Falling in Love With Comic Books

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Jim, Barry, Andy, Peter, Greg, Jack, Dave, Keith, Evan — they're all so dreamy. Why can't a girl, or a boy, have them all? Now you can in DC's reprint of the scarce 1971 "DC 100-Page Super Spectacular: Love Stories." Naturally it's not only lads but lovely, lonely ladies who fill the pages of "Love Stories." These are the kind of women you want to meet, or perhaps to be: beautiful, vulnerable, yearning for the right man's love to fulfill their aching heart, finding him, losing him, then finding him again, or another, for the last time, forever.

From pop art to modern irony, this type of comic has been sampled everywhere. Well, here is the real thing. Right on the cover, a dark-haired man in close-up leans over to kiss a beautiful blonde with a tear in her eye. She thinks: "I may be ruining my life... but I can't help myself!" The whole book is like that.

What a delight. There are eight stories and one "novelette," all of them equally absurd and melodramatic. Sample titles: "My Shameful Past," "My Sister Stole My Man," and "Goodbye, Lover." Although the art rarely veers from a "house style," connoisseurs will recognize names like John Romita, later of "Amazing Spider-Man," longtime Mad magazine contributor Mort Drucker, and, in one case, Wally Wood of "Mad" and "Little Annie Fanny" fame.

"Love Stories" was close to the last gasp of the love genre for mainstream comics, and consequently the last gasp of mainstream's overt attempts at marketing to a female audience. In the 1950s there were tens of romance titles. By the early '70s there were a handful, and now there are none. This vanishing reflects both the culture's increasing intolerance of sentimentalism and mainstream comics' marginalizing of women readers.

Sure, these stories of Pucci-clad chicks and their mutton-chopped lovers are dated, even for the time, and hopelessly masculine. My favorite moment: "The Wrong Kind of Love," where Linda poses at the edge of her bed, her teenage curves clearly visible through the diaphanous nightie while she weepily wonders, "Don't they understand I wanted Kenny to kiss me?"

Some may argue that these titles were, in fact, aimed at men. I think some men appreciate them the way some women appreciate superhero titles, but romance comics were never targeted at men. Clearly re-creating romance titles as they once were would fail with women, but why not try for an "Ally McBeal" comic book?

In contrast to American publishers, the Japanese have their markets targeted down a laser-sighted scope. There are actually competing comic titles for the young-mother set! American publishers apparently cherish their chauvinism more than their profits.

"DC 100-Page Super Spectacular: Love Stories" is available at local comic shops