Anthologies have always been hugely interesting for me. In the past, I’ve reviewed an issue of Dirty Diamonds and The Other Side. Anthologies offer a way for creators to get their work into the hands of comic fans that may not have ever heard of them, and Fresh Romance fills a niche I think the western market has been lacking for a long time. In the past, the US comic market was flooded with romance comics targeted towards women and young girls. However, because of the effects of the introduction of the Comics Code and the general down-turn of the comics industry during the 50’s and 60’s, romance comics fell by the wayside (you can read the full history here). With the creation of this collection of romance comics, we can see a slight revival of some more serious romance comics for the western audience again, and considering the comics featured in this volume, I’m excited to see what other comics will come out of this anthology.
Fresh Romance originally started as a Kickstarted magazine featuring creator-owned romance comics for a queer and diverse audience published by Rosy Press. When Rosy Press had to close down, Emet Press took over, keeping the same theme and general principles of the magazine intact. The first collected volume was published through Oni Press and features five short romance comics from a variety of different creators. All of them have their own unique style and story with a cast of diverse characters and romances.
Here are my top three favorites in no particular order:
School Spirit is probably the longest comic in this whole anthology, sitting at 65 pages in length, but due to its length, it’s also one of the more complete and well fleshed-out stories comparatively. The comic is a collaboration between Kate Leth as writer, Arielle Jovellanos as artist, Amanda Scurti as colorist, and Taylor Esposito as letterer. It’s an interesting story focusing on a high school romance with a magical twist and focus on queer love. One of the main characters, Corrine is a witch attending regular high school where only her closest friends know she has magical powers. It’s against the rules for magic users to get involved with a norm, so she and high school athlete Miles have to hide their relationship. And in an environment where lesbian relationships are frowned upon by their parents, lovers Justine and Malie are forced to lie and pretend to keep their relationship a secret.
These relationship dynamics are all wrapped around the larger plot of the school’s senior prom. School Spirit becomes an interesting comic that discusses the issues queer youth have to go through including approval by their parents and peer pressure of their classmates. It uses the f that Corrine is a witch as a way to both inject interest and a sense of uniqueness into their story while also offering a sort of mirror to the queer issues of having to keep the truth about who you are secret. The story also presents a nice contrast between Justine and Malie’s parents who are completely against them being gay and being together with Corrin’s parents who are gay but disapprove of Miles simply because he doesn’t have magic. I found myself really liking a lot of the characters in this short, especially Corrine’s parents and I almost hope they’ll wind up writing more in the future.
Jovellanos does a great job on the art in this story. It clearly reflects a distinct style, the character designs are fairly unique, and the expressions of the characters really adds a lot of personality to the comic. Scurti adds to this style with her skill at coloring that makes the comic and story feel complete. The art, the coloring, and the lettering all add a nice base for a story that deals with some serious issues of hiding part of someone’s identity (whether that’s being gay or having magic), the strain it can cause on relationships, and the hoops some people force themselves to jump through to keep those secrets. It’s definitely a story worth reading.
Ruined is the first part of a story written by Sarah Vaughn, illustrated and colored by Sara Winifred Searle, and lettered by Ryan Ferrier. It’s a pretty interesting romance comic set in the Victorian era. Catherine is a young, unmarried woman who, in the eyes of those around her, made a grave mistake in have a sexual relationship outside of marriage. She is forced into an arranged marriage with another man and now must deal with her feelings for the other man: to keep thinking about him or to let him go and try to make the most of her new marriage.
The comic plays with the idea of a Victorian arranged marriage, injecting into it modern ideas of consent while still discussing the problems associated with relationships in the Victorian Era. The contrast between her parents view that Catherine has somehow “ruined” herself through her sexual relationship with this mystery man and the acceptance of her new husband shows this difference between old and new ideas. Those ideas of impurity have been indoctrinated into her to the point where she questions the morality of her new husband because of his willingness to accept her as she is, lost virginity and all.
Searle’s art adds another great layer to the Victorian feel of the comic with it’s simplistic yet interesting style. The heavy line-work and minimal shading creates a slightly flat feel to the comic, but I don’t necessarily feel like that’s a bad thing. It kind of matches with the older setting of the story to have a more simplistic style. The only issue I have with this comic is that it’s unfinished, giving just enough taste of the story that I want to read more. Hopefully we’ll see more in the future, perhaps in later volumes of the anthology.
If I had to pick, Beauties might be my favorite out of this volume. The art is unique and interesting and the story is short yet fleshed out enough to provide a cohesive one-shot comic. This comic is written by Marguerite Bennett, illustrated and colored by Trungles, lettered by Rachel Deering, and has a cover by Kris Anka. The story feels like an old fairy tale or a different retelling of the story of Beauty and the Beast. A beast-man is captured by a Prince after stealing apples from his orchard, and is treated as a pet and a slave by the Prince and his three daughters. He manages to escape with the help of one of his daughters and they both run away together to build a new life.
It’s a story of love and the many different forms love can take, from the positive to the negative. Each different form is displayed through the Prince and his daughters in how they treat the beast. But it is the third daughter’s all-accepting love that allows her to truly understand and finally stay with the beast. It becomes a cautionary tale that one has to accept all of a person to really understand and love them, and that forcing ideals or feelings on another person will eventually drive them away or stifle any feelings they have.
But what really drew me to this comic was the art. Trungles is an amazing artist and this style has a lot of that almost stained glass aesthetic that I haven’t seen in many comics before. It matches well with the fairy tale nature of the story, giving it that simplistic yet whimsical look it needs to create and hold interest. Trungles also adds a touch of cultural diversity by giving the beast a blend of leopard and gazelle instead of the traditional bear or boar that we see in other beast-man stories. I really can’t wait to see what other art or comics Trungles will do in the future.
Overall I enjoyed my first look at the Fresh Romance series. I have volume 2 as well and will get around to reviewing that one after I get through more of my comic and manga backlog. If you’ve had the chance to read the anthology, let me know in the comments below what your favorite story was from the collection. If not, let me know what other comic anthologies you’ve read in the past that have stuck with you or you’d recommend.
~~Thanks for Reading!~~
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