Monday, 31 October 2011

It's just comics- part 6

recap. I'm no expert in the history of ROMANCE comics, a genre that had its apex in the early 1950s, went into a decline after 1956 until it completely disappeared in the 1970s. I'm just looking around to see how we can piece together a picture of the best of it. In part 3 I looked at the romance comics Alex Toth drew for Standard 1952-54; in part 4 I surveyed the Simon-Kirby shop's output in the romance genre for Prize, and it was they who started it in 1947, don't forget; and then in part 5 I expressed a fondness for Frazetta's handful of romance stories for the Famous Funnies publisher 1953-54.


Long gone publisher St John's line of ROMANCE comics has a chronicler in the person of John Benson. He edited the book at left from Fantagraphics in 2003 (amazon). He argues that this line was superior to just about everybody else's line of romance comics and he is good at peopling his argument, particularly in a second book he put together in 2007. It contains interviews with all the players he could still find alive and well, which alas did not include any of the three principals.

Firstly there was Archer St. John himself (a thorough history of his company here). He appears to have had a strong idea about publishing romance comics that would avoid the absurd sentimentality that was the norm, 'pain and suffering in a glamorous setting' as his editor Irwin Stein described it. He found his leading writer in Dana Dutch. Dutch has left nothing with a signature on it, but Benson has made a diligent project of reconstructing the oeuvre of this mysterious character, sketching him from fragmentary remarks: 'he looked Irish', 'he talked like a hoodlum'.

The crux of the matter is that Dutch's heroines were not the teary eyed girl that was the staple of the genre, but a more resilient female type. For a good example of this, a blogger has posted a whole seven page story titled Without a conscience (from Teen-age Temptations #3, 1953), very nicely restored. The heroine makes some outrageous mistakes, including lying about her age in the marriage register, before rejecting both men in the piece, including the one she already married, whose heart seems to be in the right place. Not that that's any reason to marry a guy of course.

The art (sample left) is by Matt Baker, the third of the principals mentioned above. St John built the line around Baker's style and kept the artist very busy during these years. Benson has posted a checklist of all the St John romance comics, about 180 in all, with credits where identifiable or guessable, and it only takes a cursory glance to see that Baker's name is the backbone of it. Dutch and Baker together made up the house style for the St John romance books.

Matt Baker was a handsome African American who died in 1959 of a heart attack at the age of 37. He was entered into the comic book hall of fame in 2009. This is Baker and St. John in a photo taken in Hollywood:


The art in Baker's storytelling is always solid and functional; there is rarely a weakness in the composition:

Wartime Romances #4-Jan 1952

Teen-age Temptations #8- June 1954
(There's another whole story, Was he ashamed of me? at Pencil ink)

But occasionally on a cover Baker would go much further, creating a riveting image of the sort that makes fellow artists envious.

Teen-age Temptations #2 June 1953

Teen age Romances #43- May 1955

Twomorrows are publishing a monograph on the artist:

"Edited by Jim Amash and Eric Nolen-Weathington, Matt Baker: The Art of Glamour presents an impressive career cut tragically short. It features a wealth of essays, interviews with Baker's friends, family, and co-workers, and a treasure trove of his finest artwork, including several complete stories, at last giving the wonderfully talented artist his full due."

(192 pages, due Feb 2012)

more soppy romances to come.

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3 Comments:

Anonymous Michael said...

Eddie,

The US PBS TV show called History Detectives had a segment this summer and re-run just this week about a Fawcett comic called Negro Romance and the mystery of its artist. Intriguing, and includes a brief visit to the Geppi Museum. I don't know if it's fair to spoil the mystery but it has an intriguing resolution and is tangential to your post here.

blog post about it here: http://sequentialcrush.blogspot.com/2011/07/big-thank-you-for-watching-history.html

episode posted here: http://www.pbs.org/opb/historydetectives/video/2030192391/

Extra points to the episode for pointing out how absurd it is to preserve comics for the ages by encasing them closed in plastic.

31 October 2011 8:07:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

thanks,
i hadn't seen it before.
and it got a good fifteen minutes of time. Gerald Early looked real pleased at the result.

31 October 2011 8:59:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Mike Castle said...

There's an interview with Jim Amash and Eric Nolen-Weathington about the Matt Baker book on an episode of CGS: http://www.comicgeekspeak.com/episodes/comic_geek_speak-1275.php

13 December 2011 8:42:00 pm GMT-5  

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