On Friday, I attended the Fresh Romance panel moderated by Janelle Asselin, a former editor at DC Comics, Disney, and Comics Alliance and the founder and current editor-in-chief of Rosy Press. Rosy Press’ only monthly title is Fresh Romance, which is a digital romance anthology comic that comes out on the last Tuesday of every month and contains three ten page stories that are usually serialized. The comics can be found on Comixology or the Rosy Press website and are just a click away.
Currently, Fresh Romance has two stories running and one that has recently wrapped off. There is “School Spirit” written by Kate Leth (Bravest Warriors) with art by Arielle Jovellanos (Jem Annual) and colors from Amanda Scurti. “School Spirit” is a high school romance about two lesbian teens pretending to date boys so people won’t find out about and also has magic and superpowers. There is also “Ruined”, a Georgian (1804) era romance about a woman, who is caught up in an arranged marriage. Writer Sarah Vaughn said that she has “a 200 page story” planned for it, and the story is drawn and colored by Sarah Winifred Searle (Smut Peddler). The first story to wrap up was “Ruby Equation”, a cute story about a match-making being from another dimension, who doesn’t believe in love and ends up falling for someone herself. This story was written by Sarah Kuhn with art by Sally Jane Thompson and colors by Savanna Ganucheau. Fresh Romance also has articles about love, sexuality, the creative process behind its comic, and the always interesting “Divorcee Club” so you definitely get some great value for your $4.99.
The Fresh Romance panel discussed these stories, the romance genre in general, and Asselin made some announcements about some upcoming stories in the comic. The panelists were the moderator Asselin, writer Sarah Vaughn (“Ruined”), artist Arielle Jovellanos (“School Spirit”), colorist Amanda Scurti (“School Spirit”), writer Jeremy Holt (Southern Dog), and artist Janet Lee (Northanger Abbey.) After praising the talents of Fresh Romance cover artists Babs Tarr and Kevin Wada, Asselin asked Jovellanos about her inspiration for “School Spirit” giving kudos to its bright palette and fashion sense. Jovellanos said that her art for “School Spirit” came from the dream of high school romance as well as shojo manga, like Fruits Basket. One difficulty in Leth’s script was that the main witch character had to have a different outfit every day, which led to her scouring Modcloth a lot for fashion ideas.
Next, Asselin chatted with Sarah Vaughn and Janet Lee, who has done many Jane Austen adaptations for Marvel, about “Ruined”. Lee talked about how early-19th century British male fashion was the most dynamic of any era until the 1970s, and that she helped fix a little error in “Ruined’s” clothing design where a male character was wearing pants. Until 1810 when they became casual wear, pants were only wore by sailors and the working class so it would be period inaccurate for an upper class gentleman to wear them in 1803. “Ruined” also happens to be the first Fresh Romance story to feature both male and female nudity, including penis, which came up a lot. Christians in the 19th century weren’t circumcised to this detail found its way into Fresh Romance #5. This discussion showed the attention to period detail in “Ruined”, and Vaughn and Lee’s passion for this era. As someone who studied the novels of Jane Austen with an Oxford don-in-training in her longtime home of Bath (which she ended up hating) in summer 2014, this was incredibly fun to hear at a panel at a comic convention.
The majority of the panel included announcements and previews of upcoming Fresh Romance stories, which won’t be 200 page basically graphic novels spread out across three arcs like “Ruined”. Writer Marguerite Bennett (Angela, Bombshells) and artist Trungles will be doing a dark, feminist twist on the classic Beauty and the Beast story, and Kris Anka (Uncanny X-Men) will be doing the cover for Fresh Romance #7 in the art deco story. Asselin also announced a Dungeon and Dragons themed love story called “Don’t Break Up the Party”. It is written by Jen Van Meter (Death-Defying Doctor Mirage) with art by Kyle Latino (Outlaw Territory) and follows the last DnD campaign of a group of college students before they graduate. The tension comes from two party members’ unrequited feelings for each other, and the story will play with gender identity and take place in the game and real world.
The next comic announced was “Purple Love Balloon” from writer Marcy Cook (The Mary Sue, Panels) and art from Maya Kern (Monster Pop!). It is a 20 page silent story that begins sexy and ends sweetly as a couple wins a balloon at a fair, then loses it, and searching for it. It features a trans woman of color and a disabled man as protagonists. Then, there is “Love and Sprockets” from writer Taneka Stotts (Full Cirlce) and artist Genue Revuelta, which is a sci-fi story about a woman, who falls in love with a special love robot (It’s set in the future.) and has some BDSM elements.
To close out the announcement segment, Jeremy Holt talked about his upcoming story in Fresh Romance, which is a straight-up romantic comedy with no sci-fi or fantasy elements with artist Liz Beals. His plot is grounded in the very real life problem of dating in a big city and follows a young woman, who chooses her career over dating when her family wants her to settle down and get married. To put them at ease, she subscribes to a service that gets her “a fake boyfriend” with evidence on social media that she has one. The tension builds as her lies get more and more complex. After this, Janet Lee announced that she was drawing a Regency romance story in a future issue of Fresh Romance, which will be a real treat because she has a lot of experience doing Jane Austen adaptations for Marvel as well as her recent KickStarter graphic novel version of Pride and Prejudice.
Before the audience Q and A, Janelle Asselin asked the panelists a couple general questions about the romance genre. First, she asked what they liked about the romance genre. Jovellanos said that she loved drawing people making out, which is rooted in her love for “shipping culture” (Where you pick two hopefully fictional character who should date/kiss/have sex with each other.) She enjoys drawing quiet, tender moments in relationships. Sarah Vaughn’s favorite part of the romance genre is “tension”, which is definitely on display in “Ruined” where her heroine is unsure about getting married and her life afterwards.
Jeremy Holt said that he was the only one in his friend group, who liked romantic comedies, but would have a romantic comedy once a month with a friend. He likes the hopefulness of falling in love in these stories even though it is hard to meet someone in a city because everyone is busy, and it’s hard to fit them in your life. Janet Lee enjoys the romance genre because it is full of exhilarating moments.
Finally, Asselin asked the panel what kind of romance stories they liked to read personally. Jovellanos said she had “fanfic flashbacks” and enjoyed the slow burn and brief glancees of pining for someone while Amanda Scurti said she liked wacky, silly romances. Sarah Vaughn said thick regency romances with sex were her favorite because of the social mores about sex at the time along with the pretty dresses and cravats. Asselin closed by saying that the romance genre is a great fit for comics because the visuals of comics bring the eroticism of romance novels to vibrant life.
The panel concluded with a lively audience Q and A and left me thinking about what the comics industry would be like if romance comics instead of superhero comics had won supremacy over the reader market after Comics Code Authority was instituted in the 1954. A happier, lovelier place, perhaps. Who knows?