Happy 98th Birthday to the late “King of Comics,” Jack Kirby! These days even the most casual student of popular culture is aware of Kirby’s accomplishments in the superhero and science-fiction comic book genres; and many of us are also familiar with his work in western (cowboy) comics, combat comics and monster comics. But did you know that Kirby and his longtime collaborator, Joe Simon (whom he co-created Captain America with), invented a unique and unlikely genre that would help to save the waning comics industry in the years following WWII?
Kirby had returned from the war a decorated Combat Infantryman, and he and Simon were in a rut as their previous comic readers had moved away from the usual superhero fare. But legend has it the partners recognized that the “true confession” pulp magazines were very popular; so the two decided they would create a “true romance” style comic book title – something that had never been done before – and the Romance Comic genre was born!
In July 1947, at Hillman Periodicals, Simon and Kirby created My Date Comics #1, which was sort of in the same vein as Archie Comics, but with more of a “true romance” edge. It turned out to be a popular book (although it’s disputed as to whether it should be considered the first “romance comic.”)
The popularity of My Date led to the team striking a ground-breaking profit-sharing deal with Crestwood Publications, which then printed the experimental Kirby/Simon title, Young Romance #1, containing stories “designed for the more adult readers of comics,” with realistic tales of love, passion, lust, infidelity and heartbreak; and this title is largely considered to be the first ever Romance comic-book.
NOTE: In 1946 the Romantic Picture Novelettes comic was published, but it consisted of reprinted Mary Worth newspaper strips and is not considered the original romance comic book.
Young Romance was a huge hit and it revolutionized the industry, spawning dozens of imitators. Kirby & Simon spent the better part of the next decade overseeing their successful Romance Comic empire with a cadre of artists and writers, producing their own spin-offs like Young Love, Young Brides, and even Western Love (a cross between romance and the equally popular Western comics – with true-life ranch romances.)
By the end of the forties 50 million comics per month were being sold and nearly half of the readers were female. In fact, this was an era when nearly every American female (and even many men) read romance comics. Why so popular? Many believe it’s because these comics had stories that addressed real-life situations and not superheroes, gunfighters, monsters and talking animals.
Get a taste of Kirby’s romance comic work by reading Young Love #4 over at furycomics.com.
In the early 50s, one-in-four comics sold in America was a romance title. Some comic historians have even suggested that romance titles were the most commercially successful genre in the history of the comic books. They certainly helped to keep the medium alive and “the romance years” were a little known high point of Kirby’s career.
If you are in the Phoenix area, join the Jack Kirby Birthday Celebration tonight (8/28/2015) – more information HERE.