Who doesn’t like buxom 1950s actresses? Commies, that’s who!
Des Taylor, writer/artist of The Vesha Valentine Story, which is published by SLG and costs $12.95, has a very specific mindset when it comes to his comics. He likes stylish, gorgeous women, has an old-school sensibility about fame, and loves fashion in general.
His first comic was about a modern young lady who works as publicist, while this one is about a dancer’s rise to fame in the 1950s. But, hey, if you’re going to have a preference for stories, you could do a lot worse than this kind!
Vesha Valentine is subtitled “A Pin-Up Storybook,” and it’s definitely that. Taylor isn’t writing a traditional comic – this is much more like a coffee-table book about an actress, with text separate from the many “photographs” reproduced within. Taylor keeps the prose to a minimum, which is nice, as he allows the pictures to tell the bulk of the story. Taylor isn’t a bad writer, but he’s also not the greatest one, so the fact that he gives us the bare bones of Vesha’s “biography” through text and allows his wonderful drawings to pick up the slack is nicely done.
The story is a fairly clichéd tale of an actress rising to fame and falling from it, with all the redemption that you’d expect from a VH1 “Behind the Music” special. Vesha is the illegitimate and clandestine daughter of an actress whose plane is shot down during World War II, leaving the youngster to be raised by conservative grandparents.
She learned about her mother and decided she too wanted to be a star, so she fled to Paris (her mother was Italian but her grandparents lived in France) and became a dancer at a cabaret. Soon she was starring in European movies, then American ones, and she was the biggest star on the planet. She married a Navy pilot who was later shot down over Vietnam. When she was at her peak, she was sued by a former manager for breach of contract. Her career spiraled out of control … but could she regain her past glory????
Well, that’s for me to know and you to find out. Taylor seems like a fairly sentimental guy, so perhaps you can figure it out. The story isn’t really the point, because the book is just a chance for Taylor to have some fun creating a life of a 1950s actress, and he nails that. He gives us scenes from her cabaret days; black-and-white stills from press conferences she attended and “candid” shots of her getting off planes and stepping out of cars; movie stills from her best and/or most famous roles; movie posters; magazine covers; and newspaper clippings, all telling the life story of this fictional actress. The design of the book is very nice – Taylor has a strong, cartoony line that fits the glamour of the 1950s, and he models Vesha after such screen icons like (as he writes in his introduction) Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren, Rita Hayworth, and Ann-Margret, so of course she’s stunning and nicely contoured.
Taylor, in the style of the times, makes sure the book is playfully risqué, as Vesha knows how to sell her sex appeal. Taylor also “ages” some of the pictures, giving this book a very authentic feel to it.
The biggest problem with the book is how innocent it is, which I know is what Taylor wants to do, but it also means this remains just a picture book and not a great read. Taylor hints at affairs with married men and darker parts of Vesha’s personality, and the one page with her posing on the covers of some gentlemen’s magazines (the Maxim of their day?) and pulp paperbacks is one of the more interesting in the comic, because it shows that Vesha has a dark side, but Taylor only mentions her alcohol and drug addiction in passing. I know why Taylor does this, because he’s much more concerned with Vesha the performer and because the way the book is created, with “real” photographs, you’re probably not going to see Vesha at her worst, but it does highlight the fact that we’re reading an “authorized biography” of the performer and not an actual narrative. Had Taylor wanted to create a comic book narrative starring Vesha as a character, the book would have looked much different. He creates what he wants to create, and I can’t fault him for that, but it does leave us wishing the text matched the visuals in quality a bit more.
The Vesha Valentine Story is an enjoyable trinket that shows both Taylor’s strengths and his weaknesses very well. I hope he gets better at writing, because his visual work is really well done. I’d like to see more from him, and I hope he enjoys making comics so he does more of them.