Anthologies are back and romance comics are too, but Image Comics' Twisted Romance, a February-debuting romance comic anthology, does both of these a bit differently. The Alex de Campi-led four-issue miniseries pairs the writer with four different artists, shifting romance subgenres from noir to science fiction to fantasy.
Those teams are backed up by a second original comic and a prose story, each of which is fine tuned for the Twisted Romance vibe. As the organizer, curator, and lead writer for the series, de Campi could have approached the project as an auteur, but it’s clear from conversations with the team that Twisted Romance was collaborative from concept to completion.
The basic concept of the book, a reinterpretation of Kirby/Simon and Lee/Romita Sr. romance comics, was something that de Campi hit on while vacationing in Maine. But making it a two-cover flip book that includes prose stories to smooth out the reading experience came from her collaborators.
“Peggy Trauth [backup cartoonist for issue #3] suggested we do the stories as a flip book when I broached having the backup artists do a back cover as well," de Campi said. "Then we added prose stories and bumped the book up to 48 pages, so when you finished one comics story you didn't end up at the last page of the other (flipped) comics story.” The effect is tactile and psychological: when reading the physical comic you get a break, a breath, and then you dive back in for another twisted tale, refocused. Flip books shift the weight of your attention so that backup stories seem less like a free gift with purchase, and more like a gift in and of themselves.
De Campi’s intent for the series wasn’t specifically to do something different, but she and her collaborators have gone and done that anyway. It’s a spectacularly curated miniseries. Issue #1 pairs de Campi with Katie Skelly for a noir tribute with a backup comic from Sarah Horrocks and a prose story by Magen Cubed. Issue #2 sees newcomer Alejandra Gutiérrez pair with de Campi on a fashion industry thriller, backed up by a new Meredith McClaren comic and a prose story from comics writer Vita Ayala. Skelly, de Campi, Horrocks and Cubed are all film nerds and fans of dark, sexy and weird. Gutiérrez, McClaren and Ayala all explore new and not yet settled romances.
"Allowing creators to interpret the idea of romance really pays off," Ayala said. "I had a lot of freedom on the project, and although I think given the same specific prompt, three different creators will come up with very unique end result, the encouragement to just take it and run really lets a creator explore themselves and the genre. You can learn a lot about a person with what they choose to do given the freedom, and you can learn a lot about yourself too.”
Issues #3 and #4, which round off the weekly release mini, pair de Campi with Carla Speed McNeil, in concert with a backup comic by Margaret Trauth and prose story by Jess Bradley, and with Trungles, backed up by a Sara Winifred Searles comic and Naomi Salman story. Where the lead artists were working from a de Campi script, all the backup creators were given a prompt and then set free to do what they would with it.
Having put together these teams largely from her existing network of friends and faves, de Campi was hands off. As she puts it, she “reached out to a bunch of people who were friends. That's the whole secret of who got picked for the book. A lot less thought went into it than many seem to believe. I flapped my hands at Trungles and Katie and Alejandra and Carla and went ‘help!’ and they laughed at me and agreed. I approached the backup folks next, and pretty much everyone said yes.” It’s kind of like if Island, the Image anthology curated by Brandon Graham, had a more specific focus.
Where Island allowed Graham’s favorite creators to do pretty much whatever they wanted -- and whatever they couldn’t do elsewhere -- Twisted Romance puts de Campi’s dream team to work within certain boundaries. The structural limits of a strict format and the creative limits of a genre prompt ensures that each story in miniseries speaks to every other one. Those limits also guarantee a tight focus that most other anthologies, too often bloated with filler stories in hopes that something, anything will stick, can’t deliver.
Have you ever felt winded by reading an anthology comic? Like that long sequences of comics, comics, comics has no clear starting or stopping points, and no natural flow? By opting to include fewer stories and giving them a regular format, de Campi and company have created a comic that includes many different voices, singing one tune: Twisted Romance is a complete and considered product, in a way that few other anthologies can claim. “
Alex’s vision is very articulate, and I think that’s the edge we have," Katie Skelly said. "The art is stellar and it’s all coming from very particular, distinct artists. A lot of versatility and hard work will be on display, and I’m so pleased to be a part of it.”