Love Is In the Air for New Crowdfunded Comic Anthology 'Fresh Romance'

Editor and publisher Janelle Asselin talks about reviving the romance comic for a new audience.
Kevin Wada/Rosy Press

Romance is making a long overdue comeback — in comic books, at least.

This week sees the launch of the Kickstarter campaign for Fresh Romance, the first project from the newly-established Rosy Press, a new publisher created by former DC Entertainment and Disney editor Janelle Asselin. Less than two full days into its campaign, Fresh Romance has raised more than $20,000 towards its goal of creating "a new future for romance comics with diverse comics for passionate readers" (as well as an outlet for new creators). The Hollywood Reporter talked to Asselin about the project, the successful launch of its crowdfunding campaign and where romance comics can go next.

"I was surprised by the velocity of the response to the Fresh Romance Kickstarter, absolutely, but I did have high hopes about us getting funded," Asselin admits, saying that she feels "very optimistic" about the initial response. "Part of why I wanted to do a Kickstarter was to help gauge interests — if there isn’t enough interest to fund a Kickstarter for a project like this, it’s unlikely there will be enough interest to sustain it long term."

Since leaving Disney in 2013, Asselin has split her time between journalism (she's currently senior editor at Comics Alliance) and freelance editing. "One of my specialties has become helping new and non-established talent figure out how to navigate the comics industry and hone their work for publishing," she says, noting that "when you’re a freelance editor, you don’t get to hone a publishing line or bring creators together in quite the way you get to when you’re working at a publisher. I love editing and have since I started, but I love all of editing, including the weird nuts and bolts stuff like scheduling people and bringing in talent and doing paperwork."

Fresh Romance, she says, came in part from a desire to "edit comics that I thought were fun and entertaining without having to worry about fitting into the publishers that are currently around in comics today." Also present in her decision was the fact that, as a genre, romance comics aren't very prevalent in the current American marketplace. "I really enjoy romance novels and shoujo and josei manga, and I wanted to make American comics like that," she explains. "Also, romance novel fans are interesting — many of them are loyal to certain writers but are more willing to try novels by new or unfamiliar writers entirely based on reviews or word of mouth. That seemed like an opening for introducing those fans to comics and hopefully making them comics readers as well."

Romance comics have a long history in the U.S. market. The genre was launched by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in 1947, with the release of the first issue of Young Romance. The successful series led to a number of similar comics including Sweethearts, Girls' Romances and My Love. The appeal of such titles peaked in the 1950s before fading to relative obscurity by the late 1970s, following the cancellation of Young Love and Young Romance. Asselin sees Fresh Romance as aware of that history but not beholden to it; the logo was designed to harken back to the books of the past. "It's important to me that it feel both familiar and new," she says.

"A lot of what the stories are is being left up to the creators, so I’m not pushing them to make their contributions just like the original romance comics, but if they have an interest in that direction I’m absolutely open to it," she says. The first issue's three stories include a nod to the classic formula, a take on a classic romance novel plot and a story that Asselin says "has more in common with a romantic movie than anything." Fresh Romance is "less about being an homage to the past and more about adapting the kinds of stories each creative team enjoys into something that fits with modern comics. Pretty much everything is up for grabs."

Those creative teams will include a number of new faces, and — in a break from the industry norm — a predominantly female line-up, at least in the first issues. Creators for the first issue include Kate Leth, Sarah Kuhn, Sarah Winifred Searle, who illustrated the middle image, and Arielle Jovellanos, responsible for the image immediately above. The cover for the first issue is by Kevin Wada). "These are the people I thought would bring the best combination of stories together for the launch, and I’m immensely proud of the work they’ve done," Asselin says, adding that the series will "absolutely have male creators, non-binary creators, and trans creators" in future, with submissions opening up following the conclusion of the Kickstarter campaign.

"I hope to hear from a wide range of people," she says. "Pushing new or up-and-coming creators is a big priority for me. I’ve done [Comics Alliance column] Hire This Woman for a year and a half now, and some of those women have gotten hired, which is great. But a big part of this for me is about putting my money (and our backers money) where my mouth is and literally hiring those women."

With its crowdfunding campaign already close to hitting its goal with 28 days remaining, the future of Fresh Romance looks bright. Asselin's spirit of inclusion and support lives at the heart of the series itself. "It’s not about stories that are so different that it feels jarring," she says. "But Fresh Romance should have stories for all sorts of romance enthusiasts."

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