Twelfth in a series of posts, each one analyzing a single panel from a Jack Kirby-drawn comic book.
In the years immediately following the end of World War II, Jack Kirby and his collaborator Joe Simon faced a dilemma: superhero comics weren’t selling. Meanwhile, magazines like True Romance and True Confessions were flying off the racks. Simon wondered whether adult women might buy a similar type of comic book, one filled with tales of heartache and redemption, told by a first-person narrator; Kirby thought the idea might work. A first attempt lasted only four issues, but when Young Romance #1 appeared in 1947, it sold over a million copies. Kirby and Simon, it seemed, had invented a new genre. They quickly followed up with other titles (Young Love, Western Love, In Love), as did their competitors.
Whether set in a penthouse or on a dude ranch, romance comics revolve around the simple theme of girl meets boy. Alas, the course of true love cannot run smoothly, or there would be no story. Thus, our heroine is conflicted. She cannot recognize Romance when it pulls up in front of her rooming house and asks her to go for a ride. She does not want a Second Hand Love who has been engaged before. Perhaps she is intrigued but reluctant because she carries a torch for the Wrong Man. Maybe she harbors a secret that she believes makes her Unfit for Love. Sometimes her True Love presents himself as a “Resort Romeo,” and it’s only when the heroine realizes — spoiler alert! — (a) he’s blind, and (b) despite his handicap, the best mountain climber she’s ever seen, that the scales fall from her own eyes. (Regarding the way in which the young and beautiful heroines of these comics so frequently and inexplicably fall for arrogant blowhards of dubious charm, it is perhaps best to remember that although most — but not all — of these “true” stories were told from a female point of view, they were written by middle-aged men.)
The final issue of Young Romance appeared in 1975, around the time that the genre itself declined. But one has only to look at the vivid colors, brash angles, and melodramatic text of this panel from Young Love (May 1950) to understand why Roy Lichtenstein appropriated images from the romance comics (though not necessarily Kirby’s work) for his mid-1960s pop paintings — a high-culture hat tip to a “low-brow” art form.
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CHECK OUT “Cosmic Debris: Kirby in the ’70s,” a series running in tandem with “Kirb Your Enthusiasm” at the 4CP gallery of comic book details | Kirby cutaways and diagrams collected at the Comic Book Cartography gallery | Joe Alterio’s Cablegate Comix and HiLobrow posts about comics and cartoonists, and science fiction | The Jack Kirby Chronology | scans of rare 1940-50s Kirby comics at the Digital Comic Museum | Joshua Glenn on the New Gods generation
POSTS IN THIS SERIES: Douglas Rushkoff on THE ETERNALS | John Hilgart on BLACK MAGIC | Gary Panter on DEMON | Dan Nadel on OMAC | Deb Chachra on CAPTAIN AMERICA | Mark Frauenfelder on KAMANDI | Jason Grote on MACHINE MAN | Ben Greenman on SANDMAN | Annie Nocenti on THE X-MEN | Greg Rowland on THE FANTASTIC FOUR | Joshua Glenn on TALES TO ASTONISH | Lynn Peril on YOUNG LOVE | Jim Shepard on STRANGE TALES | David Smay on MISTER MIRACLE | Joe Alterio on BLACK PANTHER | Sean Howe on THOR | Mark Newgarden on JIMMY OLSEN | Dean Haspiel on DEVIL DINOSAUR | Matthew Specktor on THE AVENGERS | Terese Svoboda on TALES OF SUSPENSE | Matthew Wells on THE NEW GODS | Toni Schlesinger on REAL CLUE | Josh Kramer on THE FOREVER PEOPLE | Glen David Gold on JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY | Douglas Wolk on 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY | MORE EXEGETICAL COMMENTARIES: Joshua Glenn on Kirby’s Radium Age Sci-Fi Influences | Chris Lanier on Kirby vs. Kubrick | Scott Edelman recalls when the FF walked among us | Adam McGovern is haunted by a panel from THE NEW GODS | Matt Seneca studies the sensuality of Kirby’s women | Danny Fingeroth figgers out The Thing |