Cover of the 7th issue. Artists: Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.


Medium: Comic books
Published by: Prize Comics
First Appeared: 1947
Creators: Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
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In one way or another, romance has been part of the comic book scene since the comics became a mass medium. Every superhero had a so-called "love interest". The Archie-style teen comics were largely about the adolescent take on the mating game. Even the gangsters in Crime Does Not Pay and its ilk had molls. But it wasn't until 1947 that romance became the main focus of a comic book. For the fact that the genre got into comics at all, we can thank the extraordinary team of …

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… Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, who also excelled in superheroes like Blue Bolt, westerns like Boys Ranch and just about every other genre they tried.

As the story goes, Simon and Kirby got the idea by simply looking at a newsstand and noting how many "true confession" magazines the market seemed to be sustaining. They reasoned any genre that popular ought to be able to support a comic book or two, provided the comics were visually appealing and had solid, engaging stories — and since their studio happened to be an industry leader in packaging comic books of that description, they simply made one.

There had been a few gropings in that direction, including Simon and Kirby's own My Date, published by Hillman Periodicals (most famous for Airboy and The Heap) starting with a July, 1947 publication date. But that one was mostly aimed at the teen humor market. The first actual romance comic, aimed at grown-up readers interested in stories about grown-up emotions, was Young Romance #1, dated Sept-Oct. 1947. Simon and Kirby's company published it in partnership with Crestwood Publications (also known as Prize Comics). A blurb on the cover said it was "For the more adult readers of comics".

Simon and Kirby had been responsible for The Newsboy Legion, Boy Commandos, Captain America and many other successful and highly regarded comics features, so it's not surprising this one was a success as well. But the magnitude of its success took everyone off guard. They'd started out writing and drawing it almost entirely on their own, because there was no money in the till for assistants. But within months, they'd tripled its printrun and doubled its frequency, and were gearing up to make romance comics a minor industry. Their first companion title, Young Love, was on the stands less than a year and a half later.

And so were dozens of other romance titles, from practically every publisher in the business. Quality Comics had Love Confessions, Marvel had Romance Tales, Fawcett Publications had True Stories of Romance, Fox Feature Syndicate had My Love Secret … Not since Superman had comic books fielded anything that was imitated so much, so fast. And for the first time, comic books were attracting a significant female readership.

In style, Simon and Kirby (and hence their followers) took the lead of the "true confession" magazines that had inspired them. Stories were generally told in the first person, making the emotions more immediate and enhancing verisimilitude (which was further enhanced after a couple of years, by replacing cover drawings with photographs). The stories weren't extremely steamy at first, but did deal with all the complications that could make a melodrama out of love — infidelity, separation, jealousy, etc. As time went on, the romance comics delved more deeply into these aspects, and became quite steamy indeed — even, in some cases, overtly sexy. They never went in for pin-up style sex, like some contemporary comics aimed at boys (tho their heroines were usually quite attractive), but hinted very strongly at what were called "adult situations".

Meanwhile, Simon and Kirby prospered in their partnership with Crestwood/Prize — at least until the mid-1950s, when the whole field suffered badly from a nationwide anti-comics movement (fueled partly by politicians and other fearmongers, and partly by the fact that many of the comics actually were pretty offensive). Love comics weren't hit as badly as horror or crime comics, but they had their share of objectionable elements — besides, objectionable or not, comics were suffering across the board.

The partnership lasted until the end of the decade, tho, and then they went their separate ways. Simon went on to create Prez and Bee-Man, Kirby went on to create New Gods and Devil Dinosaur (among others), and Prize Comics wound up with Young Romance and Young Love. The company got out of the comic book business in 1963 and sold those titles to DC Comics, where they became part of a reasonably popular romance line aimed at young girls.

The romance genre waned as female readership drifted away from comic books — or was it the other way around? In any case, DC's love comics, tho among the most tenacious in the business, faded from view by the mid-1970s. Young Romance lasted 208 issues altogether. The last one was dated Nov-Dec. 1975.


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Text ©2002-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Joe Simon and Jack Kirby estate.