by John Lustig
When I signed up for John Lustig's Last Kiss e-mail newsletter at the San Diego Comic Con two years ago, I didn't know what I was getting myself into. At the time, I was accumulating a variety of comics, and the clean, "traditional" art style of Last Kiss appealed to my Silver Age sensibilities. Of course, when I opened that first e-mail a few days later and discovered some such woman lamenting about her sex life, I knew the weekly strip would be more than I bargained for. This week, with Valentines' Day a veritable specter of romance looming over everyone's shoulder, Last Kiss is really the perfect web comic to review, if only as a reminder that love can be laughing matter, too.
Since Lustig faithfully e-mails his strip freely every week, so I don't think he'd mind if I posted the latest example:
As you can see, the strength of Last Kiss is the power of contrast. Now, I'm not about to go all Joe Piscopo explained the art of stand-up comedy to Commander Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation on you, but needless to say we comic book fanboys understand the inherent reverence attached to the clean art style of the '50s and '60s, particularly native to war and romance titles. Romance comics in particular were usually little morality tales about the importance of patience, faithfulness, and communication in relationships; really, they were the Dr. Phil of '50s, as countless 'tween girls turned to those pulpy pages for stories to which they could relate or aspire. Yesterday's Falling in Love is a perfect example; in each of those three stories, despite the female characters' respective insecurities, the male figure is the one at fault for each couples' challenges. The innocence of these heartstring pluckers oozes off of the page, epitomizing the romance genre but also betraying the sheltered mentality of an entire generation.
Enter Last Kiss. Imagine these very same images, these classically rendered panels by the likes of legends Dick Giordiano and Jim Aparo, suddenly perverted by contemporary, sexually charged quips and punchlines. Yes, it's like putting Sarah Silverman in a Sally Worth strip, and the result truly is charming -- in a chilling kind of way. Browsing Lustig's website, I learned that these images are really old Charlton Comics panels; apparently, in 1987, the rights to Charlton’s entire library were for sale, and by the time Lustig found out, the good stuff was gone. Undaunted, he bought the forty issue Last Kiss series, which, he says, loaded with “shlock!” Still, the enduring quality of that old style, coupled with the liberal sensibilities of a new generation of readers, created a chemistry Lustig obviously couldn’t avoid. The result is a proverbial Pleasantville of sluts, horn-dogs, and unbridled desperation. And I get it in my inbox every week.
Last Kiss is definitely an acquired taste, with a fair amount of shock value and toilet humor. Still, after reading some of the strips I’ve missed and learning of the series’ real roots in classic comics, I’m grateful for its weekly embrace. Taking these comics that took themselves so seriously not so seriously has ironically preserved them for at least another decade, propelling the comic reader’s torrid romance with all things “classic” to dizzying new heights. I wonder, when Lustig has had his way with the seemingly unending content of those forty issues and decides to sell them himself, what will the next buyer have in store for us? When will Last Kiss truly be its last? I’m broken up just thinking about it.