I recently finished reading Love on the Racks, a history of romance comics in America by the outstanding comics historian Michelle Nolan. Nolan is one of the world authorities on American romance comics and delivers a completely fascinating and engrossing history of an area of comics that I certainly knew nothing about. There have been many wonderful books written about super-heroes, science fiction and horror in comics, not to mention all the books and articles that tell the stories of various companies that sprung up over the years. But Nolan's book is one of the very few books to explore this much-ignored and maligned genre, and I can't recommend it enough to anyone who wants a more well-rounded idea of the history of comics art. The mere fact that romance comics continued to appear well into the 1970s shows that this genre appealed to a significant and committed subset of readers for four decades and therefore is worth celebrating rather than maligning. Though Nolan's book occasionally rambles and wanders a bit, she delivers a fascinating history that tells the story of some of the most bizarre people ever to work in the industry and unearths some real treasures.
In celebration of Love on the Racks, I thought I'd share ten amazing romance comics covers, really in no particular order but aren't countdowns fun?
10. Night Nurse #1
This has always been one of my favorite romance comics covers because it's so stupidly lurid "in the mighty Marvel manner" of the mid-1970s. Night Nurse was part of a phenomenally poorly thought our and realized sub-line of Marvel Comics that were written by woman as an attempt to expand the company's line of titles. This series, written by Roy Thomas's then-wife Jean as the couple were in the middle of a divorce, was almost psychotronically strange, a truly surreal and thoroughly unrealistic look at some groovy 1970s nurses who loved and lost at a major metropolitan hospital. Yes, a little like Grey's Anatomy.
9. Summer Love #47
Maybe the most shameless romance cover ever published, the Beatles don't make an appearance in this story and didn't receive a dime for marketing their namesakes for this story. But I'm sure Charlton loved the big sales they received on this complete reader rip-off!
8. Romantic Story #122
The Beatles may have saved the romance of that raven-haired woman above, but rock and roll destroyed the life of the auburn-haired woman below. You can see she was quickly being seduced into the dark, terrifying world of soda pop, popcorn and fully dressed kids. Somebody tell her parents before she listens to that Great Daddy Rock record album!
7. Teen-Age Romances #36
On the surface, this cover seems completely innocent. That woman is wearing flimsy, wet clothes and her handsome, pipe-smoking beau is concerned about protecting her innocence. But if that is true, why does she look so shocked, and what makes this trollop "love's bad girl"?
6. My Desire Intimate Confessions #31
Speaking of trollops who seem to have more to go on than meets the eye, is this woman two-timing her husband right in front of him?
5. Ideal Romance #4
Another spectacularly wrong story of a two-timing guy, this jerk makes out with a girl's sister while the girl is changing clothes in the same room. Or is this all some kind of bizarre arranged sex thing, if "meanwhile, my sister will amuse you"? Is this guy lucky or doomed? And under whose insane definition of the term is this an ideal romance?
4. Romantic Adventures #50
Right alongside the romance comics "for girls" were the lurid horror comics "for boys". The good people at the American Comics Group might have been hoping that a few boys would cross over to buying a comic called Romantic Adventure by placing this terrible demon-like crazy woman on this cover. Somebody please tell this guy that he's kissing Yellow She-Hulk!
3. Negro Romance #4
This isn't a weird cover as much as it's a spectacularly bizarre idea for a comic book, the equivalent of a "separate but equal" rule for romance comics. No doubt the people working at Charlton Comics in 1955 (and Fawcett Comics in 1950, from whence this series began) just wanted to sell some comics to a specialty market, but everything about this comic is so wrong it makes my flesh crawl.
2. Young Romance #170
Who's that hot hippie girl thumbing a ride in 1971 America? She's Lily Martin – Swinger! Clearly all this follower of Timothy Leary needs is her guitar and a few prophylactics and she'll be caught forever between Heaven and heartbreak. Hey, this was the era of free love, so who am I to judge?
1. Sensation Comics #97
"Hey, Wonder Woman, child of Greek gods and an Amazon princess, if this super-heroing stuff doesn't work out for you, I have a job you can fall back on." I love how Wonder Woman is totally ignoring Steve Trevor's note in her hand!