Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The heyday of "love" comics

Heart Throbs and Ranch Romances ... the alluring covers of these "golden age" classics from 1955 and 1949 look down upon me daily on a wall of assorted pulp and pop culture artifacts in my first-floor bathroom. (They were graciously donated to me by Daily Glean follower and "relentless reader" Bettina Berch.) So you can imagine how I gobbled up Agonizing Love: The Golden Era of Romance Comics. Published from 1947–1977, "love" comics sold millions of copies monthly at the height of their popularity. With 147 different titles, they made up 1/4 of all comic book sales at the middle of the last century.
Besides being eminently eye-catching, this book is a sociological bonanza in its glimpses into the handling of issues such as women working after marriage, dating mores, class distinctions, disability, in-law problems, and even the commie menace (published in Lovelorn in 1952, "Behind the Romantic Curtain" is distinctive in that it's told from a male point of view).
Here's the cover and one of four stories from a 1946 issue of Heart Throbs, complete with several ads and an advice column.

Addendum on Ranch Romances. In an article on the series on pulpmags.org, Michelle Nolan has this to say:
In his pulp publishing memoir Pulpwood Editor (1937), Hersey calls Ranch Romances "my home run." It was one of the few magazines left relatively unsullied by Depression economics when Clayton Magazines called it quits in 1933. In my book Love on the Racks (McFarland, 2008), I mention one of my favorite editor's quotes from the era, which is Hersey's famous phrase: "There are only two kinds of women in the western pulpwoods -- your sister and nobody's sister." "Your sister" became an endless line of independent, daring, impulsive yet invariably feminine western heroines with whom untold millions of modern female readers could identify while reading Ranch Romances….
Throughout the 1940s -- as the pulp industry became increasingly squeezed by war-time paper drives and the competition of comic books, paperbacks, radio, film and, later, television -- Ellsworth soldiered on, frequently handling manuscripts submitted by western writers of distinction. They included Frank Gruber, Wayne D. Overholser, Elmer Kelton, Todhunter Ballard, Giles A. Lutz, and Lewis B. Patten.
Finally, here's Issue No. 1 of Heart Throbs, 1949:




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