We here at Olivia Waite have been a romance geek as long as we can remember. And because we are curious and trivia-oriented, we have often tried to investigate the origins and history of the genre. But it hasn't always been an easy exploration. Romance history is one of those things 'serious' history tends to overlook, even as other subjects formerly considered trivial are rehabilitated and explored in depth. For instance, books on the history of superhero comics could fill many a reasonable-sized library -- but there is a noticeable lack of attention to the history of romance comics.
Even though they were pioneered by none other than Jack Kirby of Captain America fame.
Kirby founded Young Romance in 1947 with Joe Simon, and others were quick to imitate. Romance comics became a mainstay of the form and sold incredibly well for two decades -- yet few people today even know such a genre existed. And the stories were just as melodramatic and the tears just as exaggerated as you may imagine. They are incredibly addictive to read through, the Platonic ideal of a guilty pleasure.
And yes, many of them hold women to ridiculous standards of beauty and behavior and more than one features the hero slapping the heroine right straight in the face -- but not all of them. Fantagraphics Books -- bless their nerdy little hearts -- came out with two volumes of work by artist Dana Dutch. In these stories, the girls make choices and take chances and generally get what they want rather than what society thinks they deserve. I loved the first one, Romance Without Tears, and now that I know there's a second one I can't wait to get my eager little hands on it.
Luckily, the internet is perfect for searching out otherwise obscure subjects. So, for your delectation and delight, here is a link to the original artwork of one sappy, ridiculous, and completely lovable story: "I Joined a Teen-Age Sex Club!"