Teen Angst: A Treasury of ‘50’s Romance

By Everett Raymond Kinstler, Matt Baker & various, compiled and edited by Tom Mason (Malibu Graphics)
ISBN: 0-944735-35-5

Ever felt in the mood for a really trashy read? These tacky tales of love from another age are a delicious forbidden and oh, so guilty pleasure

There’s no real artistic or literary justification for today’s featured item, and I’m not even particularly inclined to defend some of material within on historical grounds either. Not that there isn’t an undeniable and direct link between these enchantingly engaging assignations and affairs and today’s comic book market of age-and-maturity-sensitive cartoons and, when taken on their own terms, the stories do have a certain naively beguiling quality.

The story of how Max Gaines turned freebie pamphlets containing reprinted newspaper strips into a discrete and saleable commodity thereby launching an entire industry, if not art-form, has been told far better elsewhere, but I suspect that without a ready public acceptance of serialised sequential narrative via occasional book collections of the most lauded strips and these saucy little interludes in the all-pervasive but predominantly prose pulps, the fledgling comic-book companies might never have found their rabid customer-base quite so readily.

This cheap and cheerful black and white compilation, coyly contained behind a cracking Madman cover, opens with a couple of fascinating and informative essays from Tom Mason whose ‘Bad Girls Need Love Too’ provides historical context whilst and Jim Korkis covers the highpoints of the genre in ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?’ and provides background for some but sadly not all of mostly uncredited star turns revived here.

Creative credit for most of these torrid tales is sadly lacking but the unmistakable fine line feathering of Everett Raymond Kinstler definitely starts the ball rolling here with a selection of his exotic frontispieces from Realistic Romances #2 and Romantic Love #7 (both from September-October 1951) and Realistic Romances #4, February 1952 before segueing into the equally stirring saga ‘Our Love was Battle-Scarred!’ (Realistic Romances #8, November 1952) – a tear-jerking tale of ardour amidst the air-raids whilst ‘Jinx Girl’ from Realistic Romances #7, (August 1952 and possibly drawn by John Rosenberger) follows an unlucky lassie’s traumatic tribulations until her man makes her complete and happy…

From that same issue comes ‘Triumphant Kisses’ a cautionary tale of a small town spitfire who would do (almost) anything to get into showbiz and ‘Dangerous Woman!’ (Romantic Love #7) – a parable of greed and desire from the great Matt Baker.

That gem-stuffed issue also provided the scandalous ‘I Craved Excitement!’ whilst Realistic Romances #6 (June 1952) revealed the shocking truth about the ‘Girl on Parole’ by Kinstler. There’s a lighter tone to ‘Kissless Honeymoon’ (Realistic Romances #2) whilst Baker excels again with the youth oriented sagas ‘I Was a Love Gypsy’ and ‘Fast Company’ from Teen-Age Romances #20, February 1952 and Teen-Age Temptations #9, July 1953 respectively.

Somebody signing themselves “Astarita” drew the brooding ‘Fatal Romance!’(Realistic Romances #2) and the war reared its opportunistic head again in ‘Lovelife of an Army Nurse’ (Baker art from Wartime Romances #1 July 1952), whilst ‘Make-Believe Marriage’ from the same issue examined the aftermath on the home-front.

‘Thrill Hungry’ (Realistic Romances #6) showed it was never too late to change, ‘His Heart on My Sleeve’ (Teen-Age Temptations #5) displayed the value of forgiveness and ‘Deadly Triangle’ (Realistic Romances #2) warned of the danger of falling for the wrong guy…

‘Notorious Woman’ (Teen-Age Temptations #5) continued the cautionary tone whilst ‘Borrowed Love’ (Realistic Romances #2) and ‘Confessions of a Farm Girl’ (Teen-Age Romances #20) end the graphic revelations in fine style and with happy endings all around.

These old titles were packed with entertainment so as well as a plethora of “mature” ads from the period the book also contains a selection of typical prose novelettes, ‘I Had to be Tamed’, ‘Reckless Pasttime’ and ‘The Love I Couldn’t Hide’ which originally graced Teen-Age Romances #20 and 22.

Hard to find, difficult to justify and perhaps hard to accept from our sexually complacent viewpoint here and now, these stories and their hugely successful ilk were inarguably a vital stepping stone to our modern industry. There is a serious lesson here about acknowledging the ability of comics to appeal to older readers from a time when all the experts would have the public believe that comics were made by conmen and shysters for kiddies, morons and slackers.

Certainly there are also a lot of cheap laughs and guilty gratification to be found in these undeniably effective little tales. This book and the era it came from are worthy of far greater coverage than has been previously experienced and no true devotee can readily ignore this stuff.
© 1990 Malibu Graphics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.