Fresh Romance – an apt title for this collection of five diverse short stories from Rosy Press and Oni Press. In most cases, love is anything but dull. This is certainly true of real-life relationships, but hasn’t always been the case in comic books – especially those assigned to the romance genre.
This can be a turnoff for readers who pick a comic off the shelf and flip through pages featuring characters who don’t share their skin color or sexual orientation. Fortunately, recent years have seen publishers and creators go the extra mile to make their fictional stories as diverse as those that take place beyond the panels.
Just look at Marvel’s All-New, All-Different Avengers, which features a black Captain America, a female Thor and a Muslim Ms. Marvel. The Fresh Romance anthology follows comics’ current diversity trend and serves up tales your parents would never have found on the racks when they were younger.
Luckily, we’re living in a time when we don’t need to worry about the Comics Code Authority getting in the way of good storytelling. The result: A series of stories that – despite the occasional fantastical element – highlight both the glorious and crushing feelings that accompany love.
Fresh Romance Volume 1 (Rosy Press/Oni Press)
Where it all Began
Like all great love stories, Fresh Romance’s began on the Internet – Kickstarter, to be precise. Fresh Romance itself is a monthly, all-digital romance comics magazine that can be found on the Rosy Press website. The brainchild of Janelle Asselin, Rosy Press publisher and senior editor at ComicsAlliance, the online campaign to forge a new future for romance comics more than surpassed its $28,000 goal thanks to more than 1,000 pledgers.
The end result is a venue for today’s up-and-coming talent to flex their romantic muscles. Stories range from a closeted, same-sex couple’s struggles as prom approaches to a fantastical riff on Beauty and the Beast. I was especially surprised to see how magical the stories were. I mean, literally, multiple shorts feature magic.
A Deeper Look at Love
Enough history, though – you just want to know if Fresh Romance is worth your time and money. I’ll say, if you’re craving a little more love in your pull list, then this anthology (and online series) should provide you with what you seek.
‘School Spirit’ is the first story in the anthology and also happened to be my favorite. Written by Kate Leth (Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat!) and illustrated by Arielle Jovellanos, it follows two couples dating in secret. As senior prom approaches, there’s the question of whether Justine or Malie is going with Miles, but Miles has someone else on his mind and so do Justine and Malie. Drama!
I haven’t read many classic romance comics, but this is the type of story I imagine they feature. Of course, what makes it so enjoyable is the fact that the characters seem realistic, the art pops off the page and it’s not watered down by the Comics Code Authority. As I mentioned before, there’s also magic – ensuring this isn’t your typical high school love story.
Also enjoyable is ‘First, Last And Always’ by Kieron Gillen (The Wicked + The Divine) and Christine Norrie. It’s a very short story about a girl who kisses like no one else. To reveal what happens when her supernatural lips touch another pair would spoil this four-page entry, but with Norrie’s cinematic art, it’s a nice note to end the anthology on.
I didn’t expect myself to enjoy ‘Ruined’ by Sarah Vaughn (Alex + Ada) and Sarah Winifred Searle, which is set during the Regency era, only because I’ve never had much interest in English history. However, the fact that Vaughn’s emphasis was on telling the story of two people thrown into a situation neither feels very comfortable in made this period piece relatable to readers of any era.
Now, while these stories certainly feature diverse characters, my main complaint with the anthology is too many of them featured a fantastical element. I understand we’re dealing with comic books, which just lend themselves better to fantasy and sci-fi elements, but I would have preferred a little more realism along the lines of ‘Ruined.’
Still, this is a very minor complaint. On the whole, I believe Fresh Romance achieves what it sets out to accomplish and fills an important niche on the shelves. And the fact that new Fresh Romance stories are released every month ensures more collections are on the way, something sure to please romance readers.