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Fresh Romance publisher Janelle Asselin tackles new ground in fourth issue

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Since its debut in May, Fresh Romance has done more than just bring romance comics back into the world. It’s captured the attention of comic and non-comic fans alike thanks to its original creative stories, talented collaborative teams and intriguing art that includes everything from divorce advice columns to gender-specific essays.

Today, in conjunction with Fresh Romance’s release of its third issue, EW is excited to reveal a first look at the cover for Issue No. 4, drawn by Batgirl’s Babs Tarr. We spoke with publisher Janelle Asselin about what to expect in the current issue. Plus, view a sneak peek at the issue and exclusive interior pages for “Ruined”, below.

EW: I don’t want the stories to be spoiled, so I’ll leave it up to you to decide how much info to divulge, but can you tease what we’re going to see in the continuation of these short stories in Issue 3?

JANELLE ASSELIN: For Kate Leth, Arielle Jovellanos, Amanda Scurti and Taylor Esposito’s “School Spirit,” we’re now closing in on the prom and our type-A, always-in-control leading ladies are going to have a ton of problems to sort through. It’s not just that they’re having trouble with their secret-filled love lives, either.

In Sarah Vaughn, Sarah Winifred Searle and Ryan Ferrier’s “Ruined,” Andrew and Catherine have arrived home and Catherine must prepare for the wedding night. If you know anything about physical relationships in the early 1800s, I’m sure you can imagine why this is a stressful evening. And Sarah Kuhn, Sally Jane Thompson, Savanna Ganucheau and Steve Wands’ “The Ruby Equation” hits the halfway point with Ruby and Josh teaming up to find Megan love at a fun speed dating event. Ruby finally feels something, but it’s not at all what she expected.

You’re pushing the envelope with these new features next month, and I think it’s so important to bring these stories to everyone’s attention. How did you find the right people to talk about these issues?

A few weeks ago, I was having drinks with a friend who is a medical illustrator by trade — but also a comics fan — and we talked about how great it would be to include some features in Fresh Romance that approached sexuality from a no-nonsense, fairly medical point of view. The aim is to talk about sexuality — particularly sexuality for women — in a way that allows no shame and is about finding what works for you. Because she’s a straight cis-woman, though, the topics that she wants to write about are focused on a specific area of sexuality. So I started thinking about how I could open it up to also include stories from queer and trans women about romance and sexuality, so I put out a call on Twitter. I got a great response, and so every month we’ll have an illustrated romance and/or sex column, primarily by women but occasionally by a man, within the pages of Fresh Romance. For instance, one writer is doing a piece on dating trans men, and another is doing a first person essay about her dating experiences. The first column, though, will be in Issue 4 and will be all about the biology of the female orgasm. The point is that I want our magazine to support all kinds of sexuality and to inspire our readers to take good care of themselves in regards to romance, both sexually and emotionally.

When you started this venture, was it always your hope to do features like these?

I had thought of doing fashion columns and an advice column, both of which we’ve done — and which romance comics used to have back in the day — but it hadn’t occurred to me until recently to do sex columns. It can be hard to walk the line that is 17+ romance that is not erotica, and so I think at first my focus was on showing that romance was the main point of everything we did. As we go along, though, I’ve been reminded of what I told all my creators when I was pitching them on joining me in this endeavor: don’t shy away from sex if it works in your story, because sex is often a part of romance. So it makes sense to take a more focused, sex-positive approach to the columns we’re offering in between the comics.

Can you talk a little bit about the response you’ve gotten to the stories featured in Fresh Romance so far? With so many stories spanning so many different types of romances and experiences, I’m curious to hear what resonated with people.

The response has been incredibly positive — I’ve been blown away by it. The really nice thing about an anthology is that there’s (hopefully) something for everyone. Each story has its supporters and fans who ask us what happens next and follow the creators on social media and stuff. We even had one guy reach out on social media to tell us that he came out to his parents because he was inspired by “School Spirit.” That was completely incredible. The types of stories we’re telling are just going to get more broad, too. There’s some stuff we have queued up that is so different from what we have now, but still fits within the Fresh Romance parameters. It’s been fun to see what different creators do with the format and genre.

Tell me how you settled on Babs drawing the cover. Was that art something she was interested in exploring, or did you reach out to her based on the work she’s done, knowing what she could bring to the table?

This is actually a funny story. So in the beginning of March, I was a guest at a convention in Austin, Texas called STAPLE! along with Babs and some other awesome ladies like Kate Leth, Brooke Allen, Grace Ellis and Jess Fink. We all had a total blast. And one night, Babs and I were hanging out and talking, and I told her she couldn’t tell anyone but that I was launching my own publishing company in a couple weeks and gave her the whole spiel.

She freaked out and started yelling at me because I’d hired Kevin Wada (who she’s friends with) to do a cover before hiring her. I told her OBVIOUSLY I’d be really into her doing a cover for Fresh Romance if she had time! From there it was just a matter of figuring out when and which cover — given our conversation, I thought it would only be appropriate to give her a cover featuring characters from the same story that Kevin had done a cover for. And to tease something we’ve got coming up, if you follow both Babs and I on Twitter, you may have seen an exchange where we discussed a sexy drawing she did (https://twitter.com/babsdraws/status/622952167196889089). That conversation led to Babs signing on to do something we haven’t done yet for Fresh Romance that I think people will really like.

For readers, what can you tease about the stories in Issue 4?

Issue 4 is possibly my favorite issue yet, so I cannot wait to get that one into people’s hands. We have full-frontal male nudity, intense drama AND a new couple. Plus, of course, there’s the column about female orgasms that is sure to be educational. All of our initial stories are running through at least Issue 5 (although “Ruined” takes the cake for length and will be broken up into a few arcs), and then readers will start to see some changeover, with new stories coming in almost every issue after that. So Issue 4 is going to have a lot of drama since we’re close to bringing two of the stories to an end.

Fresh Romance is available Tuesday via Comixology or through Rosy Press as a PDF, CBR, or ePub file and is DRM-free.

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