Hidden Gems #4: Delectable delights about comics and comic creators
Good Girls, Bad Girls, what’s the difference, Senator?
HEALTH WARNING: STRICTLY FOR MATURE READERS ONLY.
KIDS AND IMMATURE COMIC FANS NOT ALLOWED TO READ FURTHER.
COVER THE TEXT BELOW WITH YOUR HAND AT ONCE.
Post-war America in the Golden Age of Comics
In 1946, 1 out of every 2 Americans, out of a population of 150 million at the time, read a comic book. Only 44,000 of them owned a TV. The average Superman issue sold 1.3 million copies. The average Captain Marvel issue (the big red cheese, not the various later incarnations), sold 1.4 million. (Data source: Morse, Ben. “Thunderstruck”. Wizard #179 September 2006.) Among the most popular comic books was a genre named “Good Girl Art,” a term coined in the 1930s to describe comics with sexy, beautiful female characters. This was the golden age of comics.
Good Girl Art
Good Girl Art took off when World War II began, and comic books featuring attractive women became popular with Army, Navy and Air Force personnel. The women were never shown nude, although despite that they were easy to imagine that way, thanks to the suggestive and revealing clothing designed by the comic book artists of that era. The most famous of these was Matt Baker, whose redesigned version of The Phantom Lady, with a skimpy blue and red costume, is considered the ultimate icon of Good Girl Art. Naturally the demand for these comics continued after the war.
Ropes & Restraints in Good Girl Art
One of the things you will see on many Good Girl Art covers is that the heroine is tied up. This theme became very popular and one can find many examples of this genre, some quite tastefully done, others leaning towards bondage and bestiality. One of the most famous issues of this type is Phantom Lady #17.
Phantom Lady #17: Bondage in Good Girl Art
Seduction of the Innocent
In 1954, German-American psychiatrist Fredric Wertham published Seduction of the Innocent, falsely and unscientifically claiming that comic books were corrupting the youth and influencing them to commit crimes. Sadly this book was taken very seriously at the time. Wertham testified before the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, which gave his ideas huge publicity and influence.
One of the outcomes was an act of self-censorship by the comics industry, the creation of the Comics Code Authority, a voluntary guideline to restrict sex and violence in comics. Another sad outcome was the death of the genre of Good Girl Art in comics. This also marked the end of the golden age of comics.
Rise of the Bad Girls
Fast forward to the 1990s, that crazy optimistic decade of outrageous flamboyance in art and fashion. More and more comics that flouted the norms of the Comics Code Authority were published. Many featured femme fatale heroines drawn with exaggerated visual styles and somewhat unrealistic proportions. Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee were two of the artists who contributed to this trend. Vampirella, Lady Death, Angela and Witchblade are some of the characters who define this genre. Many of these, especially Vampirella, have a dedicated fan following and are regularly published even today.
Some artists, like Jim Balent with his Tarot series, or Nathan Szerdy with his suggestive and naughty covers, like the ones featuring Black Cat on the cover of Persuasion #1, have become very popular among readers and collectors of this genre. And you can see why!
Return of the Good Girls
So if you’re into Bad Girls, there are dozens of newly published issues for you to collect. However, for Good Girl Art, you will need a big budget (even raw comics can cost a thousand dollars or more). A copy of Phantom Lady #23 recently sold for US$ 21,600 in an auction. It looks like good girl art is becoming very popular once again!
Fortunately, several of the best issues of Phantom Lady and other examples of Good Girl Art were reprinted in a much more affordable collection known as the Golden Age Greats, such as the volume shown here. Keep digging in those bountiful boxes at PinkPonk Comics, I’m sure that one of these will turn up sooner or later!