Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Ultimate Romance: Cynthia Doyle Nurse In Love #68

One of the most interesting things, to me, about hospital romance comics, is that in the 'dance' of the nurse and the doctor, we see enshrined the male-female hierarchy that has underpinned our society for centuries. Medicine is male, scientific, rational, and has assumed authority over female nursing, with the latter's attention to the personal, its emphasis in caring exploited as a weakness in this battle of the sexes. Consequently, the nursing profession's focus, in its quest to achieve enhanced status, has in many ways been one that has attempted to accentuate the 'masculine' - the scientific basis for nursing - and de-emphasize the femininity that belongs to the traditional image of nurses. That femininity equates, in a patriarchal society, with submission and subordination to the male. So long gone are the distinctive nurse uniforms that adorn the characters in romance comics, and instead in real life we have unisex, mostly loose fitting scrubs that lessen the distinction between the various medical professionals and between male and female. This is very much the end product of second wave feminism, but as with many reflections on what has become as a result of that chapter of social evolution, sometimes we're left wondering if something valuable might have been lost along the way.

Cynthia Doyle Nurse in Love is one of that group of Charlton hospital or medical romance books published from the early- through mid-1960s that rode the wave of enthusiasm for television dramas of the same genre and same time period - Ben Casey, Dr. Kildare, The Nurses (all adapted for comic books by Dell), and no doubt others that I'm unaware of. As you've seen from some of my other posts, nurses were a common feature in romance comics throughout their history, but for a few brief years hospital romances emerged as a sub-genre all of their own. The nurse-doctor relationship that was the basis for these romances was as dependent upon the traditional male-females roles as the whole romance genre itself, and in many ways was a distilled version of it. So it seems as feminism began to influence society and change the way that relationship was seen, the hospital romance went by the wayside along with romance comics generally as both failed to adapt.

What makes these hospital or medical romance books unusual is that they are series featuring the same characters, unlike most romance books in which the stories are usually one offs. Charlton, Dell, DC, and Marvel all had medical romance series of various descriptions, although Charlton and Dell were certainly the leaders in this field. Outside of medical series, I can think of the random appearances of Jonnie Love in Charlton books, and various DC running features, like Bonnie Tyler the airline hostess in Young Romance, The Life and Loves of Lisa St. Claire in Young Love, and so on. As is the case in other circumstances, Charlton seems to have been the innovator, at least a pioneer, both of the ongoing series in a romance book as well as the medical romance sub-genre. Nurse Betsy Crane begins August 1961, with Marvel's Linda Carter Student Nurse in September '61 and Dell's Linda Lark, Student Nurse in October of the same year. DC's Mary Robin R.N. didn't begin until the September 1963 issue of Young Love.
So this is something of a stereotyped male-female interaction but one which has perhaps a strong basis in reality. The woman has to play the game of allowing the male ego to maintain its illusion of superiority. At the same time, because something important is at stake, she has to figure out a way to get the necessary done while going around the obstacle erected by the male's obstinacy.

Calculated submission was the way first wave feminism attained limited autonomy for middle class women, within a restricted professional realm led by nursing and social work. The early 1960s is near to the end of that phase, the closing of a chapter that began with Florence Nightingale and ended with Night Nurse! This story was "The Case of the Teenage Mother" from the Feb 1963 issue of Charlton's Cynthia Doyle Nurse in Love (issue #68).

Friday, March 5, 2010

Who Is The Artist?

I was sorting through my comics and flicked through this one when I came across it: First Kiss 4 (Charlton, July 1958). The content of the cover, by Jon D'Agostino, has no connection with any of the stories in the book. Nothing particularly unusual there! The first couple of stories did make me stop and look at them more closely. They reminded me of work that I've assumed was by Vince Colletta, although the inking seemed light, even for him. So I've scanned them both (only 5 pages each) so that you all can take a look at them and tell me what you think. Are they Colletta pencils, inks, both, neither?

The first story, "Party Girl" - is standard romance comic fare - the girl who loves to party isn't considered a contender for a serious relationship, certainly not marriage. [I'm sure I've seen that last panel on page 4 on a Colletta Atlas romance cover! Something very like it anyway.] When the hard truth hits home, it's time for Barney to come forward and reveal the feelings he's had for Dory all along!

"Made for Romance" is a career girl romance. Pam Foster works in advertising, and is good at her job. Allan Kane, an artist for the company, thinks glamor is the future of advertising, and wonders how plain Pam made it so big in the business. Enter the boss's son, Harry, and of course Pam falls for him although he apparently doesn't notice her, because she's not glamorous! Allan organizes a complete makeover for Pam. It takes a week, but it appears it was worth it. Personally I thought Pam was pretty fine in the first place, but there you go. But all the effort was for nothing - Harry announces he's getting married. The strange thing is, now Pam doesn't care. That week doing the makeover with Allan has done something special for both of them. So all's well that ends well.

For comparison, I'm adding a panel from Gorgo 8 (Charlton, August 1962) that was definitely drawn by Joe Sinnott and inked by Vince Colletta or someone in the Colletta Shop (this information was provided to me by Ramon Schenck, who had access to Joe Sinnott's notebook via his contacts with Joe's family). I see similarity between this Gorgo panel and the second panel on page 3 of the "Made for Romance" story above. Note the angle of the man's head in his approach to the woman to kiss her, his jaw line, the way the ears are drawn, and his lowered eyelids. I've added this to support Apocolyte's suggestion in the comments below, that these stories could be examples of Joe Sinnott pencils with very rushed Colletta or Colletta Shop inking. John Lustig ("Last Kiss") also provided detailed information in the comments below, establishing that the work was fully Colletta Shop, adding that Joe Sinnott did work for the Studio. Here's that panel from the story above as well, for ease of comparison. If this identification is correct, the Gorgo panel gives a hint of what these two First Kiss stories could have looked like.
I love Hal's optimism there in the Gorgo 8 panel.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Women Running From Houses on Comic Book Covers: Haunted Love 6 - "Sleep, My Love..."

Written by Joe Gill and drawn by Tom Sutton, from the October 1974 issue of Haunted Love, this Gothic romance tale set in Paris in 1906 is one of Charlton's best. A newly qualified doctor, Henri Duval, begins attending a bed-ridden elderly woman by the name of Madame Maleure at her huge, stately home where she lives with her young companion, Madeleine Beauvois. Madeleine takes care of the Madame, and it's a full time occupation, leaving her no time for herself. The doctor fixes that by getting a local nurse in to help part of the time. And now that Madeleine has a little time off, she can go out to dinner with the doctor! Strangely enough, this is exactly what Madame Maleure wanted to happen, for Madeleine and the doctor to fall in love. What sinister plot has she hatched? And where will it all end? The story has to be read to find out! Joe Gill must have been allowed a bit of extra time to work on this one, and Tom Sutton's artwork is really very nice. Sad that both of them have passed beyond the veil.
So there it is. A Charlton Gothic romance to challenge the quality of those few DC Gothic romances. Actually Charlton published more Gothic romance comics than DC, as Haunted Love ran for more issues than the combined run of those two DC titles, Sinister House of Secret Love and Dark House of Forbidden Love. These are scans from my own copy of this book, but the printing, as is often the case with Charlton comics, is a little rough, and it shows in the scans. It would be really cool if the best Charlton work was reprinted on good quality paper and in a way that preserved the details and colors of Sutton's art in these kinds of stories, and the work of others like Mike Zeck, Joe Staton, John Byrne, Steve Ditko, etc. I saw that there's a 'Best of Ditko's Charlton' set of reprints out that includes his older stuff from the 50s:


I guess it will take people like Blake Bell with enough drive to get stuff like that done.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Minorities in Comics in a Segregated America: World's Finest 17 (Spring 1945)

Okay, I know the cover of WF #17 really doesn't look like it's going to say anything socially relevant on the inside, but appearances can be deceptive. Besides the main features, this issue included an 8-page Johnny Everyman story dedicated to exposing the plight of African American G.I.'s returning home after World War II to segregation. It is written by Jack Schiff (who wrote about a million public service announcement pages for DC for several decades), with pencils and inks by John Daly (worked on Congo Bill, Robotman, Sub Zero, and a variety of other Golden Age characters).

The first few pages show a segregated African American unit in action on the front line against the Nazis. The story then shifts to the USA, and Ralph, who's an African American soldier from that unit, is home on leave and meeting up with his buddy George outside the munitions plant where George works. Ralph is keen to sit and catch up with George over some food, but Ralph has been away a while and forgotten that eating places are segregated around there.
George and Ralph are in the process of being turned away at a second restaurant, by a waiter who knows he's in the wrong but just claims all the tables are reserved, when Johnny Everyman steps in and makes it impossible for the restaurant to deny them. Ralph is grateful, but it is still a bitter pill to swallow. Without their white-skinned friend coming to their aid, they wouldn't have been allowed to eat there. The real problem hasn't gone away, only temporarily thwarted in this small way. Probably the strongest lines in the story are when Ralph, twice decorated war hero, expresses his frustration:

"Sure I'm a hero! I almost gave up my life to help wipe out fascism. So what? I come back here and I can't even eat a meal where I want to... what's the use?"

Johnny launches into a long speech, reminding Ralph of gains that had been made towards eventually establishing racial equality, and encouraging Ralph to have faith that his will come about. It's a tough analysis to take, but it's probably accurate to the way things were in the mid-40s. There would be no overnight changes, only gradual movement in a more positive direction. Hard that a whole section of the population had to continue waiting for the rights that were theirs, and have to endure discrimination and abuse in the mean-time. Not difficult to see why some people might just get fed up with that situation, after how many generations since the Emancipation Proclamation, and take a proactive stance.
I can't say for sure, obviously, that this story is unique, but it's a contender until something similar shows up. Who was DC editor at this time? This isn't revolutionary old EC, but reliably mainstream mom's apple pie DC, taking an admirable very public stance against segregation, even if reluctantly conceding that it wasn't about to end that day. I liked the dedication at the beginning, which set the mood for the whole piece:

"Dedicated to the millions of American Negroes who are doing their share in the armed forces and on the home front, to win the war and usher in a new era of peace and understanding among men".

Not bad for 1945. I wonder if pre-code DC war comics used less of the racist terms referring to Asians in the 1950s than did those of other companies, e.g. Atlas. That would be interesting to find out.

I think this 'scan' was from Joshua Thirteen again, but it looks like it was actually a microfiche originally. I don't happen to have a copy of this one in my collection!