Apr 28, 2015

The 40 Years of Comics Project: Day 63 - A Date With Judy #77, June-July 1960

Over the weekend I was at a flea market in town, and found a stack of old comic (torn up, covers missing) that were being sold for $10 for the lot. The guy selling them cautioned me that I should check them first, that they were in pretty bad shape, but I assured him that I just like to read them. Condition is very rarely a concern for me. It turns out that, aside from a single Mickey Mouse comic from 1973, they're all from 1960 and earlier. It's really cool to read stuff from this Golden/Silver Age transition period, especially since none of them are superhero comics. There's some old Archie stuff, some westerns, a few childrens' comics, even a few newspaper strip reprint books. And then there's stuff like A Date With Judy. I was just reading in Gabilliet's Of Comics and Men about the spate of teen romance comics that flourished in the post-war period, but they're not something I've ever given much time to. And that, mainly, is because they're not really the sort of thing that gets reprinted, so one has to wait until a bunch of reading copies show up at a flea market....

That having happened, let's see what this particular issue is like. First, Bob Oksner draws the most fabulous, tiny-waisted ladies. His work reminds me of a slightly more sophisticated take on the Archie Comics house style, and is definitely inspired by the look of the film starlets of the time. I can also see the Bruce Timm animated style growing directly from the work of such artists as Oksner. The comic does fall prey to that problem that also afflicts Archie, in that every woman is drop dead gorgeous, and is obviously rendered to have maximum attractiveness, while every man is a caricature. An interesting perspective to consider this from is that the men have more visually linguistic cues from which the reader can determine their personalities, whereas the women are much harder to read. We have to judge them from their actions and their words, rather than from their physical appearances. Which, having written that, is pretty much the opposite of what one might expect. So the men rely heavily on caricaturization to communicate their roles in the stories, whereas the women rely more on characterization. We have to acknowledge, as I pointed out above, that all the women do conform to a hegemonic ideal of beauty, but the fact that we come to know them not from their appearances but from their behaviours in some ways plays against this hegemonic notion.

This is not to say that there aren't a number of problems with the stories themselves, but rather than read a piece simply as another example of normative behaviours and notions of beauty, the contrast of visual linguistic indicators and verbal linguistic indicators allows us to reverse the practice of judging women for their looks and men for their actions. Whether or not this was what Oksner was going for, it's hard to say, but that's what I got out of the reading experience.

And that was a lot more theoretical than I thought this would go this morning. The stories are cute, to be sure, very much of the sort typified (and some might say perfected) by Archie Comics. It's quite a treat to have a chance to read these kinds of books. The chance of them ever being reprinted is slight, as there are no capes or long-underwear anywhere to be seen. Another reason to never knock the dollar bin, or any cheap reading copies that you might come across.

See you tomorrow.

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