The Rise and Fall of the American Love Comic

Jeannette Mooney ’20 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

While comics today are known for being a medium largely for superheroes, and therefore action, in the mid-twentieth century other genres dominated. Horror, mystery, and romance comics were all hugely popular in the 1950s before they fell from grace due to content restrictions brought about by the Comics Code Authority of 1954.

One of the first booms for romance comics happened in the second half of 1949, and was so huge that, according to writer Michelle Nolan in her book Love on the Racks; A History of American Romance Comics, The last six months of 1949 alone saw 256 romance comics published. The sudden excess in supply meant that there was not nearly as much demand to keep the industry afloat, so the romance comic market crashed in the latter half of 1950. The industry, however, was restored to profit by 1952, and stayed fairly stable until Fredric Wertham published his infamous critique of comics, Seduction of the Innocent.

In Seduction of the Innocent, Wertham, an American psychiatrist, accused comic books of being a negative influence on children. His work was read by so many people that it created a moral panic among parents.

Not long after Seduction of the Innocent was published, the Comics Code Authority was created. White it, again, mainly targeted the mystery and horror genres, its regulations also had a negative effect on romance comics. Most of the regulations pertaining to the genre appeared in the Marriage and Sex section:

   (1) Divorce shall not be treated humorously nor represented as desirable.

   (2) Illicit sex relations are neither to be hinted at nor portrayed. Violent love scenes as well as sexual abnormalities are unacceptable.

   (3) Respect for parents, the moral code, and for honorable behavior shall be fostered. A sympathetic understanding of the problems of love is not a license for morbid distortion.

   (4) The treatment of live-romance stories shall emphasize the value of the home and the sanctity of marriage.

   (5) Passion or romantic interest shall never be treated in such a way as to stimulate the lower and baser emotions.

   (6) Seduction and rape shall never be shown or suggested.

   (7) Sex perversion or any inference to same is strictly forbidden.

While not every romance comic published before the 1954 code was raunchy or scandalous, self-censorship nonetheless limited what creators were able to do with their stories. The comparatively watered down comics did not sell quite as well as their pre-code counterparts. By 1956, just two years after the code was established, the production of love comics had largely dissipated.

If you are interested in the contents of said pre-code romance comics you are in luck!

IDW publications has recently republished many of their Golden age love stories in their series Weird Love. The series can be purchased on amazon or IDW’s website.

If you are interested in the other regulations of the Comics Code Authority of 1954, you can find it here.

If you want to know more about the history of romance in comics, the aforementioned Michelle Nolan’s Love on the Racks: A History of American Romance Comics and Richard Howell’s Real Love: The Best of the Simon and Kirby Romance Comics 1940s-1950s are great places to start.

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