As the 1960s wound down, the super hero fad that had driven much of the decade was beginning to cool. It’s maybe hard to realize today, when many of these characters have been in continuous publication for 60-80 years, but at the time, super heroes were seen as just another cyclical fad. And now that the genre was softening, it was time to figure out what was going to work instead. Consequently, all of the various publishers started to experiment with broadening out their offerings, including new forays into war comics, mystery comics (i.e. horror comics without much horror, thanks to the comics code), teen humor comics, kiddie comics and romance books. And Marvel was no different in this regard.
What Marvel did have going for it in this era was a stable of some of the finest artists in the field, who exceled at doing material beyond just super heroes. Probably the best all-around draftsman at Marvel at that time was John Buscema, and possibly the best romance artist was John Romita. Romita in particular had spent almost ten years doing romance books for DC before he was lured back over to Marvel by editor Lee.
This particular romance story first saw print in MY LOVE #3 in late 1969, though it would be reprinted a few more times hereafter. And fortunately for historians, copies of the first few pages of pencils by John Buscema have survived. As time wore on, Buscema got looser and looser with his pencils, focusing on the storytelling and leaving the final finish to others. It was a way of maximizing his prodigious storytelling skills. But here, he’s still doing full tight pencils, and they’re pretty amazing to look at, a testament to his drawing skill. Romita does his usual expert job of embellishing them in the final story, but there really isn’t anything much he can add here–Buscema’s pages are immaculate.
The story itself is dumb fluff, the same kind of romance tale that might have been written a decade or two earlier. There are a few hat-tips towards being contemporary, but no real thought has been put into what the potential female audience might be interesting in reading about as the tumultuous 1970s beckoned.
The closest anybody came to finding a new genre on which sales could hinge was probably sword and sorcery. And it would prove to be the super heroes that had more staying power than people anticipated. Romance comics, however, faded away by the middle of the coming decade, a casualty largely of their inability to adapt to the times effectively. There’s still an audience for these things–their kitschy charm pulls on certain nostalgic heartstrings, a longing for a simpler time that never truly existed. They’re enjoyed ironically, if at all. But while the stories may have been nothing special, a lot of the artwork in those books was truly spectacular.
ADDITION: The Artistry of John Buscema group on Facebook had copies of two more penciled pages for this story–so I’m including them here as well.