After my last post, wherein I rambled about the slow bleed of counterculture imagery into Romance Comics, I thought it might behoove me to post an example. I’ve chosen a story from my own modest collection– Charlton’s For Lovers Only #61, and its feature story, “In Search of Love.” Take a gander at this cover:
Compared with the feature story of Heart Throbs #92, “In Search of Love,” (which if you throw in an ellipses, sounds like an episode of the old Leonard Nimoy program) is instructive in both its differences and similarities. Post-Woodstock, post-Altamont, post-Summer of Love the scene is no longer merely backdrop, but an active and vital part of the narrative. The Wonder Mountain Rock Festival is a destination of both space and spirit, an actual desire of the story’s participants. Our heroine lies to her parents about attending! Just like in the go-go 90s, when I was 13 and lied about going to Lollapalooza!
Ultimately, genre convention consumes everything and our groovy chick meets a happening fella, who not only protects her from a proto-Hells Angel, but also questions her willingness to kiss him so soon and is hip to family. Through this morally upstanding gent, our protagonist finds herself back where she started– at her parents’ pad, but with a twist: she’s in love, a woman tamed. She’ll never run wild again! Can marriage be far?
Dig the crazy look in the eyes of the almost rapist. It gives a sense, forty years after the fact, of how far Altamont and Manson penetrated the national consciousness. The bad ugly of the hippie scene. Check it out:
I scanned two pages from FLO #61′s first story. It’s another example (though less dramatic) of the bleed. I love how the second page is a timeless laundry list of a young woman’s worries in the wilds of New York City. And check out that lingo, swingers!
These two pages of another story are just T&A. Look at how many men she’s taken to the drive-in! There’s a very strange undercurrent in this story.
And, finally, a Charlton house ad. Look at the lettering on each title’s logo. It’s like a hobo camped outside of Victor Moscoso’s studio and picked up tips peering through the window.
That reminds me– for those of you uninitiated in the history and lore of comic companies, Charlton was an ultra-low budget affair, so if you’re wondering why the art, printing, coloring and page orientation of FLO looks terrible compared to Heart Throbs #92, I’ll provide a help qualifying metric. Think of DC as a Rolls-Royce and Charlton as the Ford Escort.
What distinguished Charlton was their ownership of every stage in creation and distribution– originally a magazine publisher, they reportedly got into the comics game when it was discovered that turning off the press cost more than having it print continually. This fostered a spirit in which no one cared very much about what comics went out, so long as it made its money back. This benefited a handful of creators– most notably our own idee fixee Steve Ditko, who got to do pre-Mr. A Objectivist works, in particular the masterpieces Blue Beetle #5 and Mysterious Suspense #1. On the other, the interesting stuff coming out of Charlton represents about 0.05% of total output. The atmosphere mostly created horrible comics of dubious quality.
Charlton was where Romance died, and what a horrible death it was, with the very strange books of the late 1970s/early 1980s looking like ultra-cheap hippie comics of 1970-71 but without the cultural frame of reference. Ugly.
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