How to Go Steady: An Interview with Comics Historian Jacque Nodell

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I stumbled across comics historian Jacque Nodell’s blog on romance comics, Sequential Crush, a few years back. I loved her historical analysis of the comics that provided insight into the period, but also showed a great love for the genre. Last March, I interviewed her about her work, then the following month, I had an opportunity to talk about Oni Press’s modern romance comic, Ares & Aphrodite with Nodell and the illustrator for the comic, Megan Levens.

Recently, Nodell has been busy working on self-publishing her historical, advice book mash-up, How to Go Steady.

How to Go Steady cover, words by Jacque Nodell, illustrations by Jenny Cimino

This is such a unique creation! It’s like an advice book and a history book, or am I leaving out a genre?

That’s exactly right! How to Go Steady is an illustrated book of comic book history, told in a fun, accessible, and hopefully useful way. It’s a perfect entry point for someone who isn’t familiar with romance comics.

When I first started following your blog Sequential Crush, it seemed like the book began as a more traditional history book? Is this true? And regardless, how has it evolved?

I started Sequential Crush with intentions of eventually writing a book on the topic of the 1960s and 1970s romance comics. In the early part of 2013, I began to write a book proposal to shop around. The proposal I wrote was for a traditional monograph encompassing the different facets of the romance comics of the era.

Though I received some really great feedback, no one was interested in publishing the book. I realized that if I wanted to make a book happen, I would need to self-publish. I wanted to write something that not only was smart, but fun, too. Being a historian by training, I cannot escape the deep seated urge to couch everything within a historical framework. However, I really believe in making history accessible and relevant to our lives today. The advice in the romance comics seemed like a perfect vehicle to tell a historical story and touch on the aspects of romance comics that are still pertinent today. There are a few mid-century specific tips thrown in there for good measure (hankie etiquette, anyone?), but most of the advice is simple, timeless, and universal.

Having the book illustrated became a really important part of the project to make it as widely appealing as possible, especially within the comic book community. Since there is only so much you can do with images under fair use, I decided that hiring Jenny Cimino to illustrate the book with art in the style of romance comics would really bring the book to life. A large portion of the funds raised by the Kickstarter campaign will go to Jenny to pay for the design and illustration of the book.   

One of my concerns with How to Go Steady being based on 1960s and 1970s vintage comics is representation. Representation in vintage romance comics has largely been of the white and the heterosexual variety. Will your book include more diverse representation, and if so, how?

It is true – the characters and stories that appeared in the vintage romance comics certainly reflect the biases of the comic book publishers and society at large at the time. It wasn’t until the early ’70s that characters of color started to appear, and even then, it wasn’t that often.

The relationship advice that I’ve selected for the book such as, staying true to oneself, being honest, things like that translate to EVERY type of relationship and romantic preference. These are qualities for all human beings to strive for and know no boundaries.

The romance comics of the ’60s and ’70s were also pretty one note when it came to body diversity. The majority of characters in the stories had “ideal” body types for the time. How to Go Steady will reflect a wide variety of people in many ways, including body shapes.

Though it may seem like a small point to mention, I will also task Jenny with creating women in the book with curly hair! As a curly girl myself, I have always wanted to see more representation of curls in popular media. Overall, I truly believe that we have created a very inclusive book that will appeal to a diverse audience. How to Go Steady is truly a book for anyone who simply loves love.

I love that you mention curly hair because first of all, when I saw your video, I thought, “she has great hair!” But I say that as a girl with very straight hair. And since you mention working with artist Jenny Cimino for illustration and increasing diverse representation, how do you work together as writer and artist? I always find that such a fascinating relationship!

Haha, well thank you! It has been a lifetime of trying to figure out how to manage the curls, but I think I have it mostly figured out!

I began researching and writing the book about three years ago. Once I was close to finished with the writing, I got in touch with Jenny to see if she was interested in being my illustrator. Luckily, she was super excited and had just started freelancing. I prepared a design brief and we had a long (and fun) Skype meeting to talk about what the book would look like. We decided early on to use a project management program called Asana to keep everything organized instead of sending things via email to one another.

I gave Jenny a basic idea of the illustrations I wanted her to do to get us going for the Kickstarter campaign and really, she just took it from there. She provided me with initial sketches (some were painted pieces) and once I gave her the okay, she finalized them in a vector style. Before creating the cover, we had an in-person meeting and Jenny went through my romance comic collection so she could really get a feel for the right look for the cover. Jenny’s vision for the book is so in line with mine that she has honestly been a breeze to work with. As I mention on the Kickstarter page, while the writing and editing tasks are complete, a large portion of the money raised will go to Jenny to finish the illustration and design work. Working with Jenny has been fantastic and I really hope that the project is funded and we can continue our partnership working on the book.

Can you tell me a little bit more about your grandfather’s work in comics and how that has impacted your own work in comics?

I am very proud of my grandfather, Mart Nodell, and his work in comics as the creator of the Green Lantern, an artist in the Timely Bullpen, and later, an art director for various advertising agencies including Leo Burnett.

I feel very fortunate I was able to spend quite a bit of time with my grandfather as a kid. I grew up attending comic book conventions and hanging around artists and other creatives. I always knew that I wanted to continue to attend conventions, and maybe even work in the industry.

Funny enough, for having a grandfather that created one of the major superheroes, I tend to gravitate toward non-superhero material. Along my journey with Sequential Crush, I discovered that my grandfather actually worked on romance comics while he was with Timely (now Marvel) as an art director. Though I am not an illustrator like he was, I definitely feel like I’m carrying the torch — or the lantern as I like to say!

One of the major themes I’ve taken out of my grandfather’s story is his resilience. He started off working in the theatre. When he didn’t find the success as an actor he had hoped for, he began to draw because as he put it, it was like acting but on paper. I feel that his creative malleability was not a weakness, but a strength that propelled him into a meaningful and impactful career.    

I always felt that my grandfather was incredibly approachable and treated all of his fans with dignity, respect, and genuine interest. I like to think that I am following in his footsteps in that regard as well.

That is so cool! Do you have a good story or two to share from him about making comics back in the day?

I know a lot about my grandfather’s time in comics, but honestly, I feel like there is still so much to find out. I’m thankful I was able to spend as much time with him as I did considering we lived almost 1,500 miles apart and he and my grandmother were frequently traveling the world as guests at various conventions. Once I complete this book, I plan to start working on a book about my grandfather and his career. I think I’ll have to leave you hanging so you come back for book #2!


The Kickstarter campaign for How to Go Steady is currently underway. To check it out, click here!

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Smashing the patriarchy with glitter, pink lipstick, and cowboy boots. You can follow her on Instagram @ginnistonik

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