It’s February, Valentine’s Day is around the corner, and love is in the air! Typically you might not think of “romance” and “comics” together – but in the 1940s and 1950s as superhero popularity waned, romance reigned. And it was all started by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in Young Romance no. 1 (Sept-Oct. 1947). (You may know Simon and Kirby better as the creators of Captain America.)
In addition to being the earliest, Young Romance was also one of the longest running series with 208 issues, ending publication in 1975. Simon and Kirby’s comic inspired dozens of series featuring stories of despair, jealousy, secrets, trials and tribulations but most of all, love.
Romance comics were so popular, even Wonder Woman followed the trend for a time!
Like many other golden age comics, romance comics were inspired by earlier pulp fiction stories and spanned a variety of sub-genres ranging from confessionals to westerns, military stories to teen angst (and humor), and everything in between. Some of the publishers, such as Charlton, Fawcett, Lev Gleason, Quality, and St. John, were especially prolific. At the height of their popularity in 1949-50, there were hundreds of issues of romance comics being published. And even after the implementation of the Comics Code Authority in 1954, romance comics continued to publish, though perhaps they were a little bit less risque.
The cover artwork ranged from painted illustrations to photographs and included a wide range of comic styles. In addition to Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, many other well-known comic artists worked on romance titles, including Matt Baker, whose work is featured on the cover of Teen-Age Romances no. 2, as well as Alex Toth, Steve Ditko and Frank Frazetta. Teen-Age Romances no. 2 also features artwork by Lily Renee, a pioneering early female comic artist known for her work with publisher Fiction House.
Romance comic titles would shift between various cover styles over the course of their publication. The photo covers occasionally featured actors – such as Sweethearts with Marilyn Monroe and Richard Widmark and Dream Book of Love with Donna Reed and Montgomery Clift.
One of the most rare romance comics here at the Library of Congress, Negro Romance, was unique in featuring African-American characters positively. The Library acquired issue no. 1 in 2014, and the recent donation from Stephen A. Geppi includes issue no. 4, which reprints material from no. 2 (August 1950).
There are literally hundreds of romance comics in our collection – including issues of Forbidden Love, My Own Romance, Perfect Love, Romantic Adventures, Wedding Bells, True Sweetheart Secrets and more! You can read more about the history of romance comics in books like Love on the Racks by Michelle Nolan, Agonizing Love: The Golden Era of Romance Comics by Michael Barson, and Heart Throbs: The Best of DC Romance Comics by Naomi Scott. Do you have a favorite romance comic? Tell us in the comments!