Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Happy (Belated) Valentine’s Day!

I was supposed to post this yesterday, but was waylaid by a gout attack. What I was going to say was…

In order to celebrate this romantic of days(?) I’m going to be blowing my own trumpet. No that’s not a euphuism for the fact that I’ll be spending it alone with a book on Contortion Made Easy, but rather, talking about a few books I’ve been working on, that I’m rather proud of.

Some of you may know that my day job is working at Ilex Press and coming up with interesting ideas for books. Well, recently we’ve (That’s me and Art Director extraordinaire, Julie Weir) just put together a fantastic line of stationery and gift books under the banner of Ilex Gift.
First out the gate is Lovelorn: 16 Classic Romance Comic Magnets, the perfect gift this Valentine’s Day (or for your anniversary, or any romantic moment, really). The title is a bit of a Ronseal approach (“It tells you exactly what it does on the tin”). Basically, you get 16 kooky, kitsch fridge magnets featuring the most outlandish covers I could find from the Fifties, plus a small book outlining a brief history of romance comics and a background story to each of the magnets (see spreads below). It’s guaranteed to spark a conversation next time guests come over and stare at your fridge (What do you mean your guests don’t do that?).
To accompany this is the Little Book of Vintage Romance (below and due out in April) which has snippets of the very best romance comics, including covers, complete strips, panels, and actual, real-life Agony Aunt letters. It’s part of a bigger series called The Little Book of Vintage… which includes Sauciness, Sci-Fi, Combat, Horror, and Crime. I’ll Blog some more about these nearer the launch.
Then there’s the Lovelorn: 30 Postcards (below). Again pretty obvious what they are, but it comes in a package that’s so lovely that you’ll want to buy two—one to keep and one to tear apart and send a postcard everyday for a month to your loved one! Julie has devised a fantastic cover that incorporates shiny red foil blocking for the hearts, a die-cut, embossing AND the whole cover folds out to reveal a comic strip on the inside cover! It looks absolutely gorgeous (just like the couple on the cover)!
This cover really reminds me of Mad Men! Art by Ken Bald.
Finally, there’s the Lovelorn Journal (also below), which is so tactile I can’t stop stroking it! It also has all the whistles and bells with an embossed and foil blocked cover, a pocket for keeping love letters in, plus a complete comic on the end papers. Not only that, but every spread has a quirky quote from classic Fifities romance comics, like “Kissing you is extremely pleasurable, we shall have to do it often" and "Shocked... Shaken by an awful realisation! A Dukedom, an entire world at my feet... Yet I hungered for the strong arms of a lowly slave!" The whole journal is perfect for jotting down those “Dear Diary…” moments. 
The great thing about all of these has been ploughing through all the amazing 1950s comics, which, until recently, history had forgotten. Wonderful titles such as Heart Throbs, All True Romances, My Romantic Adventures, Brides in Love and G.I. SweetheartsAnd in terms of art, there are so many excellent draftsmen included, many of whom are still not recognised by the majority as being as important to the medium as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. Artists like the incomparable Matt Baker (who drew the cover of the journal), Ken Bald, Lee Elias (one of my favourites) and Harry Lucey (who went on to draw Archie comics for years). 
There have been a couple of excellent books out on the history of Romance comics in recent years including Michael Barson's Agonizing Love: The Golden Era of Romance Comics and Love on the Racks: A History of American Romance Comics by Michelle Nolan and recently Eddie Campbell has been championing them (unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a way of tracking all his romance comic postings in one place so you'll just have to flounder around on his blog!). Actually, as an aside, it’s quite funny how my and Eddie’s interests often seem to converge, as I was working on a book reprinting Will Eisner’s PS Magazines at the same time as Abrams ComicArts and Eddie were putting a book together on the same subject. We stepped aside like the gallant fools we are, rather than releasing a competitive title!

So that’s four romantic gifts you could’ve bought yesterday and, let’s face it, they make a far more original gift than the endless bloody chocolates, champagne, red roses and lingerie that swamps the shops this time of year! Or you could give them on the leap year date of 29th Feb when traditionally women can propose to the men (this was supposedly "initiated by Saint Patrick or Brigid of Kildare in 5th century Ireland." There's also an apochryphal 1288 law, "Queen Margaret of Scotland required that fines be levied if a marriage proposal was refused by the man; compensation ranged from a kiss to £1 to a silk gown, in order to soften the blow.") 

I’ll be doing a talk about romance comics as part of the Catalyst Club on Friday 24 February at The Latest 7 Bar, Manchester Street, Brighton. Get tickets here (only 17 left!).


Arion said...

I hate St Valentine's day because, for some reason, I'm always alone on that date. But I love your magnets idea. Those whacky 50s covers are really something.

Arion said...

Oh, by the way, I'm reviewing the Books of Magic, and I know you have a special 'cameo' on book 4.

Could I include a link to your post in which you list all of your 'special appearances' in comics?