I’ve been a huge supporter of Rosy Press’s romance comic anthology series Fresh Romance from the very beginning. It’s a terrific series featuring wonderfully romantic stories by some incredibly talented creators. I listed Fresh Romance #1 as my 5th favorite single issue of last year, and series garnered 4 nominations at the Autostraddle Comic Awards (for writers Kate Leth and Marguerite Bennett, colorist Amanda Scurti and Queer Couple Malie and Justine). Before now, it was only available digitally, or in a very limited run of the first issue. That’s all changing as Rosy Press is teaming with Oni Press to launch a Kickstarter campaign aimed at printing a physical volume of the series featuring “School Spirit,” “Ruby’s Equation,” “Beauties” and the first chapter of “Ruined.”
“School Spirit” is a really adorable high school romance comic that’s like if Archie comics were full of queer people of color who also could do magic. I love this story, the art and colors are gorgeous, the writing is funny and sweet and great, and it all comes together to create a truly wonderful reading experience. “Ruby’s Equation” is an absolutely adorable slice of life comic about a girl with supernatural powers working at a coffee shop trying to create love between others and realizing that maybe she’s missing out too. “Beauties” is a straight up beautiful comic that’s a really great twist on the classic Beauty and the Beast type story. Finally, there’s “Ruined,” by Sarah Vaughn, Sarah Winifred Searle, and Ryan Ferrier, a really amazing and subtle regency-era comic about a newly married couple who have yet to get to know each other. If you’re a fan of Pride and Prejudice or Jane Eyre, this comic is perfect for you. There’s also a brand new comic by Kieron Gillen and Christine Norrie that’s about the magic of a first kiss.
These are super great comics that I loved reading and loved talking about throughout last year. I really want this campaign to succeed, so I talked to “School Spirit” artist Arielle Jovellanos, “Ruby’s Equation” writer Sarah Kuhn and “Beauties” artist Trungles about what it was like working on the series, what they’re looking forward to in the physical version of the book and why fans should support this campaign.
M: What’s been your favorite part of working with Fresh Romance?
Arielle: Definitely being part of the “School Spirit” team and getting to work with writer Kate Leth, colorist Amanda Scurti, letterer Taylor Esposito, and editor Janelle Asselin.
It’s also really, really humbling and rewarding to be part of the revived legacy of the American romance comic. Around the time I got tapped to work on “Fresh Romance”, I was really into looking at classic cartoonists like Jack Kirby and Alex Toth. I’ve always loved the look of old romance comics, so I bought a compilation of Kirby’s work for “Young Romance” and flipped through it in awe. Sometimes, I would actually look and reference how he laid out his panels to help me figure out how to balance so many characters in so little space.
Sarah: Comics and romance stories are two of my favorite things in the world, so the chance to work on romance comics was like a sparkly unicorn dream. And like Arielle, I loved working with the “Ruby Equation” team on our grouchy supernatural barista story: artist Sally Jane Thompson, colorist Savanna Ganucheau, letterer Steve Wands (we called ourselves Team S), and of course Janelle, who brought it all together. I love debates about weird minutiae (did I mention I’m a comics fan?), so all of our long email threads about topics like “are there enough sparkles on this panel?” and “what do Ruby’s different levels of blushing really mean?” were like candy for me. It kind of felt like we were all ’shipping the characters together — only we also got to work as a team to actually make them kiss.
Trungles: I loved the entire process, honestly. Marguerite’s writing is beautiful, Janelle’s editorial process is somehow both exacting and conducive to an exciting amount of creative freedom, and our letterer, Rachel, did such a stellar job of tying it all together. I was excited to be a part of the process, but nothing prepared me for just how blown away I was with how smoothly the process went. Personally, I’m always afraid that when someone approaches me for a project, they’re looking for a technician who can produce images and not a storytelling collaborator. For Rosy Press, I was so easily engaged and invested in the narrative because it was clear that everyone’s voices were given full consideration. I loved it!
M: How has working on romance comics been different than working on other comics for you?
Arielle: Actually, working on romance comics felt like a natural jump for me. Prior to working on “Fresh Romance,” the only other comics I worked on were personal assignments for school that never really included romantic scenes.
I pretty much learned everything I know about drawing human beings interacting with each other from drawing shipping fanart. Romantic shipping. Friendshipping. You name it. There’s so much nuance in how two or three characters can interact with each other in the same space and how body language is affected by being around people you love. I was already interested in figuring out how to draw all that, and a story like “School Spirit” with four main characters who have different relationships with each other was such a fun way to explore that territory.
Sarah: This is actually my first comics work! But like Arielle, it felt like a natural fit for me. Pretty much everything I’ve ever worked on has some element of romance — my first breakout bit of prose was a romantic comedy novella set at a comic book convention (One Con Glory) and my upcoming novel, Heroine Complex, has a lot of kissing in it. Generally, the way I approach writing big, set piece-y romance scenes is similar to the way I approach writing big, set piece-y action scenes — there’s a dramatic build, there’s meticulous choreography, and there’s a big, heart-stopping moment. The climactic kiss in “Ruby” is a good example — I worked a lot on the build to that moment, the choreography of that moment, and I did an extra level of panel math to ensure we’d have a splash page just for the moment itself: the kiss.
Trungles: This was my first comic for a publisher, and it was such a natural fit because I come from a background of fairy tale literature and children’s book iconography. With Beauties, I felt right at home with presenting the fantastic as very matter-of-fact, and romance dovetailed into it with very little fuss. Personally, I absolutely love creating sumptuous atmospheres around the idea of fairy tale romances, so it wasn’t unlike the work I had done before. We’re all saying this feels natural to us, and I think it’s worth noting that the writers and the folks at Rosy Press took great care and consideration in investing in our voices as artists. We’re all finding that this is a good fit! That’s really awesome to me.
M: What your favorite part of your specific Fresh Romance comic?
Arielle: Honestly, my favorite types of stories typically have to do with groups of friends having weird adventures together in otherwise domestic spaces. I loved the additional tension of secret magic butting up against the secret romances of “School Spirit.”
Also, the main four characters, Justine, Malie, Corrine, and Miles really snuck up on me! I didn’t expect to fall in love with them as much as I did, but I was honestly probably more excited about receiving each new issue script from Kate more than anybody! I got really emotionally invested in this cast, and I loved getting to know them and finding more ways to draw the nuance of each personality.
One of the ways I tried to solidify character was in each of their wardrobes. Picking new outfits for each issue was, of course, a huge highlight of working on “School Spirit.”
Sarah: Oh my God, Arielle, the “School Spirit” outfits you came up with are to die for! That’s something I looked forward to every month with all of the stories in Fresh Romance: the clothes! Because they do say a lot about the characters. And also because they are just fabulous. On “Ruby,” I gave general notes about all of the characters’ styles in the beginning, and Sally just ran with it. She and Savanna came up with this adorable lemon print shirt for Ruby in the final issue that I totally covet. My other favorite part was seeing the amazingly nuanced facial expressions Sally drew for Ruby — the character tends to be really grumpy and annoyed all the time, and that can be very one-note if the expressions aren’t hinting at all the other complicated feelings going on underneath, which I tried to write out as much as possible in the script and which Sally then took to the next level. I already liked Ruby cause, you know, I wrote her — but Sally made me love Ruby.
Trungles: With Beauties, I was given free rein to make the clothing outrageous and to draw from as many places as I wanted. I loved drawing all the dresses! I’m not very experienced with creature design, but Krasna, our beast, was incredibly fun to work with, visually. Aside from the fun I had with the way he looks, I loved the way Marguerite writes a fairy tale. She does a fantastic job of writing the fantastic in a very succinct, naturalistic way. It really moves your imagination along — it makes you work to invest in the story’s universe because the writing cleverly implies that none of this magic and wonder is strange to you, and you go, “Ah, yes, I definitely know what that looks like or how that works.” In just reading the script, I felt like this was a world I came from.
M: None of your comics fit all the typical narratives of popular romance — either they have queer characters, people of color or multiple of those things — why was that important for you to include in your work?
Sarah: In romance fiction, there are some great authors writing wonderful stories with diverse leads, like Courtney Milan, Nalini Singh, Beverly Jenkins, Rebekah Weatherspoon — just to name a few! Certainly, I hope there will be even more in the coming years, and that we’ll be seeing more and more romance protagonists who represent all different identities, because everyone deserves to see themselves as the hero of the story, to see themselves having fun, romance-y adventures and falling in love. Growing up, I certainly didn’t see many people who looked like me centered in any genre, so it’s important to me to write kickass Asian lady leads whenever I can.
Trungles: Having characters of color at the fore should be so organic. If there are people of color in your life and your community, there should be people of color in your imagination. That’s just basic consideration. I’m of the mind that if you can have anthropomorphic beasts, magic spells, and enchanted ruins, you can stand to imagine, as in the case of Beauties, Asian characters as central figures in an amalgam fantasy universe. Especially with fairy tales, there’s a tendency to default to a Western aesthetic – we know Grimm, we know Andersen, we know Perrault, and we are inclined to be familiar with the fantastic through their lenses because they are named authors. The Chinese story Ye Xian and its Vietnamese cousin Tấm Cám predate Cendrillon, Aschenputtel, and Cenerentola, but for all their influence, they are not narratives with which western audiences are especially familiar. Romance and the Western fairy story is very much the status quo, and in many ways it’s central to the popular imagination, at least stateside. My use of western clothing aesthetics alongside Southeast Asian temple structures nestled in forests with Asian protagonists and a Beast that more closely related to the kirin than a bull is intentionally reflective of my sensibilities as someone who is Asian and American. It was an opportunity to navigate all those things as a whole experience and not as palatable, piecemeal categories in the way a lot of other avenues for identity discourse will take.
Arielle: I have so many strong feelings about representation in all facets of storytelling. I’m Filipina-American and it means a lot to have a hand in putting these different colors, shades, and narratives in visible places. This is the stuff that would have meant the world to me as an awkward teenager raised on a million microaggressions. It sounds a little dramatic, but I really do believe in the power of positive, diverse storytelling and it’s potential to change the world, and if I can use those powers to tell the stories I want to see, then I’ll totally jump on that chance!
M: What’s your all time favorite love story?
Arielle: Oh my gosh — that’s hard!! “Captain America: Civil War” when it comes out in May probably, haha?
Or maybe Howl and Sophie’s ultra-slow burn love you/hate you romance from the book version of Howl’s Moving Castle? Or — I don’t even know if this is necessarily my favorite, but I still think a lot about the doomed ABC sitcom “Selfie,” a modern “My Fair Lady” remix with Karen Gillan and John Cho. Any love story with John Cho as the romantic lead is the perfect love story to me.
Sarah: Haha, I agree with Arielle — too hard! I have long lists of cross-indexed favorites — would you like to see my Excel spreadsheets? No? Well, then, I’ll just mention the first romance I ever imprinted on, which was Han Solo and Princess Leia. It set up a lifelong obsession with the “I hate you… but I really want to do you” trope as well as an unhealthy fixation on the idea that dirty hands are hot.
Trungles: Beauties was so perfect because one of my absolute favorite love stories is a relative of the Beauty and the Beast story called East of the Sun and West of the Moon. I’m a sucker for those Cupid-and-Psyche stolen bridegroom stories. These stories take a particular interest in the agency of its women protagonists in ways that I think contemporary adventures take for granted. I love romances, but I love matter-of-fact adventures even more. East of the Sun and West of the Moon never really explains love, but it does imply that it’s something worth an adventure beyond the ends of the earth.
M: What are you most excited about seeing these print editions come about?
Arielle: At NYCC, ComiXology printed a few thousand copies of Fresh Romance #1 and it was SO amazingly satisfying to see my pages and hold that work in my hand. Fresh Romance will always be incredibly significant to me as my first published comic work, and having a tangible print edition to put on my bookshelf will be such a thrill!
Sarah: I was totally following the NYCC event on Twitter and seething with jealousy that I couldn’t hold a print copy of Fresh Romance in my hands! The fact that we’ll have this beautiful book all collected and printed is just the best.
Trungles: I want to hold it! Plus, it’s fantastic to be able to share these stories with my family, who don’t really have access to digital publications like this. And selfishly, Kevin Wada and Kris Anka both did covers for Beauties, which blew me away. I can’t wait to see them in print!
M: Do you have any upcoming projects we should be looking out for?
Arielle: I’ve got a couple things in the works that are under the mighty NDA, but I can mention that I’m working on a fun project with Stela, a new mobile comics company! Writer Jeremy Lambert and I have been cooking up something really cool and I will very vaguely mention that I did a bunch of research on the clothing, so you can hopefully expect some more lovingly drawn outfits from me.
Sarah: My novel, Heroine Complex — the first in my urban fantasy series from DAW Books starring Asian American superheroines — comes out in July. It contains demonic cupcakes, supernatural karaoke battles, and as I said before: lots of kissing. I’m also writing some Barbie comics for Papercutz with art by the amazing Alitha Martinez. The first one comes out in September and as with Fresh Romance, there should be tons of great outfits. I like that Arielle and I are both focused on the outfits.
Trungles: I don’t know if I can say in detail just yet, but I’ve been working on some covers, I’ve got a gallery piece on deck (which is unusual for me), and I’m working on a pretty straightforward Andersen’s Little Mermaid comic.
M: Why should people support this Kickstarter campaign?
Sarah: I think it represents a level-up for a great, innovative new publisher doing cool stuff: publishing fresh comics stories from a wide array of diverse voices. I can’t wait to see the finished book and I can’t wait to see what Rosy Press and Janelle do next.
Trungles: People should kick-start this campaign because it’s such a unique project and an incredible way to engage with romance in comics. We’re so used to indulging in power fantasies within comic books, and they can be fun, but I love being able to relish in the throes of a good romance. And a lot of my favorite writers and artists are all in it! I’ve never seen a publication in such a particular genre made to be so accessible. I think it’s truly worth the investment.
Arielle: Basically what Sarah and Trung said! Fresh Romance is pretty and positive and made with a lot of heart. Having it in print will only let the publication grow and expand, and will allow even more amazing creators the chance to tell their stories!
There are still two weeks left in the campaign and some super great rewards, so head on over to the Kickstarter page and support this book now!
New Releases (March 2)
Giant Days #12 (Boom!)
Angel and Faith Season 10 #24 (Dark Horse)
Batgirl #49 (DC)
Bob’s Burgers #9 (Dynamite)
Dejah Thoris #2 (Dynamite)
Vampirella Volume 3 #1 (Dynamite)
A-Force #3 (Marvel)
Black Widow #1 (Marvel)
Darth Vader #17 (Marvel)
Another Castle #1 (Oni Press)
Lucky Penny (Oni Press)
Stumptown Vol. 3 #9 (Oni Press)
Welcome to Drawn to Comics! From diary comics to superheroes, from webcomics to graphic novels – this is where we’ll be taking a look at comics by, featuring and for queer ladies. So whether you love to look at detailed personal accounts of other people’s lives, explore new and creative worlds, or you just love to see hot ladies in spandex, we’ve got something for you.
If you have a comic that you’d like to see me review, you can email me at mey [at] autostraddle [dot] com.