An interview with Jacque Nodell, author of How to Go Steady: Timeless Dating Advice, Wisdom, and Lessons from Vintage Romance Comics
As a young reader, I would have told you out loud that I loved all comics. But that wasn’t really the case. I didn’t have much use for humor comics back then. Teen comics? Well, once my Aunt Elissa gave me a box of Archie comics, I warmed up to them. War Comics and horror comics weren’t my cup of tea, but I’d read them now and then.
Romance comics, however, were never on the list. Too icky. Just like girls. So icky. Like many young boys, my tastes would do a 180 in just a few years. But I still wouldn’t read a romance comic.
Over the last few years, however, I’ve relaxed these standards. I’ve started to enjoy them occasionally. In fact, I am on a Quixotic quest for romance comics featuring Jay Scott Pike art. He was a master, and beyond that Showcase issue with the Dolphin story, I never really knew anything about him. There’s many other great artists in vintage romance comics. It’s a great place to stumble across the early works of favorites like John Romita or Gene Golan, as discovering new favorites.
So it’s not a surprise that I enjoy Jacque Nodell’s Sequential Crush. It’s a celebration of romance comics. And out this page has come her first book. I had a lot of questions for Jacque, and despite planning for a wedding (true love wins!) she found some time to answer them all!
Ed Catto: In addition to being an author and a historian, you’re quite the entrepreneur with your ground-breaking Sequential Crush page. Can you tell me how that started?
Jacque Nodell: When I really started getting into romance comics and reading them critically, I was merely trying to find more information on them. There just wasn’t anything out there on the internet about them (especially the 1960s and 1970s ones) and I saw a clear need for something like Sequential Crush. I was fresh out of grad school and working in the museum field and I literally just one day after work was like, I’m going to make a blog and see where this goes! Almost 10 years later and the blog has reached readers around the world, drawn attention to romance comics, and has become a rewarding career for me. Not too shabby for doing something on a whim!
EC: Is this what you envisioned it to be originally? Is it as much fun as it looks?
JN: I originally saw it as a potential vehicle to write a book–a place to try out ideas and build community around the subject. I wound up having so much fun blogging it obviously took me a while to get to the book writing part! While it is, of course, a TON of work (between collecting the material, scanning the panels, writing, and doing social media, answering frequent reference requests) it has been so rewarding and I can’t imagine my life without Sequential Crush or romance comics.
EC: I recently read your new book, How to Go Steady: Timeless Dating Advice, Wisdom, and Lessons from Vintage Romance Comics and thought it was brilliant. What sparked the idea for this unique book? Can you describe your information gathering process for it all?
JN: I had originally envisioned writing a book that encompassed all aspects of romance comics. When that became too unwieldy, I narrowed the scope to the advice columns because I thought it was such a fun topic that would reach comic book fans and non-comic book readers alike. When you’re writing a book, I don’t think anything ends up exactly how you envisioned it originally. That’s sort of the beauty of it! As the author I guided it but it really takes on a life of its own as the writing process goes on.
Reading a whole bunch of romance comics was the main research. I tend to be an outliner when I write, so after establishing the main themes I wanted to explore, I pulled stacks of issues and read each issue cover to cover looking for examples that fit the themes I’d identified. Occasionally, I would read something that changed my previous ideas and I just let it go organically from there. I am a pretty meticulous note taker, and once I identified an example I wanted to use, I kept that information in an Evernote file. It was a pretty massive undertaking but worth it!
EC: Growing up as a “typical teenage male” comic collector/fan/reader, I didn’t pay much attention to romance comics. And I always thought the advice pages were phony. Was I the only one who thought that?
JN: Definitely not! I actually thought at first that might have been the case as well, but as I read more and continued to research and talk to people such as Suzan Loeb (who wrote the afterword for my book), it became clear that they were real. Now, it may be the case that a few were manufactured but they were overwhelmingly real letters of heartbreak and young strife and that authenticity is one of the things that makes them so fascinating.
EC: In your book, How to Go Steady: Timeless Dating Advice, Wisdom, and Lessons from Vintage Romance Comics, you examined Romance Comics’ advice columns through the lens of 2018. How do you describe these pages?
JN: Readers would write into the comic book publishers with their love woes and the comic book editors and writers as various characters such as Jane Ford (“As Jane Ford Sees It”) and Julia Roberts (“Julia Roberts, Romance Counselor”) would answer with advice. Almost all of these advice columns were text-based. While the majority of the questions were about love and romance, readers also wrote in to ask questions about friends, parents, and school. I was drawn to write about them because so many of them are relatable and at the same time, are a fascinating window into the past.
EC: Do you need to describe these advice columns differently to non-comic book fans? Does the general public “get it” better or worse than comic fans?
JN: I would say that they get it, regardless if they are or aren’t a comic book fan. “Advice column” seems to be a pretty universal term and if I say they are akin to “Dear Abby” columns that resonates with most people.
EC: How has the reception to How to Go Steady: Timeless Dating Advice, Wisdom, and Lessons from Vintage Romance Comics been?
It’s been great! I have surpassed the sales goals I originally set for myself, but more importantly, people have let me know that they really enjoyed it. This was a book that was in the works for many years and I felt very nervous about putting it out into the world (like most creators of anything) but once it was out of my hands, I felt confident that it would make onto the shelves of people that would enjoy it and so far, it has!
EC: You published this book with a Kickstarter campaign. Would you suggest that for other authors? Did you learn a lot about self-publishing through this process?
While I did create a Kickstarter campaign to publish How to Go Steady, the campaign was ultimately a “failure.” I say that in the kindest and most optimistic way because though it didn’t reach its full funding amount, I am proud to say I got so close and, in the process, learned a great deal about marketing, self-publishing, and project management. I also gained a ton of great press and a whole new audience because of the Kickstarter that probably wouldn’t have found Sequential Crush otherwise.
It took me a little bit of time to pick myself up and dust off but when I did, I decided to go the Amazon self-publishing route. Because the process is a little tricky for first timers I decided to start off with the ebook version for Kindle (Kindle Unlimited) and a few months later I created the paperback copy using Createspace. I know it sounds crazy to say, I’m so glad the Kickstarter failed because everything worked out for the best. While the book was ultimately a little different than I had envisioned at the start, it became the book it needed to be and I’m very proud of what I created.
All that said, I do recommend Kickstarter for other authors but I wouldn’t want anyone to get discouraged should their campaign not get funded. I view it as a step, a step that acts as a wonderful proving ground for an idea. Ultimately, if you believe in your book, you must publish it, whether that means in baby steps like I did or if you are fortunate enough to get it funded via Kickstarter.
EC: Your book touches upon the many different publishers’ personas for dispensing advice. Can you describe the differences between each publisher’s approach to these advice columns?
JN: In general, DC’s advice columnists were the most like what you’d see in a typical advice column in say, a women’s magazine. While smart and understanding, the typical answer from DC was filled with etiquette tips and had a tender (if brief) touch. Marvel’s “Suzan Says” column was definitely the hippest of the bunch, and Charlton’s main column hosted by Dr. Harold Gluck was the most parental and serious. The thing that all these publishers had in common was instructing readers to be their best selves by being themselves.
EC: What’s the silliest advice you’ve stumbled across? What’s the best advice?
JN: Some of the silliest advice I’ve ever read in the comics is from a 1951 advice column on how to make friends. It suggested “If it’s permissable [sic] in your office to take time out for a cigarette in the restroom, choose a time when some girl you’d like to know is doing the same thing. Many pleasant friendships have had their beginnings over a cigarette.” Obviously very dated! (Read more here)
In general, How to Go Steady is a compilation of the best of the best advice that really stresses the importance of being oneself and following your heart. One of my favorite examples of this is one that I put in the book that dealt with a young woman getting flak from her classmates for having a “very unattractive boyfriend.” Barbara Miles (columnist in DC’s Heart Throbs) responded “Enjoy your boyfriend and be happy with him. Good looks do not merit a true evaluation of what one is worth. You realize this and have learned it sooner than most. Believe in your decisions, feelings and have fun.” It doesn’t get better than that!
EC: You’ve teased us all with your next book. Is it a collection of interviews with Romance Comic creators? (Although he recently passed away, I’ve been obsessed with learning more about artist Jay Scott Pike. ) What can you tell me about your next project?
JN: I’m currently working on a few things but my next self-published work will be, as you mentioned, a collection of interviews with romance comic creators. I’ve finished interviewing and I’m now working on writing bios and putting together essential reading lists for each creator. A few of the interviews will be ones that I previously published on the blog, but there will also be new ones that I conducted especially for this book.
EC; Anything we should keep our eyes out for in Sequential Crush? Anything special planned?
JN; Besides the blog and the self-published books, I am working on going the traditional publishing route for another book idea I have. I am hopeful that by going this route, Sequential Crush will reach an even larger audience. I’ve also recently had some merchandise designed so keep an eye out for some t-shirts and pins. I would also like to eventually try my hand at writing an actual comic book romance story, so who knows–that may be something that happens eventually! The best way to keep up with what’s going on with Sequential Crush and my work is to join my mailing list.
EC; I can’t let you leave without asking about your illustrious grandfather, Martin Nodell. I can’t imagine what’s it like having a grandpa that illustrated Captain America and created the Green Lantern? Was it a big deal for you growing up? What did the other kids in school think?
JN: Ah yes, my grandpa! He will always be first and foremost my wonderful grandfather. I always felt a special connection with him and I loved to watch him draw and chat with him about art and life. It wasn’t that big of a deal when I was a little kid and it was only as I got older that I really realized his importance in the history of the comic book industry. That said, I can’t deny that my classmates in school weren’t excited every time I went to a comic book convention and brought goodies back. My grandfather is missed and I think about him all the time. I feel so thankful I had him in my life as long as I did. May his memory be a blessing!