Who doesn’t love a spot of romance? Comic readers over the last several decades, if the publishing schedules are anything to go by. Once the biggest-selling genre in the medium, Romance went out the window in the Seventies as superheroes began knocking off all competition. But interest in the storytelling form is alive and well, with the likes of Jacque Nodell’s Sequential Crush blog and the Lonely Hearts Romance Comics Podcast bringing the love.
And now veteran writer Paul Kupperberg (Daring New Adventures of Supergirl, Life With Archie, Arion) is bidding to bring back Romance comics themselves, with Paul Kupperberg’s Secret Romances. It’s been out awhile, but that’s me, ever behind the curve – thank goodness for Amazon Kindle, as I couldn’t find it on sister company Comixology. One of the first titles from revival publisher Charlton Neo, the book features four strips and, in the best tradition, a prose short story. And I liked ’em all.
Advertisements proclaim this series ‘postmodern’, which likely explains why the first story features anything but the classic teenagers in love scenario. ‘You have the right to remain smitten’ is the tale of two middle-aged cops in a squad car and they hate one another. Kupperberg’s take on the old ‘will they or won’t they?’ scenario is too refreshing to be spoiled, and with terrifically naturalistic art from pencillers Pat & Tim Kennedy and inker Jeff Austin, this is a real winner.
Rob Kelly’s eyecatching, magazine-ready spot illo heads up ‘Waiting for the man with a copy of The Catcher in the Rye’. It’s the early Fifties and a young woman is waiting for a blind date to turn up. They’ll recognise one another by the copies of JD Salinger’s just-published novel… While the title describes the two-pager, it doesn’t do justice to Kupperberg’s empathetic, well-crafted prose.
Blind dates 2016-style inform ‘CyberMatch.com’, as a girl and a guy who share a love of Star Trek find they might not have enough in common to get through a first meeting. Kupperberg and artist PD Angel Gabriele convey the awkwardness of Cupid’s gamble in fine style.
‘Forget Me Not’ is a take on romance in the twilight years. Rose lives in a care home, Darren is the stranger who arrives to visit and what follows is truly touching. The tenderness of Kupperberg’s words is matched by the subtleties of Dærick Gröss’ lovely art. It’s rare to find someone who draws old people well – it’s usually babes/hunks with a few lines to represent wrinkles, or Aunt May-style walking corpses. Gröss delivers – Rose and Darren have lived full lives, and you can see it. Charming and true, this is my favourite story.
There’s a Darren in the final offering too, but it’s certainly not the same man. Set in 1954, ‘Men Like Henry Bertram’ stars Judge Darren and wife Edna, discussing an upcoming court case as they ready for some afternoon nookie. Little by little, the sweetness of their relationship takes a turn for the sinister. Kupperberg gets to the heart of suburban morals and hypocrisy circa 1954, while returning pencillers Pat & Tim Kennedy look very different as finished by Bob Smith – the pages are light, humorous, making the final image all the more perversely perfect. Jack Morelli’s jolly lettering totally plays to the mood, as does the colour work of Mort Todd.
Todd letters the rest of the book, and he’s also the publisher – that’s quite a range of talents. Rob Kelly’s contribution apart, the remainder of the book is coloured by Matt Webb, a most adaptable talent.
The sexy cover illo, you may have noticed, is the work of DC Comics legend Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, and it’s a shame there’s no story to go with it – I want to know who these two are. Mort Todd – it’s that man again – handles the hues.
You don’t have to be a fan of love stories to enjoy this comic, pretty much anyone who likes sharply written, stylishly drawn stories of real people should get a kick out of Paul Kupperberg’s Scret Romances.