“I may be ruining my life,” the cover star of Love Stories thinks melodramatically. “But I can’t help myself!” as she cranes her head up for a seemingly tender kiss while a tear begins its slow downward slide from her eye. The book is full of these very 1970s moments, from the fashion to the advice columns: Ted Long, once of NBC’s Today Show, contributes a column on “How To look Fabulous” and begins with the greeting, “Hello, all you chicks out there!” My favorite part of this section is when the advice for a beautiful complexion states, “reverse the natural body position lie upside down on a slant board (or use an ironing board, resting one end on the floor and the other up against the seat of the sofa or an armchair). This will bring blood to the face which will carry away impurities and bring a gorgeous blush to your cheeks.” The accompanying illustration shows a blond girl in a bathing suit stretched out on a board, arms behind her head as casually as if she were on the beach. The cover to Love Stories reads like a guilty-pleasure tabloid shouting to you in the supermarket checkout line: “My Shameful Past!” and “My Sister Stole My Man!” and, of course, “Read one girl’s shocking story The WRONG KIND of LOVE!”
The Wrong Kind of Love? Okay, sure, I’ll read it. Now you’ve got my attention.
Turns out that the wrong kind of love, of course, is the kind that comes from the other side of the tracks. Poor Linda. “Time turns backward for the sad teenager” as she reflects on sweet Kenny, a nice guy and a fabulous bowler. (They met when she sent a bowling ball down his alley by mistake.) Her parents forbid her to see him, as she’s been spotted necking with him at the drive-in. She pines for him: “Th-They’re only against Kenny b-because they think we’re better than he is but they’re wrong! Wrong!” she frets. Of course everything works out fine in the end, as these stories always do. Kenny saves Linda’s life, removing her parents’ disapproval, and Linda and Kenny attend the junior prom to dance the night away in each other’s arms.
Nancy, the heroine of “My Shameful Past” eventually overcomes her not-very-shameful-after-all past as a so-called “man-stealer.” She sobs, “Just because men lie to me, I get blamed! It isn’t fair! All I’ve learned is you just can’t trust any man!” After two dates where she is publicly humiliated for (unknowingly) going out with another woman’s fellah, Nancy swears off dating until she does a little background check on just about every man she meets save for Dirk, who she really, really likes. “I didn’t check on Dirk! I I like him too much!” she confesses to the reader in thought balloons while she and Dirk leave for a date.
Sad, easily influenced Terry in “I Didn’t Want His Love” a story in which she frets over her perfect relationship with Dave, a man she believes she doesn’t like so much after all realizes that she does, in fact, want Dave’s love. But only after her mother points out to her, “You let some other person influence you about Dave before you even met him! And all the while you’ve been fighting your own feelings for him!”
Okay. You get the idea. These stories are from 1971; they are predictable, incredibly dated, and relentlessly heterosexist. Almost all end in a proposal of marriage, with one character swearing undying, unyielding, seemingly selfless love for another character. In short, they are hopelessly cheesy.
But, that’s what romance comics are. The DC press release describes these stories as “timeless” though I’m not certain that’s the word I would choose and asks, “What’s not to love?”
Well, here’s some things not to love. If I’m not mistaken, I think all of these stories are written and illustrated by men. I know this situation’s pretty traditional in romance comics and that most comics today are still written by men. But, women’s behavior in these comics where they are often portrayed as silly, confused, and tearful isn’t totally washed away by their dated-ness. It tempers the depiction, sure; you certainly will not forget you’re reading a comic book written in the early Seventies. But also, these comics lack racial diversity all the characters are white save for one story with a black man and woman (who are drawn with features identical to the white characters, but with a different skin color). And the sole example of a disabled woman is the character who “steals” her sister’s boyfriend. Said boyfriend eventually grows to love Ellen and falls out of love with her sister Jane. Then it’s implied that this love “cures” Ellen so much that, by the end of the story, she is able to get up out of her wheelchair and stand.
On the other hand, I very much doubt that there’s anyone reading comics today who will read Love Stories and think, “Yes, this is it, this is how romance works.” All of the stereotypes are here: women with long, blond hair have more fun whereas brunettes…don’t. And part of the book’s weird charm is that, like the supermarket tabloids, romance comics especially really dated ones from the early 1970s, complete with pantsuits and perfectly coiffed hair are a guilty pleasure for many readers.