Mirabelle, Valentine and Serenade: The Forgotten Teen Romance Comics That Defined an Era | social history

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Jhe golden days of British comics in the 1950s and 1960s were a fertile landscape that produced many titles that are fondly remembered today: Dandy and the Beanoand the thrill and adventure of Victor, Valiant, The Hotspurand the original home of Roy des Rovers, Tiger.

But what about mirabelle plum, valentine, Marilyn and Serenade? Almost completely forgotten today, these comics formed the vanguard of the huge British romance comics industry, selling millions of copies over a decade.

Now, thanks to a 40-year mission by a comics historian to track down and preserve those titles, they’ll find new life with a book that will reprint the comics for the first time in six decades.

“These comics were extremely popular in their time, and from the late 1950s to the early 1970s every publisher published weekly romance comics,” says David Roach, whose lifelong obsession with comics brought together what he says is the largest collection. in the country, with at least 600 numbers each valentine and mirabelle plum. “The first British romance comic that I can track down appeared in an issue of a women’s magazine Charm in 1950.”

A copy of Mirabelle from 1957, with illustrations by Shirley Bellwood. Photograph: Rebellion Publishing IP Ltd

After scouring thrift stores, contacting private collectors, and scouring the internet for copies, Roach collected them into a book titled A Very British Affair – The Best of Classic Romance Comics, which will be released in January.

Back issues of romance comics were harder to find than more traditional titles of the time, which may have had to do with how they were treated by their readers. Boys might have been more likely to collect their comics, while girls’ titles might have been seen as disposable ephemera to be disposed of after reading.

The romance comic genre was huge in America immediately after World War II, with titles such as Young Romance, featuring comics from comics luminaries Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, who also created Captain America. But, says Roach, the UK versions took their cue from Europe, where Italy had mostly pioneered romance comics in the magazine. big hotel. Indeed, many of the early comics of the UK titles were translated versions of the Italian comics. Roach says: “Initially British comics used local artists, but from about the mid-1950s they increasingly asked Italian and Spanish artists to illustrate the stories because there were so many romance comics but not enough British artists to make them.”

He approached British comics company Rebellion, which publishes the long-running science fiction weekly 2000AD, with the idea of ​​collecting and reprinting some of these long-lost tapes. Editor Olivia Hicks jumped at the idea – she had done her PhD in girls’ comics and had harbored ambitions to repackage some of the old forgotten titles.

Hicks says, “One difference between British and American romance comics is that the American versions were often about young girls in the first rush of love. British stories often feature women about to get married, or having relationship crises, and being forced to choose what will make them happy.

“They often deal with women and working-class issues, and have more in common with the kitchen sink dramas of the cinema of the day than with American teen romance comics.”

David Roach
Comics historian David Roach. Photography: Emily Roach

One of the strips selected by Roach for the collection is drawn by Mike Hubbard, who illustrated Jane’s long strip for the DailyMirror. It features a working-class girl falling in love with a misfit man against her mother’s wishes. Another deals with a woman in an abusive relationship. “They’re very British,” says Roach. “And then, later, we had stories with a lot of glamor injected thanks to Italian and Spanish artists, with very stylish heroines in the mold of Sophia Loren and Brigitte Bardot.”

The collection also highlights some of the writers and artists from the comics – who very often went uncredited, particularly women such as Jenny Butterworth, Pat Tourret, Shirley Bellwood and Diane Gabbott. By the late 1970s, the comics’ popularity declined and they were replaced by magazines such as Dude and Jackie by photostory features that aped the comic form but used staged images of young models for the panels.

Hicks adds, “This timely book will set the record straight and finally give these amazing comics and their creators their moment in the sun. Brilliant, beautiful, heartfelt and sometimes downright bizarre, this is the essential selection of British romance comics.

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