Comics editor Janelle Asselin talks about her goal to reintroduce romance comics to the world.

Fresh Romance

UPDATE: As confirmed by Rosy Press on Monday, Fresh Romance has reached the Gail Simone stretch goal EW first reported. The campaign, which is in its final hours, ends Wednesday morning at approximately 9 a.m. ET. With just 40 hours to go, Fresh Romance has raised a total of $48,025.

ORIGINAL STORY: Romance comics are coming back—and the world has Janelle Asselin to thank.

Asselin, senior editor at ComicsAlliance and a former editor at DC and Disney, has been a long-time vocal advocate for gender inclusion in the comics world. On March 23, she launched a Kickstarter through her company, Rosy Press, to fund a monthly digital romance comic magazine called Fresh Romance. Within just ten days, the project had reached its goal of $28,000—and that total is rising daily.

Fresh Romance already boasts an acclaimed group of writers and artists who have signed on for the first issue (due out next month) including Kate Leth, Arielle Jovellanos, Amanda Scurti, Sarah Vaughn, Sarah Winifred Searle, Sarah Kuhn, Sally Jane Thompson and Savanna Ganucheau. Today, EW is proud to exclusively reveal information about new stories from even more talented creators such as Marguerite Bennett, Marcy Cook, Maya Kern, Jen Van Meter, Kyle Latino, Marissa Louise and Spike Trotman—as well as New York Times best-selling writer Gail Simone.

Bennett (A-FORCE, Sleepy Hollow) will write “a sexy and surprising fantasy tale,” while Cook (She Writes) and Kern (creator of Monster Pop!) will team up for their first-ever collaboration about a story in which “a couple wins, then loses, a heart-shaped helium balloon which they follow through the fair.” Van Meter (Hopeless Savages), Latino (Outlaw Territory Vol. 3) and Louise (Dark Horse Presents) will share “a romantic comedy about one woman’s deep, abiding love…for a Game Master” and Spike Trotman (publisher of the Smut Peddler anthology) will debut a fantasy story “about a woman in a tower who romanticizes a man she sees from above every day.”

And there’s still more to come.

As part of a brand new Kickstarter goal, Simone (Red Sonja) will produce a 10-page comic illustrated by Rafaela Herrera that will be available exclusively to backers who are one-year subscribers, once the project reaches $45,700. If the campaign raises $42,500, backers will also recieve cover for issue 5 by acclaimed artist Kevin Wada, as well as a digital wallpaper pack of all the covers that have been released so far.

Above, preview an exclusive look at the cover of issue 4 of Fresh Romance by Marguerite Sauvage. Then, read below as EW caught up with Asselin to talk about Fresh Romance‘s newest creative projects and what the Kickstarter journey has been like so far. We even got her to admit what story she would want to write if she had the chance. (Hint: think red haired bookworms.)

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When you started Rosy Press, was it always a dream and a goal to do a project like this? And was it always specifically romance comics that you were looking to bring back into the world?

JANELLE ASSELIN: I knew that when I was starting my own company, which ended up being Rosy Press, that I wanted to launch all-digital and do some sort of anthology. I felt that those two things offered the most value for myself and for readers—I can spend the majority of the company’s money on the talented creators rather than printing and distribution, and readers get a bunch of different stories at once. It allows us to have a very traditional Regency romance and a queer high school romance all in the same magazine, and they don’t feel all that tonally different, but they do offer different things to different readers. It wasn’t always about romance comics for me and I thought about a bunch of different options, with my main priority being to expand comics readership, but once I thought about doing romance comics, I knew that was the right call. I think erotica is great, but I wanted to offer stories that had some sexuality to them without being outright erotica—and those don’t exist enough in comics.

Why do you think romance comics have been more or less absent from the American comics industry in recent years? In movies and television, it sometimes seems that there’s nothing but romance stories.

I think for a long time the comics industry was dominated by one successful genre, super hero comics, and that was what was profitable and popular amongst comics readers. It wasn’t just romance comics that got ignored for a long time—it was any number of different genres. Indie comics have always pushed other genres but it’s been interesting to see in the last few years how indie comics are becoming almost mainstream and mainstream comics are figuring out they have to adapt to a widening audience.

I know that you’ve talked at length about how this project came about, but one of the things I love about Fresh Romance are the creators you’ve chosen. They’re all so talented, but they all have very different styles and niches and interests when it comes to what they want to write or draw. When you were looking to build teams, did you pick creators with certain stories in mind? Because it seems like the teams you’ve put together for this complement each other really well in both art and writing, and I love that. It feels personal, rather than throwing together a bunch of people who wanted to make a book.

Initially, I reached out to writers that I knew brought different things to the table in terms of what they would probably want to write, and I wasn’t disappointed in the diversity of stories they pitched. Other than choosing from their pitches, I gave them very little direction in terms of what kinds of stories they should do, because I wanted them to tell the stories that felt right to them.

The one exception is Sarah Vaughn, because I knew that she loved Regency romance as much as I did. When we started talking about her writing for me, I strongly suggested she think of a Regency romance story she might want to tell, as I wanted to launch with one. I knew if I was launching with comics creators I was going to need to find very, very specific creators to work on the Regency romance and not alienate the audience that loves that sub-genre. The choice of Sarah Winifred Searle had as much to do with her love of history as it did with her art style.

After the writers were locked down, we talked about artists—they brought up people they might want to work with, I suggested some names, and I started reaching out until we found exactly the right fit. Putting together a creative team is one of my favorite parts of being an editor, and I know the value of a true collaboration both for the people involved and for the reader.

As a woman who loves and works with comics, I feel like Fresh Romance is something that I’ve been waiting my entire life without knowing it. And I think it’s something the comic world as a whole has been waiting for, as well. Why do you think now is the right time and place for something like this to be reignited?

Well, for one, young women are the fastest growing demographic in comics, and a lot of them are familiar with manga and the genres that are popular in manga. And yet there are very few American comics that offer even tangentially related genres, unless you look in webcomics. In the webcomics scene, you see a lot of young women who are making comics on their own terms, in a wide variety of genres, and those comics are often extremely popular. So you have those two groups of readers—who overlap quite a bit—who are becoming an increasing force in comics creation and readership. That changes the dynamics of the comics industry quite a bit. Then you add in the comics readers who may not be into manga or webcomics, but who enjoy diverse genres as readers, and it hits a sort of critical mass of people wanting to read something different.

Obviously, I’m super excited about these new teams and stories you’ve assembled. Can you talk a little bit about the stories as they relate to the creators that you’ve chosen?

We’re still in the early days of planning with the teams that were announced as part of the stretch goal, so we’re all still discussing what those stories will be, but everyone has turned in really solid pitches. I’ve followed Jen Van Meter’s work for a long time, and as I was prepping to launch the Kickstarter, a friend was like “YOU NEED TO TALK TO JEN” so we emailed a bit, and she asked if I was interested in Kyle Latino drawing her story which I was. They met up to talk about what kind of story they wanted to do, and pitched it to me complete with some character designs. And Kyle requested Marissa Louise as his colorist, and she and I had already met online, so really they were the easiest team to come together. Their story is about a group of friends who play tabletop games together and one player uses a game to declare his feelings for their leader. The thing I really liked about the possibilities of this story is that it adds a lot of interesting visuals as we see some things happening “in game” but also offers some chances to play with gender roles and things like that.

Marguerite Bennett was another easy one, although we’re still working on who her artist will be. I’ve known Marguerite for a couple years now and I think she’s pretty great. She’s also intensely busy so I wasn’t sure she would be able to come on board, but I get the impression she’s really excited to do some romance comics. She’s going to do a fun twist on a classic fairy tale that I think people will really love—as soon as she sent me the pitch my response was “YES.”

Marcy Cook writes for The Mary Sue (where I was formerly the weekend editor) and does such thoughtful journalism that one day I was like “I wonder if she wants to write comics?” So I reached out and she responded enthusiastically. She actually gave me quite a few pitches and there were a couple I liked, but the one we agreed on was about a couple that goes to the fair, the guy wins his date a balloon, and then the balloon gets loose so they chase it through the fair. It’s a story with such a sweet edge that Marcy and I both felt Maya Kern would do an amazing job—her art is both sweet and modern, with an animated feel, and I think they’re the perfect team for this story.

And last but not least, we have the super talented Spike Trotman—we’re still discussing her artist as well. I really admire Spike’s talent and drive and all the things she’s done with Iron Circus and in particular Smut Peddler. If anything is proof of the audience of women readers out there in comics who want comics made by and for women, it’s Smut Peddler. I had interviewed her a while back and she had mentioned that due to how much work it is running her own publishing company, she didn’t have as much time to create comics as she’d like. So when I was putting things together, I thought I’d at least reach out and see if she was interested. She’s come up with this great fantasy story where there’s a woman who has, in part, chosen to lock herself away in the company of other women, but sees a man from her window that she develops great feelings for. But romance isn’t quite that simple, as she discovers.

Specifically, how did Gail Simone’s involvement in Fresh Romance came about?

I’ve known Gail for years now—we worked together when I was at DC on the Brightest Day relaunch of Birds of Prey. That was a project I begged to be editor on because I was such a huge fan of her work. Gail has had one of the most sustained, consistent careers working at places like Marvel and DC of any woman in comics history, and is well-known among comics fans for her work on stuff like Birds of Prey, Wonder Woman, and Secret Six.

We caught up again last year and talked about possibly working together. When I started thinking about possible extras for subscribers, I thought it would be great to get some big name creators to do extra stories, and Gail was definitely the first person I thought of. She had a lot to do with my love of comics, and in particular has had a lot to do with increasing the number of women reading comics, and so I think she’s a great fit for Fresh Romance.

I know you’ve said you’re keeping mostly to editing and not writing on this, but if you had the opportunity to write your own romance comic, what type of story would you love to see?

It would probably look a lot like the love story between Anne and Gilbert in the Anne of Green Gables books. If there’s one thing I’m hugely geeky about besides comics, it’s books for girls set in the mid-to late-1800s, and I just can’t get enough of puffed sleeves and awkward flirting.

I’ve been blown away by the amount of support that you guys have gotten with this Kickstarter. Does it feel surreal, in a way, to know how passionately people are supporting what I’m sure you think of as your baby?

It absolutely does feel surreal. I obviously wouldn’t have launched the Fresh Romance Kickstarter if I didn’t think we could hit the goal, but I assumed it would be a down-to-the-wire sort of thing. I knew there would be some sort of audience out there, but I had no idea it would be an audience this enthusiastic and giving. I’ve been at conventions the last couple weekends and on more than one occasion had someone come up to me and say “I’m a backer, and the project looks great” which is immensely gratifying. All I can do is say thank you, because I couldn’t do it without all these amazing backers and I’m so glad we get to share this project with the world. We’ve now raised enough to publish 4 issues, but our plans go through the first year, so the more money we raise, the more we have to execute those plans.

Debuting May 2015, Fresh Romance will be available via ComiXology or as a PDF, CBR, or ePub file. The publication will always be DRM-free.

For updates, follow Rosy Press on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram.

Fresh Romance
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