Having just celebrated Valentine’s Day, I started thinking about the birth of the romance comics in the Golden Age of Comic Books. Honestly, I don’t consider myself an expert on this genre, and I’ve read very few Golden Age romance comics over the years, but there is no disputing that romance comics became very popular in the late 1940’s and were continuously published until at least the 1970’s.
It is generally accepted that the first romance comic was created by the great team of Simon & Kirby (of Captain America fame) for Crestwood Publications. Their book, Young Romance, debuted with issue number one in September-October, 1947. After Crestwood folded, DC Comics purchased its assets, and published Young Romance continuously until issue 208 in 1975 (DC’s first issue was #125 in 1963).
In fact, DC Comics in recognizing the historical significance of Young Romance as the genesis of the romance genre, reprinted Young Romance#1 as a part of their “Millennium” series in 2000.
Needless to say, after Young Romance proved that romance comics was a viable genre, many other publishers followed suit, and there was an explosion of romance comics in the Golden Age. One company above all others paved much of the road for the success of these titles, St. John. Archer St. John published numerous romance titles during the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, led by the fabulous art of the great Matt Baker (one of the first African American comic book artists. I talk a little more about him in Episode #59 of the Golden Age of Comic Books Podcast). St. John’s titles such as Teen Age Romances, Teen Age Confessions, Hollywood Romances and many others proved immensely popular.
In fact, the very first graphic novel, It Rhymes with Lust, was published by St. John with art by Baker. It was touted as a “picture novel” and was a full length romance novel in comic book format. This digest sized 128 page comic was published by St. John in 1950. This book is hard to find on the collector market, but Dark Horse came to the rescue of romance comic and Matt Baker fans in March 2007 when it published a replica edition of this book with a cover price of $14.95.
Volumes could be written about romance comics and their origins, and in fact they have.
In April 2007, Fantagraphics published Confessions, Romances, Secrets, and Temptations – Archer St. John and the St. John Romance Comics by John Benson. This 112 page paperback is full of well researched information about the St. John romance comics. This book is well worth the $9.95 cover price, and is full of rare photos and interviews. I particularly enjoyed the interview with Fred Robinson, the half-brother of Matt Baker.
If you REALLY want to learn the nitty-gritty about romance comics, Michelle Nolan’s Love on the Racks is a “must buy”. This 229 page hardback edition was published in April 2008 by McFarland & Company. If you’ve ever read any of Michelle’s many articles, you know how meticulous she is in her research. This book does not disappoint and is truly the definitive work on the history of American romance comic books. The rear cover of the book sums it all up quite well, “For the better part of three decades romance comics were an American institution. Nearly 6,000 were published between 1947 and 1977, and there was a time when one of every five comics sold in the U.S. was a romance comic.” Not only is this book an excellent resource for romance comic fans, but it provides an in depth look at an important part of the Golden Age of Comic Books.
No matter what Golden Age comic books you enjoy the most, there is no question that the late 1940’s brought us an enduring genre that remained popular for many, many years with the creation of romance comics.