Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Love, exciting and new!

What are the romance tropes you just can’t stand?I’m not talking about the toxic stuff, just tropes that get under your skin and annoy you. And I’m not showing these John Romita covers as examples of bad tropes, I just think he’s a master of romance comics art.For one example, I’m not very fond of the small-town romance trope that assumes women should never, ever leave the town they grew up with or break up with their high-school boyfriend. What can they possibly gain? More stuff to do in the city, maybe a job that pays five times better, but come on — don’t they remember Judy Garland in Wizard of Oz saying how you should never look for happiness outside their own back yard? Your first love is always your true soulmate!I saw several stories in this vein when working on my time-travel film book, where the female lead who made the mistake of leaving gets thrown back in time to set right what she put wrong. I think the concept is a big pile of heaping bullshit. It’s also much more targeted at women than men. It can sometimes work for me — Nicolas Cage’s Family Man, for instance — but it’s the exception.I have a stronger dislike for stories where we have male/female BFFs and one of them is secretly in love with the other. For years. And never said anything. And now their dream girl/guy is about to ride off into the sunset with someone else — will they find the courage to speak up before it’s too late?I don’t think this is an inherently horrible trope, just one I dislike a lot. Most of my close friends, including my two best friends, are women. I’ve crushed on several, been in love with at least one and been attracted to many of them but even so the relationships have been much more based on friendship than anything else. The subtext I always pick up in these stories (even if it’s not meant) is that of course men and women can’t be friends, not unless they feel something more (I’ve heard the same complaint about close male friendships in fiction). Yes, it can. Get over it.Anybody got a trope they’d like to add?

#SFWApro. All covers from Mikes’s Amazing World.



  1. The one about not leaving the small town reminds me of my friend Sydney Heifler’s research on romance comics and how they shaped adolescent attitudes in post-WWII America:


    “Cold War scholar Paul Hirsch argues that the United States government controlled the production of most comic books during World War II through the Writers’ War Board (WWB). Though technically not a government agency, the government funded the WWB and determined 85 percent of its production to engender the American people’s support for government policies.

    In 1943, for example, the WWB initiated the use of comic books as propaganda to shape Americans’ perceptions of race and ethnicity to correspond with the war efforts against Germany and Japan. This influence lasted until 1948, when the war was over and the government decided the WWB was no longer needed to achieve citizen support. Maureen Honey argues that the WWB shaped popular fiction first to drive women into the workforce during WWII and then to transition them back into their homes at the end of the war.

    Hired out to steamy romance confession magazines popular amongst women readers, writers from the WWB’s Confessions Committee created stories to sway American women’s behavior. For instance, in these stories, working-class women who supported the war effort found true love. Middle-class women who would not get out and work failed in love. As the war headed to its end, these magazines began to focus on the importance of transitioning women back home. Themes of feminine values, the sanctity and fulfillment of marriage, and the importance of being a stay-at-home wife and mother began to proliferate in confession magazines.

    Simon and Kirby’s Young Romance mirrored this teaching effort and established comic book social-role instruction for women.”

    These tropes became tropes partially as propaganda, partially as “giving the audience what it wants,” and partially due to being created mostly by middle-aged guys with old-fashioned attitudes.

    The other one, the lovelorn person who can never reveal their feelings, is best exemplified by Ray Charles’ hit “You Don’t Know Me,” a guaranteed pity-party for anyone who has declared themselves “friendzoned.”


    I also hold the romance comics responsible for propagating the tired trope that “the good girls always want the bad boys.” Invariably, they learn their lesson before they find themselves saddled with a drunken violent loser, and rush back to the decent schlub they ignored before.

    1. Edo Bosnar

      One thing about the “it’s better to stay in your small town (or suburbs)” trope that struck me is that it isn’t limited to romance – comics or otherwise. I’m thinking of American TV shows, especially, but not limited to, sitcoms, in which a character say, gets an awesome dream-job offer in some far off big city, but then decides not to take it b/c he/she thinks it’s better to stay close to mom & dad, friends, etc. Or a kid who graduates from high school with top grades and gets accepted to the best schools but then decides to enroll in some university in town (or even a community college!) so he/she can still live at home. So basically the opposite of what usually happens in real life. And in the case of TV shows, created by people – from the actors down to the production assistants – who all fled from their small town or suburb as fast as their feet could take them…

    2. It’s a common romance novel trope too, usually with the guy proving he’s got the Right Stuff under his wild-man facade. The badly written ones leave me thinking “oh shit, this woman’s inn for a life of misery.”

  2. Greg Burgas

    The idea that men and women can’t be friends really bugs me, too. I’m friends with plenty of women, and it’s never been an issue, and it’s frustrating that fiction writers can’t see that.

    I’ve mentioned before that one of my big annoyances with romance is the idea that hate turns to sex so easily. You get the people screaming at each other and then, suddenly, they’re making out and more. It’s ridiculous.

    I think my biggest pet peeve is that love and sex are the same thing. They are so not, but fiction writers don’t seem to understand that. It’s very frustrating!

    1. While I’m annoyed Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams are BFFs for almost the entire Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) then turn out to have Feelings, I can forgive it. Unlike most such plots, Sutherland’s completely accepted Adams is with someone else and isn’t eating himself up inside. Plus he really makes a great friend — when she starts talking about how her husband’s been replaced by an imposter, he’s the only one who listens rather than ignoring her or talking over her.

  3. mike loughlin

    I hate when one person sees their love interest with a friend or family member and gets insanely jealous when the two observed people make any physical contact. Then, the character and love interest don’t immediately talk about it and clear the air. It’s one of those idiot plots that only happens to give the show or movie conflict when there shouldn’t be any.

    1. There’s a really bizarre version I’ve seen in some old sitcoms where the couple are mouthing words of love because they’re rehearsing a play. Which the protagonist’s wife/boyfriend/SO hasn’t mentioned being in. And never goes to rehearsals, just meets up the other actor and says their lines. And never apparently has any lines with any other actors that need rehearsing.
      More generally I agree with you that the refusal to air whatever they think the problem is drags things out way longer than necessary.

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