Minorities in comics and animation: “Negro Romance”

Negro Romance #1This week’s entry goes back quite a few years, to an era when most African-Americans in comics were portrayed as grotesque, offensive stereotypes. However, this comic was an intentional subversion. “Negro Romance” was a short-lived series published by Fawcett Comics (of Captain Marvel/”Shazam” fame) in 1950. At this point, superheroes as a whole had begun to fade in popularity. However, other genres, including romance, became quite popular.

Background

As the name indicates, the comic focused on all-Black casts engaged in typical romance comic plots, with all their usual cliches. That includes the era’s role expectations for men and women. However, the fact that this comic featured an all African-American cast made this title unique. The characters were written and drawn as non-stereotyped people. Not present were any of the stereotypes that were the then-norm for portrayals of Blacks in cartoons. The characters also are shown running businesses, attending college, and so forth. The title must’ve made quite an impact among African-American readers of the time.

Still, the series lasted only three issues. Issue #2 was reprinted in 1955 by Charlton comics, who picked up the series with a fourth issue. However, issue #5 (per comics.org) switched the title to a generic, all-Caucasian romance book, which ran through the mid-60s.

I assume the racism of the era made “Negro Romance” less-than-popular for newsstands. Another factor for its demise might be Fawcett itself being on the wane at this point. Fawcett ended publication of its most popular characters, the Marvel Family, in 1954. This was soon followed by Fawcett shutting down its comics division for good, save a “Dennis the Menace” title that was published through the 70s.

Fawcett sold most of its non-Marvel Family properties to Charlton, which might explain the above-mentioned Charlton reprint. Since then, DC Comics has purchased the rights to the Fawcett and Charlton superhero characters. However, I assume they (nor anyone else) had any interest in buying any of the non-superhero/adventure lines of Fawcett or Charlton. Thus, I assume “Negro Romance,” like most smaller-publisher Golden Age comics, is likely in the public domain by this point. (A brief search sites offering downloadable public domain Golden Age comics supports this theory.)

Other media

The PBS series “History Detectives” did a story about “Negro Romance.” The show’s hosts attempted to track down the likely artists behind the comic, as well as the nature of the book’s origins. The episode’s segment on “Negro Romance” is available for viewing at PBS’ website.

(Updated 11/5/16)

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