Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The stuttering women of romance comics, 1950s-1970s


When I first experienced Roy Lichtenstein's pop art masterpiece M-Maybe, I instantly understood the visual shorthand: the subject is stuttering over that initial "m" because she is emotionally overwrought, probably with the added effect of cognitive dissonance: she can't really believe her beau was a no-show because he suddenly caught an illness. Lichtenstein drew this motif from romance comics, which were huge after WWII but could never really cope with women's lib and faded out by the late '70s. If you flip through some of these vintage comics, you're struck not only by the incessant pathos of these people's first-world problems, but by the same devices being used over and over: the single tear, throwing oneself on one's bed, holding one's hand to face or temple, the downcast thousand ten-yard stare -- and, of course, the stutter. Why, these poor ladies even lose control of their diction in their interior monologues, when their mouths aren't moving!

Men stuttered sometimes too, of course, but usually when they were flummoxed by the emotional behavior of women, to wit:


Ah, Robin. So chaste, so innocent, so totally not at all homoerotic in those green scaly hotpants* living with a man named Bruce.

If you like vintage comics (especially taken out of context), comicallyvintage's tumblr has over a thousand of them! (I should know, I looked at most of them in search of young ladies with temporary speech impediments.) The old-fashioned use of the words "dick", "gay" and especially "boner" are a chuckle riot.

* Actually, the tights or bare legs, domino masks and capes were a visual shorthand that was totally understandable to the audiences of the '30s and '40s: the circus strongman, the ultimate expression of butch masculinity. It did not stand the test of time.

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