Okay there is a lot of hyperbole in my title. But think about it, at their height one out of four comic titles on the racks was a romance comic. Romance comics lasted about 30 years not counting a couple of failed retry attempts. Yes some types of comics were more enduring, but most were not. There were long periods when more romance titles out then those for superheroes. I have previously discussed how during his time in partnership with Joe Simon, Jack Kirby drew more pages of romance then all other genre combined. Today one can find numerous books covering different aspects of comic history, yet “Love on the Racks, A History of American Romance Comics” by Michelle Nolan is the first to provide an overview for the romance genre. It was worth the wait.
For me personally, this book came out just in time. In it I found the answers to a couple of puzzles concerning the subject of my next chapter of the serial post “The Art of Romance”. Because their romance titles were so important to Simon and Kirby I have spent much time studying them. However Prize and Mainline were really small publishers and this book provides a welcome overview of the other publishers of romance and their comics. Despite what you might think, romance comics were not all the same.
Nolan does an excellent job of reporting on her subject. Not only are we provided with reviews of some of the romance titles but Nolan also gives data to help show the ups and downs of love comics. The data she uses is very revealing but I must admit that it was sometimes hard to keep track of it all. I believe it would have been better had Nolan provided some graphs. In fact spurned on by what I read, I have done just that. Using Dan Stevenson’s list “All the Romance Comics Ever Published (?)” as a primary source I have graphed romance titles over their history and the results are very useful. It is all covered in “Love on the Racks” but the graphs make it more easily grasped. I will be making use of these graphs in my future posts.
I did find one minor error; Young Romance did not go monthly with issue #9 as Nolan reports rather that happened nine months later with Young Romance #14. It was not so much an error but the author expressed being perplexed about Prize replacing Young Love with their new All For Love in 1956/57 and then in 1959/60 switching All For Love back to Young Love as well as changing Personal Love to Going Steady. As I covered in chapter 9 of my serial post “The End of Simon and Kirby” Prize was undoubtedly having money problems in 1956. Prize’s contract with Simon and Kirby meant they shared the profits with those creators. One way to save money was to cut Joe and Jack out, but the contract probably prevented them from just removing them from Young Love. So Prize did the next best thing and cancelled Young Love and replaced it with a new title, All For Love. They probably got cold feet about doing the same thing to their flagship love title Young Romance. I also discussed how Mike Bleier, one of the owners for Prize, died and Teddy Epstein asked Joe Simon to take the lines over. Joe probably felt, correctly, that Young Love was a better title then All For Love as was Going Steady compared to Personal Love. In the end even Going Steady was not good enough but Young Love would go on to become the last romance comic book even outlasting Young Romance.
I suspect many comic book historians may not consider romance comics as having much importance in relationship to their main areas of interest, usually superheroes. Well think again. Chapter 5, “The Love Glut” should be required reading for any comic fan with an interest in such companies as Fox or Timely/Atlas. As Nolan shows the over zealous entry into love comics by some publishers had disastrously results. I remember some time ago there was much speculation on a Timely/Atlas list as to what happened to that company in 1950. Nolan’s Love Glut is pure smoking gun. The money Victor Fox lost during this period was almost certainly the reason that he went bankrupt a half a year later.
Hyperbole aside, this book is probably not of interest to everyone. But I strongly suggest any comic book historian with an interest focused on some particular publisher should certainly read this book.