Huey Lewis once wrote that the power of love can make one man weep, and another man sing. A curious thing indeed.
So just in time for Valentine’s Day comes Image Comics' Twisted Romance by writer Alex de Campi and a "Who's Who" of top independent talent from Trungles to Katie Skelley. It’s a month-long weekly series running through February where each issue contains a main story, a back-up, and then a short, illustrated prose story. Twisted Romance will have themes of love lost, love found, and everything between the heartbeats and heartbreaks of the stories.
Newsarama recently spoke to de Campi about the upcoming anthology series which debuts February 7, what drove her to gather the list of creators involved, and if heartache is more inspiration than love itself.
Newsarama: Alex, so you put together not just a regular anthology series, but a romance comics anthology which are slowly resurfacing but also including prose in the issues. What inspired you to construct these in this way?
Alex de Campi: I wanted to have some fun. That’s it!
The entire creation of our format stemmed from me wanting to do a series of romance one-shots as long as the 28-page standalone No Mercy issues, #9 and #14, because they were fun. Difficult, but fun. And one-shots are great because otherwise busy artists can slip in one issue between longer things, whereas you’d never get them for six. I emailed Image, they said yes, then said we should do it weekly in February, and I went “oh, shit” because it was already mid-August. (Feb solicitations with covers are due to your publisher in mid Oct, FYI.) Then I added backup stores because who doesn’t love a back-up story? Then it became a flip book on the idea of Peggy Trauth, who does the backup story in #3. Then I added a prose story so getting to the end of one (flipped) comics story wouldn’t spoil the end of the other comics story.
Nrama: Image provided Newsarama with the first two issues and this comes across as 100% collaborative between you and the art teams, so tell us who you have lined up and what the collaboration process was like and how did you recruit this team?
De Campi: I lined all this up in the DMs in about three days. This is shamelessly "Me & My Friends." Trungles (Issue #4) and I had been talking about another project that ultimately had too much action for him; Carla Speed McNeil (Issue #3) is always a first call; I adore Katie Skelly (Issue #1), she’s my trash sister; and Alejandra Gutiérrez is just so fun and talented. We started off with me asking them, “what do you want to draw?” Each of them told me, and from what I knew of their art style and preferences from being friends with them, I came up with a proposal to run by them, they said yes, and so four very different scripts were created. I’d say my goal, in a way, was to become invisible in the artist’s style. That you could think this is something they might write for themselves. It’s a great exercise.
Back-up comics creators and prose writers were similarly drawn from friends and folks I admire both on twitter and elsewhere. It gave me a chance to introduce myself to a few people who I now am good friends with, which is cool.
Nrama: What do romance comics mean to you as a creator?
De Campi: It’s more what romance *stories* mean to me, as romance comics have been thin on the ground these past 20 years. I have a very specific, ultra-spare thriller writing style, which is odd in that I came up reading folks like Brian Michael Bendis, Grant Morrison, and Alan Moore, who are as baroque as they come, each in their own way. (I suppose comics never really spoke to me in a voice I wanted to emulate until I read Monster and Lone Wolf & Cub so that explains a lot).
But you always think you want what you don’t have. I always wanted to be one of these lyrical, expressive, emotional writers, and the closest I get is the sort of anxiety-laden everything happening now pop culture smash of No Mercy, or Alejandra’s story in Twisted Romance #2. So I went to romance for a bit to teach myself how to do better emotional arcs, and maybe to loosen up my surgical pen a little. I learned a bunch of things. Happily Ever Afters: so nice! Erotica: such fun to write! But - my pen didn’t get much looser. And the romance fans I was writing for were...okay with that. They praised my descriptiveness, and I wanted to shout at them that I’m not descriptive, it’s just the illusion of descriptiveness, but eventually I got over myself and made peace with both my prose voice and my arid style.
And my emotional arcs got a lot, lot better. So now I’m back (from outer space), and I thought, why not do this in comics?
It’s also what romance stories mean to everyone else. It’s a $1B market and growing swiftly (primarily in eBooks), with the majority of readers buying a new book every week. Romance is a natural fit for comics. Whether it’s a fit for the majority of the U.S. direct market comics shops, who knows. But we can very casually write stories about all sorts of love, between all sorts of people, and folks are excited to read new things - unlike mainstream comics, where there’s an entrenched resistance to the new among a small, vocal group of buyers. (I actually find romance is similar to horror in this way: buyers eagerly seek out and evangelize the next big scare, or the next big swoon, to others. Both are great, great genre fan bases.)
Nrama: Now just from these first two stories, you already have horror/supernatural and something that's a bit more grounded in the next issue, did you have specific genres you wanted to cover or did everything happen organically?
De Campi: Everything happened organically, and as the stories developed across all of us I started sequencing the issues and pairing front stories with backup stories, a bit like you would a mixtape.
Nrama: Why do you think capital "R" romance comics aren't more prominent in the mainstream market but thrive more on the independent scene, especially over at Kickstarter?
De Campi: The Direct Market.
This isn’t to say local comic stores aren’t going to bat for us really hard - good god, they are. But it’s bad out there. The punishing levels of unsold, non-returnable volume from DC and Marvel (but mostly Marvel) have left a lot of stores hurting and unable to take a risk on new, smaller things. I actually think there’s going to be a huge, scary shakeout in comics very soon. There’s too much. The Direct Market as it is doesn’t feel sustainable.
Nrama: Do you think love or heartache is more inspirational to creative types?
De Campi: I think you need to be your own inspiration, and not rely on your orbit around another for creation. Ideas come from so many places. It’s just a question of recognizing and holding on to the little moments that make you go “huh."
Nrama: What themes would you like to explore in this fashion if you had the chance down the line?
De Campi: There may be plans for a quarterly sex and murder ‘zine already afoot. It might be more prose, though? We’re not sure. Each issue would be around a specific theme and, in a fit of overcaffeinated excitement, I may have already jotted down a dozen. But I need to survive Twisted Romance’s publication first. It’s been...a lot, to pull together over four short months.
Nrama: Lastly, what are you hoping that readers take with them after reading Twisted Romance?
De Campi: A warm fuzzy feeling in their stomachs? Uh, probably not from issue #1, though. Issue #1 has a lot of murder.