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Romance Comics 
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One of the most startling statistics about British comics is that, during the 1950s, grown women apparently accounted for more sales than any other demographic group. Upon reading this my first reaction was to assume that they were simply buying nursery comics to keep 'little Johnny' occupied during those days when there were no Postman Pat videos to be played and replayed ad infinitum. It seems, however, that the figures were taken from research by advertising companies, and were therefore based on who was actually reading what.

While I remember that my own Gran was quite happy to read adventure/detective series like Rip Kirby in Super Detective Library or Mr. District Attorney it seems pretty clear that the most popular titles with women were those which specialized in the 'Romance' genre - beginning in 1955 with AP's Marilyn and True Life Picture Library, and followed soon afterwards by a veritable swarm of competitors. (In fact it seems likely that Thorpe & Porter's reprints of Simon & Kirby's Young Love, Young Romance and Young Brides were the first romance comics to appear in the UK - just as they had been in America: the trouble is that they are notoriously difficult to date).

For the next two decades or so comics aimed at younger girls (School Friend, Girl, Bunty, etc.) seemed to co-exist quite happily with 'Romance' comics aimed at their older sisters (Marilyn, Mirabelle, Roxy, Jackie, etc. - many of which had acquired a strong association with pop music).

Somewhere along the line, however, a strange kind of homogenization began to take place: the large numbers of middle-aged women who'd once read titles such as True Life and Marilyn dropped by the wayside, leaving an increasingly narrow focus on teenagers. Meanwhile, the 'younger' titles like June also began to fade away, until IPC's last surviving example Tammy was itself swallowed up by one of their own, by-then interchangeable teen magazines where comic strips went on to feature less and less.

I don't know if anyone agrees with this snapshot view of the decline and fall of British girls' comics (I'm not sure if I do myself!), but I'd be interested in any comments. Also, bearing in mind that 'Romance' comics played such an important part in that history, I can't help wondering why so few people seem to collect them today!

- Phil Rushton


Fri Sep 28, 2012 5:55 pm
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DC Thomson published several Beano sized publications like Red Letter, Red Star Weekly, Secrets, Welcome and Family Star. Printed on the same paper as the Beano too. All text but they has some nice illustrations and some small three panel comic strips usually by Bill Hill. Here are a few examples - I have trimmed off the outer borders. I have some copies of Welcome but not immediately to hand.

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That headline Are Short Men Better Lovers? reminds me of a joke. A man comes home and finds his wife in bed with a dwarf. "I thought you promised to give up being unfaithful" he shouts "Well I'm cutting down aren't I?" replies the wife.


Sat Sep 29, 2012 9:01 am
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There's no doubt that the first British 'Romance' comics were based on these pre-existing story-papers (just as Simon & Kirby's titles were influenced by similarly themed American pulps), as a result of which they were initially aimed at women of all ages. What's more, this 'Secrets' cover probably goes some way to explain why 20% of the early readers were thought to be male (though it's hard to imagine how such a racy scene could have slipped past DC Thomson's notoriously puritanical attitude towards sex!).

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Of course, most of the major publishers of the day were producing their fair share of womens' story-papers at the beginning of the 1950s (presumably they filled the same niche that is now catered for by TV shows like Eastenders and Coronation Street), so it's hardly surprising that they all jumped on the 'Romance Comic' bandwagon with equal enthusiasm. Here's an example of AP's The Miracle from 1954 which already featured a comic strip serial 'Trouble at Goldsands' on its centre pages.

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In the case of Arthur Pearson, the long-running story-paper Glamour was actually converted overnight into a full-blown picture-strip weekly, in the same way that DC Thomson later changed a number of their boys' papers to modern-style comics. Here are 'before & after' covers of Glamour - firstly from 1949 (shortly after it had swallowed the venerable Peg's Paper), and secondly from its later incarnation as an adult comic.

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Unfortunately for this newborn genre of comics for women-of-all-ages, its appearance coincided with the 'invention' of teenagers as a separate economic force, so that within a just a couple of years features on pop stars and stories of formulaic teen romance began to take over. As a result adult comics like Glamour quickly fell by the wayside to be replaced by a second wave of titles which were aimed specifically at teenage girls - examples of these being Roxy, Boyfriend, Serenade and Romeo.

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- Phil Rushton


Sat Sep 29, 2012 12:00 pm
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Nice work, Phil. I have a few of those titles from other publishers too. I have some copies of Red Rose too, another Thomson title, they liked Red apparently.


Sun Sep 30, 2012 12:01 am
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Having recently looked through a number of those early titles I'm starting to think they had far more to offer than most modern collectors are inclined to acknowledge. This 1957 strip from Glamour, for example, is a million miles away from the stereotypical "I love Brad but Brad only has eyes for Cynthia - why oh why can't he see the 'real' me?" type of story that later readers came to expect. Rather, with it's fabulously atmospheric wash technique, it reminds me of the classic films that Alfred Hitchcock was adapting from novels like Daphne DuMaurier's Rebecca during the same period!

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- Phil Rushton


Last edited by philcom55 on Sun Sep 30, 2012 10:12 pm, edited 1 time in total.



Sun Sep 30, 2012 12:53 pm
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Silver Star was another title which I think came from Fleetway - a larger Eagle sized paper.


Sun Sep 30, 2012 9:15 pm
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My only copy of Silver Star is slightly larger than the Thomson papers (a bit like Lion) but printed on the same cheap paper. The publisher at this point was W. Speaight & Sons.

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(Annoyingly the 'Free Family Comic' mentioned on the cover had been detached and disposed of long before I acquired it! :( )

It may be that the 'Eagle-style' publication you're thinking of was Pearson's Mirabelle Steve - arguably the most successful of all Britain's Romance comics (with the possible exception of Jackie).

- Phil Rushton


Mon Oct 01, 2012 2:08 pm
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So what are your thoughts on the decline Phil? Maybe social change, womens lib, tv, more independence with employment etc? I don't know, just some thoughts.

As far as collecting, maybe it was as Paw mentioned on an earlier thread, too many similar stories? Although, there is some nice artwork on those samples.


Mon Oct 01, 2012 2:39 pm
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Thanks for those covers and samples. Like matrix, I'm impressed with the art and you're right, Phil, about the strip from Glamour. Curious to know how that turns out.
These stories intrigue me and, whereas, I think many modern American comics are simply re-hashing old stories with flashy, shallow art, those examples, on cover at least, are really nicely done. As a contrast, I recently bought a few issues of GK Bonanza from mid-'60's and they are truly awful, especially the art. Their attractive photo covers attracted readers but those readers must have been sorely disappointed on opening the comics. Fortunately I didn't pay much for them. Wish there had been some of Phil's stuff there, instead.
While the repetition of story types could have been a reason for titles dying off, the invention of the teenager and then the fashion, problems, more real life comics/mags probably had more to do with it.
Back to add this link which I had forgotten to do. An interesting mix of romance and crime? Well, I enjoyed it.
http://cartoonsnap.blogspot.co.uk/2008/ ... mance.html


Mon Oct 01, 2012 4:47 pm
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I have a small pile of those American comic sized women's papers. Here are a few covers. What I like about these is they almost all have a children's page usually with a Bruin Boys style comic strip. I include a non romance Christmas cover just because its nice.

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Thu Oct 04, 2012 8:28 pm
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Maybe social change, womens lib, tv, more independence with employment etc?


Though the blame for a lot of things can be laid at the door of "political correctness", I should think it was just TV in this case. Also the new teenagers not wanting to read the 'stuffy' magazines their parents were reading. As those parents moved on from reading these stories, their children didn't replace them, preferring magazines with pop features, agony aunts and no stories (or only one very short one).
Tellingly, The People's Friend, what may be considered the last of these kinds of papers, has 'aged up' and is filled with ads for pension plans and walk-in baths.

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Fri Oct 05, 2012 7:37 pm
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I agree that television was probably the main reason why so many of the adult comics of the 1950s died out. However, this was also accompanied by a growing stigmatization that had less to do with the whole 'horror comics' controversy and more to do with a feeling that comics were only read by people of low intelligence. It's a shame because earlier generations were much less bothered to be seen reading them - my Uncle Cyril, for example, always used to take a comic to work so that he could read it during his dinner break - and the very earliest comics such as Alley Sloper's Half Holiday were clearly aimed at adults.

On the other hand, one shouldn't assume that all the 1950s romance comics were unsuccessful. Here is the cover of a 1957 issue of Pearson's Mirabelle in its early 'Eagle' format (though without internal colour) - followed by a 1977 copy, just before it was finally closed down by new owners IPC. A lifetime of over twenty years is good going for any comic, and with six strips on the go right up to the end it can hardly be accused of being filled with pop music and agony aunts.

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- Phil Rushton


Sat Oct 06, 2012 10:31 am
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I saw this ad in a May 1960 copy of Woman's Own and must confess I have never come across a copy of Date magazine. Did it contain any comic strips? I had to scan it in two halves which explains the split in the middle. I'd be interested to know what size it is too.

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Sun Apr 21, 2013 11:24 am
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A couple of weeks ago I bought "Agonising Love" by Michael Barson, which is a good introduction to the American Romance comics, and it set me thinking about why the genre died out. My feeling is that by the Sixties, sexual mores were changing, but the comics were unable keep up with the times because of the Comics Code. To younger women they must have seemed old-fashioned and unrealistic. The publishers couldn't add suspense and horror to the stories in the manner of the British comics, either.

I really must get some of the Kirby and Simon romance titles for my collection.


Mon Apr 22, 2013 4:13 am
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I was looking at the DC comics site to see which Showcase volumes are available (bedtime reading for me) and noticed this edition - 544 pages - they usually sell for about a tenner at comic fairs

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Wed May 01, 2013 12:13 am
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