Another major player in the romance comic scene of the 1960s and ‘70s was Charlton Comics. The Connecticut based company had dozens of monthly romance titles [Edit: Charlton's array of romance books were published bimonthly]. A nice timeline of Charlton’s history as a company can be found at the website of the Connecticut Historical Society. Be sure to check it out when you get a chance.
Secret Romance was one of Charlton’s many romance titles. I think issue #35 (the title ran for 48 issues) has a particularly gorgeous cover, drawn by Gustave Pujalte. I dig the heavy inks, especially the inking that makes up the hair of the two characters. The cover doesn’t have anything to do with the interior stories as far as I can tell, but it sure is pretty!
The first story, “Unwanted Woman,” was drawn by Enrique Nieto. Luckily, some of the Charlton stories are signed and Ramon Schenk’s website is helpful in fully deciphering the signatures. This story is about Isabel – a young lady who keeps getting jilted by her lovers, most recently by her lawyer-fiancé, Orville Bush. While trying to get involved in the local political circuit Orville gets drawn in by Governor Cosgrove’s daughter, also referred to as “horse-face” by Isabel. After the breakup, Isabel hears from her friend Ted –a newspaper man, that her ex is running unopposed for First Selectman. Betty, a server at the steak house plants the seed in Isabel’s head that she should run against him.
Isabel ends up winning the election. She seems to be rather successful in her position, shutting down a crooked bookie and preventing a factory from closing. Isabel is modest though, and tells Ted that she couldn’t have done any of it without his help. She confesses that she thinks that he should be the First Selectman, not her. Ted admits his crush on her and they make plans for the honeymoon.
The concept of this story was fine, but I found the art to be, well, how I say this delicately... a bit scary. The layouts are actually pretty great, but it’s the faces of the characters and the bizarre coloring that really threw me off.
The art goes to a less psychedelic tone with the second story, “Compulsion” with art by Sam Glanzman. In this story, sweethearts Amelia and Barry get engaged. They decide to go on a short trip to Nassau before telling their parents the good news. They stay at a nice hotel (in separate rooms of course) and spend the first evening in the hotel’s casino. Barry wins $1,100! Amelia doesn’t think anything of it and after gambling they dance and go for a stroll on the beach. Everything seems fine until they go to the casino again the next night. Barry yells at Amelia and tells her to get lost, telling her that she will jinx him. She goes off and an old lady sees her and tells Amelia that her husband gambles too, and that they have lost everything – including their house. As Amelia ponders the stranger's warning, she thinks to herself that it is was not Barry’s fault he acted that way, that it was the gambling making him act crazy. Amelia decides to confronts him the next morning anyway.
Amelia goes off to spend the rest of the vacation by herself. The airline stewardess from their flight to Nassau tells her she was smart to get rid of a gambler, as they are “bad news”. She introduces Amelia to the co-pilot of the plane, Paul. Just as Amelia and Paul are hitting it off, Barry wants to get back together. Amelia refuses, telling him that he’s really “married to dice, cards, and roulette!” Thankfully for Amelia, Paul thinks gambling is stupid.
“Buck’s Bag” is the advice column of Secret Romance. The art for the column is surprisingly good. The first letter struck me, as a young girl of 13 wrote in saying that she can’t forget about a guy that broke up with her. She went as far as trying to kill herself, she writes. Buck advises the heartbroken young lady to “fill up that void with new boys,” and that attempting suicide was an “extremely foolish act.” I am really hoping the author of the letter; “Desperate,” got some better advice than what Buck could give her and went on to live a healthy life.
The last story in the issue is “Heartbreak Ahoy!” The art is by Art Cappello, who actually started out as an assistant to Vince Colletta. This story is about a pretty girl with no self-confidence, Sarah. She works as a secretary in a big office in New York is very shy and unlucky in love.
Does this page remind anyone else of Mad Men? Miss Berkeley=Joan
Though Sarah works hard, she goes unnoticed by the men. But she saves up money and goes on a cruise in Bermuda for vacation. She goes all by herself, which seems a little uncharacteristic of a girl with no confidence, but I digress. A fellow passenger named Carrie introduces herself and points out the Captain’s harem of ladies. She also tells Sarah that there is a masked ball in the evening. Sarah decides to go to the party thinking to herself that perhaps if she is wearing a mask then maybe the Captain will look at her. Indeed, the Captain asks her to dance and they spent the rest of the ball together. At midnight he asks her to take off her mask so he can see who she is.
He tells Sarah that he loves her, and it is then that she realizes that it is in fact inner beauty that gets the man.
Overall, this Secret Romance #35 seemed to be a quick read. The stories felt shorter than DC romances, and the book contained a heavy dose of advertisements. With exception of the cover, I am not the biggest fan of the art in this particular issue. The stories were pretty good, but the art was a little rough in my opinion.