Saturday, August 21, 2010

I realized after posting about My Love last week that there’s no way to write about these romance comics without writing about the search for them, finding stories on blogs, diggin’ thru bins in dusty warehouses. So these posts are gonna ramble. I’m only talkin’ to the True Believers out there who wanna help me study this workshop known as the Marvel Bullpen. And specifically this workshop’s romance comics: My Love and Our Love Stories. These are some of the more difficult Marvel mags to track down for various reasons. I haven’t seen many of them in my lifetime of comics collecting. And they have not been reprinted much at all. So it’s always a shock when I find an issue that I’ve never seen before. Even seeing the covers are a shock. It’s only in recent memory that these things began floating around on the web. The covers weren’t often reprinted in Price Guides or fanzines or even in other Marvel Comics from the period. I like finding stories on the web but it just makes me want to own them, to possess them. I don’t like rare comics shopping on eBay—I want to find it in the comics store and flip through it and decide if I want to buy it. You know, that whole “joy of the hunt” and everything. It’s not until I find it myself, hold it in my grimy hands and smell the newsprint, that I feel connected to the thing. Luckily, I live in a town that has some great secret comics warehouses that have every single possible back issue you could imagine and eventually I found a handful of My Loves and Our Loves that I don’t own so I can continue my studies.

And boy, was it fun to go down the warehouse and talk shop with the dude that’s been workin’ there for 30 years. We were trying to think if there was another Marvel romance title from the period. “There was Millie and there was Chili but they were like Archie rip-offs,” he said. I asked him which came first My Love or Our Love Stories. He opened up the Our Love Stories number one he found for me and looked at the indicia. He looked at My Love number seven’s indicia. He looked up at the ceiling and did some number crunching. “My Love came out first.” Then he dug out My Love number fourteen. The famous Woodstock issue. I flipped when I saw it cuz it’s a story drawn by Gray Morrow. The shop guy was like, “Gray Morrow. Hunh. You know he did the layouts for the Spider-Man animated cartoon from the ’60s?” I pretended I didn’t know that and egged him on. It was awesome. That kinda shit doesn’t happen on eBay, folks.

So what is it about these comics that’s got me so balled up? I think it’s the workshop approach to how they modeled the look of the two titles. Marvel of course had a house style in their superhero titles. So these same artists (Romita, Buscema, Colan, et al) were doing Spider-Man, Daredevil and in the Marvel universe there existed romantic tensions (think Matt Murdoch/Karen Page or think Peter Parker/Gwen Stacy/Mary Jane Watson) but those tensions were often submerged in the larger heroic (male) narrative, right? So, here are those same artists let loose on stories that usually get left on the cutting room floor. We see panels of more everyday mundane things that are charged with a different type of tension. Domestic scenes, nightlife scenes, public transportation – all rendered “heroically'” by Romita, Buscema, and Colan, who were adept enough to let up on the throttle and slow the pace. Meaning Colan knew he wasn’t drawing Daredevil. He throws curveball after curveball, teasing the reader with varied rendering styles, playing around in a sexy, open way that he couldn’t or wouldn’t in Daredevil. And that’s the tension for me that comes through. I don’t necessarily think it’s better than his other work, I’m simply astonished at how versatile he and the rest of the crew were at switching approaches, at capturing the look and feel of stories about “real life” that take place in the real world.

It’s been fun to watch my friends reading them out of the stack that I brought to Copacetic. They’ve seen this kind of thing but I think they expected the stories to be really bad. To them, romance comics always come across so hokey. The genre trappings are so amped up that I think they were surprised that that some of the stories are actually touching. The girls always say that the stories must have been written by a man and I say, well, in theory, these stories were “told” to Stan Lee the writer. Then I explain the Marvel Method to them if they don’t know the scoop. It’s funny how weird it is explaining Marvel Comics “works” to new comics readers.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to study these stories online and get into discussing the artwork. I’m not super comfortable scanning whole stories. It is Marvel after all. I could link to other blogs out there who post whole stories. That might work. But then that’s a lot of clicking around and I’ll lose you to the depths, True Believer. What to do, what to do? See, for me, I don’t dig it when folks scan some panels from a story and then explain what happens in the story instead of lettin’ me read it fer meself. So, hmmmm. I could riff on individual pages and just focus on the art. But, brothers and sisters, the stories are just part of the experience of these groovy, soulful comic books. You gotta see the ads that were never in the regular Marvel mags. You gotta read the letters column and the advice that “Suzan” gives out. These little beauties are very different cultural treasure chests than the other Marvel mags. I’d have to scan the whole comic book to really give you the full picture. Search them out, young ones, I beseech thee. Collecting and reading these gems is a graduate course in itself. And a lot cheaper.

Tangent Warning: And then I got to thinking about this house style aesthetic. And then I got to thinking about the Hernandez brothers and how they sort of have a house style. I know they are all big romance comics fans and specifically Romita fans. I can just imagine Mario, Gilbert, and L’il Jaime reading these titles as well as the super-hero Marvel titles in the ’70s. In fact, I know they did. They told me. The point is that I feel like this workshop was a direct influence on the formation of Love and Rockets. No big revelation, I know. But if you think about how romance comics more or less died in the late 1970s and that there are no “romance” comics in the traditional sense anymore – then Los Bros are truly the inheritors of this tradition. They are romance comics. The modern romance comics. They imbue the everyday with the heroic and then bust out and draw something really heroic whenever they feel like it. They have range and it all fits into a look, a world that is iconic and instantly recognizable. The look and feel of the world and the craft applied to render the characters’ feelings is spellbinding. I feel for them because they appear to live on the page. The Marvel romances are similar. To me, this early ’70s era of romance comics are more genuine than most from previous decades. So, maybe, maybe, the Bullpen’s craft informed Los Bros and worked it’s way out in their stories. That’s how I see it anyhow. Los Bros understood that it’s about maintaining the level of craft to elevate the level of feeling. And it’s something I see in these Marvel romance titles specifically more than I do in the regular super-hero titles from same era.

**See comments below. There are plenty of alternative or art comics that explore “romance.” But few of them are rendered in a “realistic” style. Dirty Plotte could be considered a romance comic for example. But many of these “alternative romance” comics don’t work as well emotionally (for me) because the level of drawing or the ability to render realistically isn’t there. It’s precisely this ability to “carry” much of the emotional weight with elegant, beautiful drawings that makes Jaime the torch bearer of “romance comics.” I’m not knocking something like King-Cat or any other alt/art comics that sort of do romance comics. Those are very emotional comics that work. But what I’m interested in studying is the school that applies a “realistic” approach to romance. And this era of the Bullpen is key in my estimation because of their influence on Los Bros and then how this school lives through Los Bros adapting it and influencing a new generation with L ‘n R.

Los Bros also understood that it’s about continuing characters and a universe that feels real. What if Marvel would have done a Gwen Stacy romance comic or a Karen Page junky diary? Isn’t that essentially what Love and Rockets did? They created a house style and serialized the universe into an ongoing epic.

I know, I know, I’m rambling. And it looks like I’m running out of time for this week’s episode. More My Love to come. So until next week. Stay groovy.

Don’t forget:
There are many bloggers who are more informed than your humble narrator in regards to romance comics. Please consult these experts for reading some Marvel Bullpen romance comics. I know there are plenty more sites and experts, so please leave a comment if you are one such expert with such a site. Eventually, I’d like to gather up all the links to Marvel’s ’70s romance comics. Please help.

Sequential Crush

Grantbridge Street

Golden Age Comic Book Stories

Diversions of the Groovy Kind

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25 Responses to “More MY LOVE”
  1. patrick ford says:

    It’s really only the first five or six issues of each that would be “key.”
    After that the titles went 3/4 reprint for another year, and then all reprint.
    I don’t have even a single issue, only the trade paperback “Marvel Romances.”
    Some interesting stuff to look for on the artistic end. Aside from the “Woodstock” issue which also contains the Steranko story. There are odd things which sound interesting.
    A Colan story inked by Romita, late 60’s Buscema inked by Ayers, and other oddities like an early Jim Starlin job.

  2. concerned party says:

    “Los Bros understood that it’s about maintaining the level of craft to elevate the level of feeling. And it’s something I see in these Marvel romance titles specifically more than I do in the regular super-hero titles from same era.”

    aren’t there a plethora of ‘alt’. and ‘art’ comics than focus on relationships, but don’t utilize the los bros. level of craft? or employ ‘craft’ in a different fashion?

    this might be the gap where we can celebrate ‘clumsy’ or kochalka’s ‘kissers’ for it’s romantic heft.

    i totally appreciate the notion of ‘rarity of romance’ within mainstream comics, or celebration of such expressions when they occur (or are un-earthed), but the variable revolutions that ‘alternative’ comics brought about are often under-discussed hereabouts.
    romance, on some level, was one of those forces, to be sure.

    were highwater or alternative under-celebrated publishers of ‘romance’ comics to a greater or lesser degree? i would argue, yes.

    • “aren’t there a plethora of ‘alt’. and ‘art’ comics than focus on relationships, but don’t utilize the los bros. level of craft? or employ ‘craft’ in a different fashion?
      this might be the gap where we can celebrate ‘clumsy’ or kochalka’s ‘kissers’ for it’s romantic heft.”
      Sure, but for me those comics don’t “work” as well emotionally because the level of drawing or the ability to render realistically isn’t there. It’s precisely this ability to “carry” much of the emotional weight with elegant, beautiful drawings that makes Jaime the torch bearer of “romance”.

      And sure, “romance” has been explored in plenty of alt/art comics but again who can you think of off the top of your head that can draw similarly to “traditional” romance styles and pull it off? “Strangers in Paradise”? “Lucky”? Kinda. Both great but for me it’s about a level of craft that can deviler the same emotional heart pulls that a Romita or a Colan can achieve. The Bullpen and Jaime’s is not a “mannerist” style like most alt/art comics.

      So I agree that there are plenty of alt/art comics that are about romance. But Jaime is King. The heir.

  3. concerned party says:

    It’s pretty sweet to be thinking about who renders ‘romance’ the best….pretty subjective

    I guess my alt/art comment is out of line, when you’re making a pretty heavy ‘mainstream’ argument, strongly too.

    I guess I mean that Jaime’s perception of ‘romance’ would not necessarily be mine, regardless of skill in rendering.

    Of course, I don’t fault anyone for agreeing with his perceptions. But It’s a whole ‘nother and wholly interesting issue of where we draw the lines between reality and fiction, and even more so, how we talk about it in a public forum such as this.

    But I totally love the idea of those ideas being tackled. Especially by mainstream titans in the past. I guess that the nature of the medium being somewhat unfit for it is especially interesting, with intense examples like ‘New Gods,’ through execution and all other factors.

    But alt/art comics (Clumsy, Kochalka, Poor Sailor, Even Cold Heat!) seem to deal with romance in a way that is potent, battling genre in a contemporary way.

    I don’t see how those examples need be so distant.

    • Is that you Jesse Mcmanus? Would you start using your real name when posting here? That’d be sweet. Thanks.

      For the record, I’m talking about a very specific workshop. If you wanna riff on that workshop and that workshop’s influence, that’d be sweet. Thanks.

  4. DerikB says:

    Frank, I’d be curious if you’ve ever looked at romance manga titles. They often have a lot of the same qualities to them. The drawing isn’t the same kind of realist, it tends to be less consistently realist (really realist backgrounds, characters that will be rendered in different ways for different emotional effects), but they have that emotional impact and often a similar sense of, not really bullpen, but team approach. Even those with one author would have assistants and generally strong editorial input.

    • Hey Derik, I’m getting there. I need help finding that stuff.

      • DerikB says:

        in re manga: I’m no expert, but I’m quite taken with Suppli (some words and sample image on it here: ), which is part romance part workplace drama. The drawing and layouts are superb. Erica Sakurazawa’s Between the Sheets is much sparser visually but also stylistically unusual.

        Narratively, they are a very different type of romance than these marvels story. For one, in both cases mentioned above, they are women making the comics, but also they are longer and much less socially conservative (though they are both of more contemporary origins).

  5. Jesse McManus says:

    ~jeez louise!!!

    didn’t mean to offend, Frank, and sorry for not being more specific about myself.

    I do have a love for titles and puppets and admittedly, don’t have a lot of grounds for debate, having not read the ‘New Love’ titles.

    I love the subject of ‘romance’ in comics and thought I’d throw out a sorry sword, despite my lack of smarts in the domain of the school you’re blarging. Just thought it would be fun and interesting to hear your responses.

    But yeah, I can’t really speak for the specific ‘school’ you’re trying to start a dialogue about. My bad. Still listening and interested.

    • Word. Well, think of it like this: Los Bros have influenced ALL alt/art “romance” comics, right? Right. And this workshop influenced Los Bros. So Los Bros opened the door, showed us all the path. And to me the path leads back to this workshop. It’s fun to play detective and see the connections whether real or imagined. So, I hear what you’re getting at but I wanna look at it graphically first.

  6. Jesse McManus says:

    jesus, and i should’ve typed ‘my love’

    watch as he impales himself on the stake that is ‘comics’

    i love you all

  7. Jesse McManus says:

    thanks for the nice response, frank.

    by ‘he’ i meant ‘me’


  8. Nate says:

    It makes sense that the Marvel guys (and gals, since I imagine Marie Severin and other female staffers had input) would be well suited to these comics. They all used melodrama to their best advantage in the superhero line, and they know how to get straight to the height of the action whether it be physical or emotional. This is where the craft becomes important, at least to my eyes. If you can’t render the action/emotion convincingly, and your narrative structure is shambolic, you’re going to have a tougher time nailing those moments and connecting with the reader. I suspect this is why romance can be so predictable as a genre… the plot is simply an occasion to affirm a world view that privileges the beautiful and fantastic over the shabby and mundane.

  9. Scott Bukatman says:

    Frank, considering Love and Rockets’ relation to romance comics makes immediate sense, and it’s interesting to consider why they HAVEN’T been looked at that way (until now). Once you point it out, it’s SO obvious.

    • I’m sure I’m just parroting Bill Boichel. And I’ve seen some essays devoted to L’n R being modern romance comics. And Todd Hignite’s book sheds light on early influences in a great in-depth way.

      Also, it’s a direct market sales rising, newsstand diving sales kinda thing. L’n R was the break. But then the direct market didn’t cater to girls. The newsstand had to. So romance comics would have had no hold in the small comics shops even if Marvel or DC were making them. L’n R filled the gap with a sci-fi hook at first remember too. Genre mash-up. Fusion.

      Anyways, I’m saving all those riffs for next week.

  10. inkstuds says:

    I know that Jaime is a fun of Toth, I wonder if Toth’s superb looking Romance work might be a factor in his work.

  11. patrick ford says:

    Frank I was a huge Buscema fan as a kid in the 70’s. but lost my way in the woods.
    Your favorite Buscema story was intended for Savage Tales #2. Not the Savage Tales #2 which was published years after the first issue, but the Savage Tales #2 which was never published. The contents would have included a Neal Adams Man Thing story (eventually published chopped up and sewn together with art by another artist in the colour comic) a Barry Smith Conan story (which was published in a slightly censored colour comic version, and eventually in B&W).
    The Buscema story you like was first published in the colour comic version you linked to, but then printed properly in Savage Tales #5 with the elaborate pencil tones by Buscema nicely reproduced.
    If you like the story, you really need that issue.

  12. jimrugg says:

    These romance comics were more like commercial illustration of the era (and maybe of a slightly earlier era). I think Gene Colan and John Buscema both came from or spent some time doing advertising illustration. And I’m under the impression that commercial art was more highly regarded by most people (including some cartoonists) than comics (especially superhero comics in the late 60s and early 1970s). In interviews, both Colan and Buscema have expressed their disdain for standard superhero fair during their careers. I bet they saw these romance comics as a chance to do higher quality work, and perhaps even as showcases for more lucrative work in advertising and other commercial art outlets. At the very least, the quality of this work may be a reflection of their interest in drawing real people, environments, and behavior, as opposed to the childish fantasy and action of Marvel’s superhero universe.

  13. […] My antidote for that? Another Frank Santoro post, about romance comics and the romance of comics. […]

  14. […] been enjoying Frank Santoro’s discussions on Marvel’s late 60’s and early 70’s romance comics. But, it seems to me that the key missing term in Frank Santoro’s discussion of Marvel romance […]

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