Ilex Gift, $5.95, ISBN 978-1-78157-004-3
Popular Culture, 2013
Little Book of Vintage Love is a novelty book, that kind that you buy for its charm rather than anything else. While it is marketed as “a pulse-pounding collection of “Agony Aunt” letters, steamy cover art, and salacious liaisons, complete with pulsating prose stories like Private Property… Hands Off! and helpful strips advising How to Increase Your Dateability“, it is actually a collection of selected pages reprinted from “romance comics” in the late 1940s.
We are talking about those illustrated magazines with titles like Love Problems, Brides Romances, First Romance, Cowgirl Romances (no, really), and my favorite, Teen-age Brides, that asks that all-important question: “How young should a girl marry?”
Still, don’t get too excited, as you won’t get any complete story here, just a sample page or two from various “romance comics” back in those days. This collection is more like an amusing, sometimes terrifying, glimpse into the way “romance” was marketed and devoured back in those days.
Typical of comics in that era, every guy has a giant forehead and the same pompadour hairstyle, while the lady has the same face, it’s just a choice of black or blonde hair. Any resemblance to actual human beings is definitely coincidental. The romance is more like a male fantasy than anything else, but then again, those days were the 1940s. There is a distressing proliferation of stories where the “good heroine” spends her time sobbing and wishing to die because some hussy is making the moves on the man she has fallen for but hasn’t spoken even a word to because she is so shy. Or, a heroine wailing and pressing her hand against her forehead because her boyfriend or fiancé is the target of hussies.
Look at him — surrounded by girls — and lapping it up! I don’t care whether I once did love him — I hate him now!
And there are so many hussies in the world! Oh, those poor virtuous wallflower damsels! I suppose, judging from the snippets of some of these stories, victory means getting the man in the end, and the question of whether that man is even worth it never enters the equation as, back in those days, a penis in a woman’s life is prized beyond rubies.
Heroine’s thought bubble as she holds the man of the hero as he asks to meet her parents:
Oh, what can I say to him? I may lose Ted if he ever discovers that my mother is the office scrub woman!
Thought bubble of the scrub woman in question:
I hope she doesn’t tell him! She mustn’t lose her chance of happiness because of me! I – I’ve worked so hard to see her successfully married!
These “romance comics” were started by men, who ended up being quite the playboys themselves, so it’s probably no surprise that these stories are all about women going through extreme lengths to get married, although virtue dictates that they can’t be too forward, so they mostly pine away in dignified silence until their virtue somehow lands them the man they want. Women who try too hard to find the perfect man end up feeling heartbroken, while those who spurn the advances of poor or simple men for rich and successful men end up alone because those poor men eventually find virtuous girls that are deserving of their love. It’s pretty sad – if you want love, you can’t be too forward, you must make the man happy at all times, but you can’t aim too high and make men feel rejected, or else you will end up alone without a husband.
“I like a man who shows me who’s boss! Like most girls, I’m inclined to want my own way regardless of the feelings of my date! But with the masterful type, I have to toe the line! This is a man I really can respect!
That “testimony from a real woman” must surely be written by a bitter man who had been taken to the cleaners by his three ex-wives.
Of course, these “romance comics” also contain relationship advice for their female readers. That’s like the wolf telling the sheep to leave the pen door open. I love the advice of ladies hanging out at the “Y” to meet boys – if the stories I read online are anything to go by, those boys in the “Y” are more interested in each other. One advice that keeps coming up is how girls shouldn’t aim too highly for the perfect Mr Tall, Handsome, and Fabulously Wealthy, as the average guy drooling nearby may be interested in a date, and if he moves on to another woman, then these women would be unmarried forever OH MY GOD NO. Coupled to stories of girls aiming too high only to end up being bitter spinsters, these “romance comics” seem more like angry tracts written by men who are total failures in getting dates or keeping girlfriends.
SCANDAL ROCKS CITY!
Big City, U.S.A. Girls who sell their kisses! Men who buy them cheap! The whole ugly story was revealed today — the intimate, inside story of — SIN TOWN!
If only it is so easy to make a living. No, no salacious stuff to see here. Sigh.
Little Book of Vintage Love is a superficial but amusing look at what women devoured back in the 1940s and 1950s. Not that the rampant chauvinism, misogyny, “virgins equate virtue” sentiments, and the “every woman wants a man, but only the virtuous, demure, and chaste heroine deserves him” theme are now out of fashion. Just look at a typical “new adult” title these days. But at least back in those days, they had more entertaining titles like Teen-age Tempest!, I’ll Die Soon, Darling!, Too Young For Love! (“How could I win his love when I couldn’t alter facts!”), and Could I Be A Second Wife?. I tell you, those new adult books today would be a hundred times more charming if they have titles of similar nature.
The peeks into the “romance comics” of those days are actually entertaining, as it is hard to take anything with so many exclamation marks seriously, so this one is worth a gape at or two. Just don’t expect a “serious” anthology in any way.