Negro Romance 3Anticipating Black History Month last February, Scoop approached William H. Foster III, who remembers:

“I grew up with six sisters and often had to escort one or more of them on a weekly trip to the neighborhood beauty parlor. For me it was a form of torture. I would wait for several hours with nothing to do, except pray that none of my buddies saw me. Fortunately, early on I discovered a pile of romance comics stacked in the waiting area. I was skeptical at first but soon became an engrossed and loyal reader. What an unplumbed gold mine they were! Okay, that mine was usually full of the latest fashion trends, weight loss tips, and more dating advice columns than you could shake a stick at, but the stories still drew me right in. With series titles like Young Romance, Heart Throbs, Girls’ Love, and Young Love, their stories were aimed directly at young people (okay girls!) who were curious about that strange, scary phenomenon called social interaction.”

Then in the mid-1950s along came the Comic Code Authority, Foster said, and crime and horror comics disappeared. “Romance comics ... must have offered a tame substitute that wouldn’t cause much controversy. But the rush to promote clean cut American values had an unfortunate side effect – the disappearance of people of color. The simple logic seemed to be: ‘No people of color, no controversy regarding racial issues.’”

But there were “forward thinking publishers like Fawcett Comics” which produced “a rare exception to this trend entitled Negro Romance. The art was terrific and the stories were flawlessly written in the accepted formula. The combination was almost too much to resist. For one of the first times in comics there were positive images of people anyone would want to be -- good looking, industrious, middle class Black men and women who like their White counterparts were struggling to make sense of their love lives.”

The title is among the rarest for comic book collectors though: “At the time it did not last long or sell very well.”

Negro Romance pageIt wasn’t until “the more liberated and free-thinking 1970s ... that comic book companies felt free to represent a more diverse cast of characters for their comic book lines – and romance comics proved no exception. ... One series (Young Romance) even featured a dating advice column (usually presented as a one-page story), with a young Black woman, Page Peterson, as the love advisor. Talking about being ahead of the curve! And occasionally during this time there were stories of actual interracial romance. Several romance books featured a young couple who had to not only battle their insecurities about being with each other but their family and friends as well. These were breakthrough efforts that embodied the true romantic theme of ‘love conquering all’ as well the importance of racial understanding. This kind of story telling is rare even nowadays in the free wheeling 2000s.”

For more information on the Negro Romance series, check out episode 904 of the “History Detectives” tv series, available online. Foster is a long time fan of both comic books and science fiction. He is the creator of a traveling educational exhibit on “The Changing Image of Blacks in Comics” and has written two books on this topic: Looking for a Face like Mine (2005) and Dreaming of a Face like Ours (2010). To find out more about his research visit his website, finallyinfullcolor.com.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com


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