Marvelous Melodrama

I’ve been enjoying Frank Santoro’s discussions on Marvel’s late 60’s and early 70’s romance comics. But, it seems to me that the key missing term in Frank Santoro’s discussion of Marvel romance comics is ‘melodrama.’ Only one commenter (Nate) used the term as he pointed out that Marvel’s 60’s super-hero renaissance depended largely on the drama that occurred in the heroes’ private life. Since large parts of the comics were devoted to super-heroics, the tension in the private life of say, Spider-Man, was heightened by deploying melodrama.

But the term doesn’t appear anywhere in the two posts Frank’s done so far and is only mentioned once by the above mentioned commenter. The lack of the term makes it makes it more difficult to discuss & distinguish the romance comics from other kinds of comics about relationships. Frank names the work work of the Hernandez Brothers as the direct heirs to the Marvel Romance tradition. But some of the commenters are trying to wedge other comics in. For example a commenter says:

“aren’t there a plethora of ‘alt’. and ‘art’ comics than focus on relationships, but don’t utilize the los bros. level of craft? or employ ‘craft’ in a different fashion?
this might be the gap where we can celebrate ‘clumsy’ or kochalka’s ‘kissers’ for it’s romantic heft.
i totally appreciate the notion of ‘rarity of romance’ within mainstream comics, or celebration of such expressions when they occur (or are un-earthed), but the variable revolutions that ‘alternative’ comics brought about are often under-discussed hereabouts.
romance, on some level, was one of those forces, to be sure.
were highwater or alternative under-celebrated publishers of ‘romance’ comics to a greater or lesser degree? i would argue, yes.”

The difference between Kochalka or Brown’s comics that focus on relationships and romance, and the Marvel Romance comics from the late 60’s is… melodrama. The drawings of Kochalka and Brown may be more cartoony and less realistic than the Marvel equivalents, but they tend to have a more realistic take on the actual relationships they describe.

The framing of the Marvel books recalls the classic framing devices of the melodramas of Hollywood. Douglas Sirk comes to mind, especially for Marvel’s earlier foray into the Romance comics in the 50’s. They’re full of dramatic close-ups, moonlit silhouettes, crying eyes, (kisses) etc. The 70’s romance that Frank is describing has plenty of that, but it also has a frenetic energy imported from Marvel’s super-hero line. If we were to look to a cinematic analogue, perhaps it’s the work of Rainer Werner Fassbinder (?)… although most of the comics in this case predate the films.

Frank is right that the Hernandez Brothers are the true inheritors of this tradition. Their stories are full of melodrama and they deploy similar visual techniques and effects. The title itself, Love & Rockets, could very well be the title for an 8 page romance comic during the height of the space age. Jaime’s work seems more classic, harkening back to Sirk hollywood mashed with pulp & science fiction. Gilbert’s influence is weirder, like Steve Ditko drawing a Fassbinder script. Anyway, looking forward to more romance post from Frank.

from My Love #14. Art by Don Heck & John Romita.

2 Replies to “Marvelous Melodrama”

  1. You’re right of course that the focus of your articles is art. But I wonder if – since comics are a hybrid writing/drawing medium – there isn’t some melodrama in the drawings themselves? In other words this approach to drawing you’re describing (in your new post you look at naturalism as a term) in your posts is a kind of pulp-naturalism… developed over time to serve a certain kind of action romance that populated so many comic-books & strips (regardless of genre). And this approach to drawing is already soaked in melodrama which recurs in many stock poses, framings and the generally beautiful & handsome characters essential to these stories… when someone breaks out of these stories, one of the first things to go is this kind of drawing… anyway good work!

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