Romance Comics (The Basic Formula)

Romance comics appeared on the scene during the last years of comic’s Golden Age (invented Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, no less!)  From 1948-1950 their popularity grew at an unprecedented rate.  The first six months of 1950 was the high water mark – 332 issues were published.  More than a quarter of the comics on the rack were romance comics, and over half of the comic-reading public was female.  Sales dropped sharply later that year, but for brief shining moment, love conquered all.

While I’m no expert, I’ve read my fair share of romance comics.  I’ve found that, in general, there are three basic plot structures that romance comics follow, each having its defining conclusion.

#1: I Learned My Lesson (and Lived Happily Ever After)

This formula seems to be the most popular one, especially in pre-code romance.  The basic idea is that our heroine makes a bad choice that nearly ruins her chance for true love.  But in the end, everything works out.pickup1
The first published example of the plot structure #1, from Young Romance #1.  Here Toni learns about the importance of a good reputation, one of the most common lessons preached in romance comics.
 

romance_leason_(good)

Another example of this concept, form ACG’s Lovelorn.   Here, the lesson is not subtle: “Don’t change him, love him!”

#2 A Wrong is Righted (And They lived Happily Ever After)
In this plot structure, the heroine is not at fault – she is innocent and steadfast.  A villan is introduced (usually another woman, often a friend, roommate or sister) who conspires to destroy her love life.  I’ve found this to be the second most popular formula in romance comics.

romance_lwronged1
This comic is also from Lovelorn.  Despite her crippled legs, Mae truly loves boxing champ Lefty.   Her roommate has designs on Lefty as well, and with a few lies she sabotages Mae’s confidence.

romance_wronged2
Gloria’s evil nature is exposed, Mae learns to walk, and Lefty proclaims his true feelings.

 #3 I Learned My Lesson (The Unhappy Version)
The final panel of a romance comic almost always portrays a happy couple in a loving embrace – truly unhappy endings are rare.  Here’s an example of one of those rare stories.

badending
 Romance comics often have titles that are far more risqué than the actual story.  Masquerade Marriage (written by Dana Dutch, and drawn by comics master Matt Baker) lives up to its name.  Pat and Jetta learn a hard lesson when (SPOILER!) two no-good boys from the waterfront trick them with a fake marriage!

badending5
Check out panel 4: “It wasn’t anything like wedding nights I’ve read about… Bob wasn’t sweet and gentle…H…He was rough… Almost brutal!”  That’s heavy stuff!  
badending7
The boys go to jail and the girls try to salvage their tainted reputation.  No kisses in this final panel.

Want to read more?  These romance comics (and many more) are currently on reserve in the Schulz Library.

- Robyn Chapman

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2 Responses to Romance Comics (The Basic Formula)

  1. Pingback: Journalista – the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » Nov. 17, 2009: I just work here

  2. Jose says:

    wow, interesting read! I’ll have to check out some romance comics very soon…

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