Romance Without Tears: '50s Love Comics with a Twist

Dana Dutch, Author, John Benson, Editor . Fantagraphics $22.95 (160p) ISBN 978-1-56097-558-8

This is the kind of unusual, well-researched book readers have come to expect from Fantagraphics: a collection of romance comics from the 1950s that, rather than appealing to kitsch, offers a kink in the usual formula. These comics empower, rather than infantilize, women. Written by the somewhat mysterious Dana Dutch, a man mostly remembered as middle-aged and Irish, these comics were published by the equally unusual Archer St. John, who gave his talent a wide berth in the heady, fly-by-night days of 1950s publishing. Completing this unusual group is Matt Baker, one of the few African-American artists in comic books at the time, renowned for his voluptuous (but not exploitative) drawings of women. Baker's biography, like Dutch's, is cloudy at best—no one seems to know much about them. This is almost fitting for a couple of mainstream talents at odds with the very genre they excelled in. The normal romance comics of the time castigated strength, taught subservience and generally reinforced the contemporary stereotypes of good girls and bad girls. Dutch's stories always managed to subvert that norm with subtlety and wit. Rather than being dull and helpless protagonists, his women were active, feisty and independent. With bold writing and smooth, graceful artwork, these tales are fun and visually compelling stories—not just relics of the past, but good comics that hold up. The combination of Dutch and Baker might best be compared to the films of Douglas Sirk: rich, gorgeous but subversive takes on a familiar genre. (Jan.)

Reviewed on: 04/19/2004
Release date: 01/01/2004
Genre: Fiction
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