnails.

This is a tale of a young woman looking for the love of her life. It's about Venice, a gondolier, the mysterious Isola Tranquillo, love letters and negligees, a castle, an insane facially disfigured dark-haired count with flashes of white above his ears, very long stone staircases, passionate embraces, house servants, a silent paralyzed woman apparently the count's mother, birds of prey, towers, the young woman's pet dog, medicine, completely inappropriate clothing for walking through dense woodland... but no, don't let me give it all away. Read this "Gothic mystery love story" for yourself. So as a "thank you" to Spectergirl for alerting me to this fascinating phenomenon, here's the story - enjoy!

 Note: scans courtesy of Flatterman.


  1. Hi there, MK. You left a point for me on the Sequential Crush site where we both posted. I'm new to the etiquette on these things, so I thought I'd respond here. But before I do, can I just praise your blog? I only stumbled by chance on Sequential Crush & off I've tumbled into another keeper-site, namely yours. I always enjoy reading the work of folks who love comics & use comics to think about wider issues too, without losing track of the fun aspects of both comics and thinking, of course.

    You mentioned romance comics being readily available in the 1st half of the 60s in London. I was just a lil'comic book reader then. (I love reading about the comic buying habits of the past. One day I'll get a book out of that, amongst a million other plans.) By the late 60s/early '70s, the numbers must've thinned out, or perhaps it was just where I was, namely the suburbs beyond Richmond. I can promise you I never saw a "Sinister House Of Secret Love" 52-pager, or even I would have had the sense to pick it up.

    As I say, those habits of buying comics in the past fascinate me, so I shall keep watching here for the promised story of the lad who dared to buy the romance comics.

  2. colsmi: I'm inspired! I also have to admit that I didn't see those 70s DC romance comics until I started going to specialty comic shops - I lived in Cardiff at the time and used to drive over to Forever People in Bristol (gone now I think, the shop, not Bristol!), and I remember buying the gothic romance books from there. But in Cardiff from 1977 through to 1982 I did work in what is now the oldest surviving comic shop in the UK as far as I know. The Cardiff Fantasy Center as it is now called was then just 'The Comic Shop' and in return for my services (manning the store once a week) the owners (Dave and Pete) allowed me to sell my own comics on commission. I used to buy big orders from Howard Rogofsky (you'll see his ad in all the 60s & 70s comics) of Marvel stuff that was never distributed in the UK - ah, so that would be one reason why some books in the 70s were rare or absent in the UK. I had a complete list of all non-distributed issues and just used to buy what I could of those - including things like GS X-Men 1, Hulk 181 - I must have sold loads of those - everything I imported was more or less instantly snapped up - no eBay in those days! Life was good. But the best thing about being in the store was getting to talk to the customers about comics!

  3. KB: Thanks so much for mentioning my blog in your post today.

    I actually picked up this very comic last weekend.

    One of the things I love about this cover is that is seems to mimic the Dark Shadows series of book written by Dan Ross from 1966 and 1972. I covered all Dark Shadows on Woman Running From Houses back in October.


  4. Spectergirl: I see exactly what you mean. Books 1, 4, and 5 in the series especially, and the date of publication of the books makes them a likely source of inspiration for this cover. I really enjoy these DC gothic romance books, and the Charlton ones. I only wish more had been published. I've never been a reader of fictional books - only textbooks and other sources of factual information. For fiction I've always read comics. But I think if I ever did have the time to read novels I'd give gothic romances a try!

  5. I am a sucker for action words, so all the click click clicking is great! Not too many action words in romance, unfortunately!

  6. KB - I can't tell you how fascinating these old remembrances by you of old comic book days are to me. So you were 'embedded' in that sort-of-underground, early-days '70s world of comic book shopping & retail in the UK? I do envy you the experience. My pilgrimages were to distant newsagents in Feltham & Sunbury which might have a comic not sold in more local branches, and then I managed a few unimaginably wonderful treks to "Dark They Were & Golden Eyed". And as for the non-distributed comic books - has there ever been anything more grail-like than those Marvel issues, the ones overlapping with the reprint Marvel UK titles especially, which one month just disappeared from the newsagents & stayed missing for months on end? I have many of them now & yet I still feel that I'm missing them! (And it's all your fault! Well, no, because I'd never have had the means to track down & buy imported copies. Still not even a teen by then!) And yet that absence of the big titles built up such a sense of mystery that in a sense it made the comics even more special than they might have been otherwise. Even now, a Jim Starlin Marvel-Two-In-One early cover .... I must stop myself or I'll get sub-Proustian.

    I was thinking about our recent swapping of tales of the comic book buying past when I started a new post this morning. It made me think that because we in the UK saw relatively little of the big two's products on a reliable month-to-month basis, & because issues would arrive out of order, or reprinted in black'n'white from long ago issues, and so on, we perhaps didn't get the same sense of what a character was in the same way, say, Americans did. Rather than having a sense that a character progressed and developed in a particular direction through time, we would have to piece together a mosaic-like impression of a character from a wide variety of often incomplete & often apparently disparate sources. This meant we all had a slightly - or not so slightly - different opinion of who certain characters were & what their history was. And I thought that this was a more interesting way to think about comic book characters, certainly more involving & less, say, 'continuity-imposed' than we have now. In a way, I guess, these memories have made me think of the virtues of spotty distribution & absent key issues, of how shopping in the UK actually might have created a slightly different way of seeing things in those days. I wonder - and this is a real long-shot - if that's part of the reason why the older generation of comic book writers from Britain like Moore & Gaiman and so on saw comic book worlds in different ways to the American writers. They'd already had to create, say, the DC Universe almost from scratch themselves when they were kids & the experience stuck. I know many Americans suffered such problems, but perhaps not to the degree the UK in the late '60s and early-to-mid '70s did.

    Ah, well. That's a mighty digression. I will be Doctor Relevant in any posts I make in future, I promise.

  7. W~O~W~Z~E~R~S~!!

    Toth & Giacoia at their very BEST~!

    And this period of 'Goth' Romance
    had the most gorgeous, moody covers
    by a treasure trove of Master Artists~!

  8. Lysdexicuss: again further reason to lament their ephemeral existence as a sub-genre.

    colsmi: I can relate to what you're saying. Reading DC and then Marvel in the early and mid-60s for me was also kind of like that. I'd get hold of a copy of a title I liked, buy every copy they had in Aladins Bookshop, but inevitably there would be many gaps, simply because where I lived there were a lot of comic book readers. Aladins was a store where you could return books and comics for half price credit, so if you kept going in you would eventually get to read much of what was in the particular book's history, but only as far back as Jan 1959, when American comics were allowed back into the UK. The UK had it's own version of the Wertham witch hunts, and distribution of American comics was halted for I'm not sure how many years. I would guess that pretty much the only entry route was through US military bases, and there can't have been too many comics that came in that way. On a tour of Beatles pilgrimage sites in Liverpool that my wife and I went on last year, we were told that apparently Ringo Starr got to read American comics when he was a boy as his mother (Ringo's dad buggered off when our lad was quite young) had a friend who was either an American G.I. or had access to a base, I can't remember, and he used to give comics to Ringo. For me in north London I wasn't so lucky, and on the extremely rare occasion when I found a pre-Jan '59er, it was like finding some ancient treasure. I remember getting a couple of 1957 Hopalong Cassidy comics from a second hand bookshop down near the Angel, and almost fainted with excitement! Ah the good old days!

    Incidentally, I noticed on your Feb 12 post on your blog about 2000AD that you mentioned Dave Roach. He was one of our customers at the Cardiff Comic Shop in the late 70s/early 80s. That was before he got famous - he was still just a kid, and I'd left Cardiff before he started doing his stuff.

  9. KB - I mean it quite sincerly when I say that if you ever decide to blog about your comic buying past, I'll be the first to read it. For example, that comment about how hard it was to get hold of American comics in the aftermath of the anti-comic moral panic of the '50s was quite new to me. (I can imagine, no doubt ineptly, how you must have looked at the date on that '57 Western comic.) I think that one of the things that isn't written enough about mass mediums like comics & music is the environment in which they were purchased, and indeed consumed - is there a single good book about the record shops in the UK of the past, such as the old mum'n'dad electrical stores with the records stacked on top of washing machines next to threateningly warm radiators? The cultural meaning of how art packaged as a mass medium was sold is getting lost as time passes & I think it's a shame.

    It's also worth saying that the amount of people actually working in the comic shops of that period, as you did, is relatively very small. It may be in many ways cultural ephemera, but then much of the real history of an era is in the things seen as disposable, the things that fade away without a trace. Have you ever come across P. Parsons' "City Of The Sharp-Nosed Fish", about how archaeologists have used the once-casually-disposed papyrus from an ancient rubbish dump outside Cairo to rebuild long-lost details of the last centuries of Ancient Egpyt? It's just lovely: advice on brick-making, laments for unattended birthday parties, the words of bee-keepers. And just as I love to find out about Ancient Egyptian bee-keepers, I enjoy the secret history of comic-book buying. (But I'll admit, even more.)

    My best to you, sir.

  10. colsmi: Thanks for the tip re: that book. I love to read that kind of material.

  11. The comic story in this post is damm interesting...I am very eager to read this comic story...Personally, i would like to thank for this cute post...