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Why Marvel Comics Characters Got Sexier in the ‘60s

Knowledge Waits is a feature where I just share some bit of comic book history that interests me.

A while back, I wrote about how Cyclops and Jean Grey first got together off-panel. In that same column, I noted that Cyclops and Jean Grey did not actually kiss each other until Chris Claremont was writing the series!

In fact, in X-Men #98 (by Claremont, Dave Cockrum and Sam Grainger), Stan Lee and Jack Kirby even make a cameo to make a point about how they would never do stuff like this back when they were doing the strip...

And that was totally right! That was only the second time that Cyclops and Jean Grey had even KISSED in the comics! And the first time was just four issues earlier!

This is because, when the Marvel Universe began in the early 1960s, it was pretty much as chaste as you could get. This was clearly something that Stan Lee was pushing from an editorial perspective, as it wasn't like Marvel did not have artists who could draw sexy situations.

For instance, Jack Kirby (along with his partner of the time, Joe Simon) literally CREATED the romance comic book in 1947!

And obviously, Kirby famously drew some very sexy characters over the years, like Big Barda in Mister Miracle...

So it's not like Jack Kirby couldn't do sexy. However, that just wasn't what Marvel Comics was about at the start of the decade.

For instance, the first time that Mister Fantastic and Invisible Girl shared a kiss was in 1965 at their wedding in Fantastic Four Annual #3!

By far the steamiest panel in the first few years of Kirby and Lee's Fantastic Four was when Reed Richards has a thought projecter in Fantastic Four #27 and he imagined Sue in a bathing suit...

Meanwhile, unlike Kirby, Steve Ditko was never exactly known for anything steamy and so it made perfect sense for Amazing Spider-Man to be filled with some of the most chaste love triangles you could ever imagine, like this bit from Amazing Spider-Man #25...

I think Ditko gets a bit of a bum rap for how he drew women, but it was obviously not something that he was particularly known for.

In the 1950s, Marvel Comics went into a major sales slump and then, due to a problem with their distributor, nearly went out of business later in the decade. Almost all of their artists had to go find other work, with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko being the main artists at the revamped, lean Marvel.

Some of Marvel's artists found work at DC Comics, which had a very prominent selection of romance comics during the 1950s and 1960s. Romance comics, naturally, tended to be a bit more on the steamy side of things than your standard superhero comic book. All Comics Code approved, of course, but someone like John Romita certainly could do "sexier" things with these comics than he ever could with superhero work.

Here's a sample John Romita romance story from 1960...

Unlike Romita, Gene Colan started at DC Comics. Here's a Colan romance story from right before Colan went to work for Marvel...

As Marvel became more and more successful, though, they began to bring back the artists who had to go find work at DC and Marvel even began to lure in artists who had ONLY worked for DC to this point. Some of these romance artists then brought that style over to Marvel.

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