In the early sixties, I often walked home from school with Gordie, the boy I married a few years later. We would part ways at his family drug store, and I would continue on my way. Sometimes, I stopped to watch him wash the store windows, just so our conversation could continue.
Gord had worked in the pharmacy from an early age and his tasks grew in importance as he matured. One of his many jobs was to burn the paper and cardboard in the burning barrel behind the store. Each month, Gord would tear the front covers from the out-dated periodicals, which included comics, magazines, and newspaper supplements. The covers were sent back to the publishers for credit. By law, the coverless publications were to be burned. There was a warning on the first page about the consequences for anyone purchasing coverless materials.
Imagine my concern when I discovered that one of these coverless publications had found its way into my schoolbag. However illegal it might have been, it was the first romance comic I had ever seen, and I was wide-eyed with enthusiasm as I studied every frame. I loved the blue-black hair of the beautiful female characters. The well-inked lashes looked damp as tears rolled down the cheeks of sad and wronged women. I loved the smell of the newsprint. I decided to keep the comic and hide it between the slightly larger books on my desk.
I had read my comic a dozen times before my mother discovered it. She may have found it while dusting my room. One evening, as we cleaned the kitchen, together, she mentioned it casually. I told her I had no idea how it got into my school bag. It was clear that the missing cover wasn’t her concern. She wanted to discuss the content. She had obviously read the romance comic, thoroughly, maybe more than once, because she remembered the details clearly. Looking back, I realize my mother was only 37 at the time. Of course, she read it. I am also sure she enjoyed it.
The story, as I remember it, had many frames depicting a woman washing floors, sweeping, doing laundry, pressing shirts, and cooking. Her hair was up in a plain bun, but wisps escaped and fell over her tired eyes. Her clothes were shapeless. She didn’t have children, but there was always work to do.
Her handsome husband, in a well-pressed suit, came and went, paying little attention to his wife. I don’t remember the details, but it was apparent they eventually separated. I remember that after the separation the wife magically transformed. Now that she was free of the chores of marriage, she took time to heal her hands, style her hair, apply make-up, and dress nicely for each day.
The most satisfying part of this story, for me, was the ending. Several weeks after the separation, the husband sees his ex-wife by chance, and, at first, he doesn’t even recognize her. She looks awesome, so he strikes up an amicable conversation. Part-way into his pickup line, he realizes who the beautiful woman is, and then the comic devotes half a page to sum up the entire story as only a drawing can. The woman is depicted walking away in perfect romance comic splendour, with freshly coloured hair, make-up, curves, and high heels. Her ex-husband is illustrated with a perplexed expression, and in his speech bubble are the words, “I just didn’t know.” The End
My mother and I had an exhilarating discussion about the content of this pulpy story. I told her that I thought it was an anti-marriage message. Mom felt it was an unfair caution to women to fix up even when washing floors. Keep in mind that I had observed my mother applying her lipstick and doing her hair every morning of my short life. Even on washday, she fixed up. I believe she did this because she liked to look her best, not just to keep my father interested. She didn’t judge the woman in the comic. She insisted that the couple in the story had bigger problems than the woman's appearance.
We agreed that it was harmless entertainment, that real life wasn’t like a romance comic, and that secretly, we were happy the ex-husband finally recognized what he had lost. I told mom she was welcome to borrow my comic anytime. We both laughed.
Our memorable and amusing discussion helped demystify romance comics, and although I kept the coverless treasure for a while, I didn’t buy more. I have no idea where it ended up.
Not so long ago, I bought a romance anthology hoping to find my old comic between the covers. After tearing away the cello, I was disappointed to find that it was reproduced in black and white. Clearly, the story isn’t what drew me to the comics, because I haven’t read the colourless reprint.Romance comics were a product of an era and by the mid-seventies had all but disappeared. Young Romance was launched in September of 1947 by Crestwood-Prize. They ran 124 issues, initially releasing two issues per month. In 1963, DC bought Young Romance and ran it alongside Young Love until December 1975.
This is not my last blog about the questionable readings of our past. My grandmother kept some of her lighter reading in a spare cookie jar. Have you read my introductory blog? You can read it HERE and learn a little about why I call this blog From the Cookie Jar.
Did you know there is a Get a Bigger Wagon comic available at Amazing Stories in Saskatoon. It is a love story between a boy and a wagon he worked very hard to own.
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