Interview: Get to Know TWISTED ROMANCE with de Campi, Skelly, Gutierrez, McNeil, and Trungles

TWISTED ROMANCE is unlike anything you’ll find on shelves this month. The month-long weekly anthology transcends genres and exceeds expectations, bringing comics’ long history with Romance to a modernized place. Yet TWISTED ROMANCE isn’t here to make a statement. This anthology exists for the love of the medium, for good storytelling, and just for pure fun.

With a main comic, a backup prose story, and a backup comic, each issue of TWISTED ROMANCE is jam-packed with content. And each issue is wildly different — from horror to fantasy to space pirates — playing to each artist’s particular strengths. The romance in each story is versatile; cute, sexy, humorous, and always inclusive. Together, TWISTED ROMANCE is a collaboration for all fans that exhibits what the comics medium is capable of.

We spoke with writer Alex de Campi and the artists behind TWISTED ROMANCE’s main comics — Katie Skelly, Alejandra Gutierrez, Carla Speed McNeil, and Trungles — who fill us in on their thoughts on romance comics, how this anthology came to be, and what we can expect from their individual stories in TWISTED ROMANCE.

ComicsVerse (CV): Alex, what made you choose romance comics for your anthology? And for Katie, Carla, Alejandra, and Trungles, what interested you about drawing TWISTED ROMANCE?

Alex de Campi (AdC): I like messing with people. Given my other body of work, romance comics would be pretty much the last thing folks would expect from me. But why would I want to do more of what I’ve already done? Comics is a laboratory, a place to play and innovate. So I do something new and unexpected. I mean, I’m a thriller writer at heart, and every time I try to write anything else there’s always the thriller suspense and pacing that sneaks in. You’ll definitely see that here. But concentrating on emotional arcs first and foremost has been a lot of fun.

Alejandra Gutierrez (AG): I’d been meaning to do a romance-ish story for some time, and then when Alex asked me I thought it’d be super fun (aside from it being a great opportunity) to work with her, we were Twitter acquaintances and I really liked her writing in NO MERCY so I knew it’d be a good time.

Katie Skelly (KS): I really wanted to work with Alex, and the rest of the artists she approached were great as well. How could I pass it up?

Trungles (T): I wasn’t sure about TWISTED ROMANCE at first. I like my romances pretty straightforward and downright saccharine. My experience of Alex’s work is mostly full of excitement and bombast. Her stories are exhilarating and fun. They’re usually the stuff I like to read but not necessarily stuff I like to draw. She sent me a script, and I think about thirty seconds into it I emailed her back in all caps. I absolutely loved what she wrote, and I had to draw it. She’s a really versatile writer, and she’s made this incredible space for all of us to just play around and have fun.

Carla Speed McNeil (CSM): For me it was basically that it was an Alex party. I’m a tough sell on luv. I want a good love story as much as the next sop, but it has to take me by surprise, and I know I can count on Alex to do that. The rest was “space opera Leiko Matsumoto pirate boys” and I was all in. Manga was not thick on the ground when I was coming up and what little I saw was SO different that it drew me like a magnet. Doing something with spaceships that look like wet-navy ships or steam trains is something I never knew how badly I wanted to do.

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TWISTED ROMANCE #1. Art by Katie Skelly.

CV: Romance comics have a long history in the medium. How does TWISTED ROMANCE modernize the genre, and how do you feel romance comics have evolved within the medium since their origins?

AdC: Oh, sure. I mean, all your big masc faves (Kirby, Simon, Lee, Romita, etc) wrote/drew kissy books. But once US comics fell away from newsstands and into specialty shops, monthly comics lost a lot of the wider-appeal titles (crime, romance, etc). They’ve continued strongly elsewhere. It’s not like the comfort of reading about true love and happy endings (or the solace of reading about bad choices/relationships) went away. That never goes away. Readers simply abandoned US comics in favour of shoujo manga, prose romance, and fanfic. Now that we have a couple generations raised on bookstore shoujo manga, we’re seeing books like FRESH ROMANCE and BINGO LOVE and all of Iron Circus’ graphic novels become very successful. Like I said, the market never went away. It was just not acknowledged for a while by monthly comics publishers.

And we’re not making any big statement with TWISTED ROMANCE. There’s no point to it; we’re not proving anything. I just wanted to write some weird love stories with a bunch of friends, so we did. I guess I come at genre stories a bit the way Jim Jarmusch does: I just want to play with it, see how it works.

If anything, in terms of format we’re a bit of a throwback to 50s titles YOUNG ROMANCE and OUR LOVE, with each issue being stand-alone and having backup stories, than we are some great modernist statement. We just want to entertain you. Make you gasp. Make you blush.

AG: I think it brings it to the 21st century by not being a basic boy-meets-girl romance story. I like to say that the stories in TWISTED ROMANCE are more romance-adjacent, so you get a much more interesting story in a romance setting.

Nowadays I think porn and sex, in any capacity, is becoming more mainstream in the romance genre, which I’m all about. Also there’s a lot more sad romantic stories which are some of my personal faves. Not to mention now we get to see diverse romance stories which feels more real, in my opinion.

T: Oh my god, the history of romance comics is so bizarre. Alex explains it really well, but as far as American comics go, romance comics sorta disappeared for decades for a variety of reasons, though not for lack of interest.

The closest thing to a western romance comic I read growing up was an ARCHIE digest I could pick up at the grocery store. I loved those, and then those eventually went away. From there, it was all shoujo comics for me. These days, I feel like romance exists pretty organically in most media across all genres. I guess it reflects the notion that monogamous marriage isn’t some kind of endgame, and that it’s an organic part of many people’s lives. It’s nice, but it’s not without its problems. I’d love to see people engaging in romance for the sake of it again. It doesn’t have to set an example or exist to interrogate something or other.

CSM: I read the horrors, I loved space opera, I read HEAVY METAL. As far as I knew, growing up, there weren’t any romance comics. There was a love story in SWAMP THING. There were a number of sort of love stories in CEREBUS. There was definitely a love story in LOVE & ROCKETS. There were definitely love stories in OMAHA, also lust stories and some other people-banging-into-each-other things… There was a love story or two in JOURNEY… but they weren’t the point of the story in any of these.

I can’t say I actually read a comic in which characters falling in love was the point of the story until THE LESS THAN EPIC ADVENTURES OF TJ AND AMAL, and, reading that, I was so unaccustomed to the tropes of romance that it caught me (very pleasantly!) off-guard. Like the offbeat love stories in THE FISHER KING and MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE and some other non-romance genre movies, that book showed me how good a romance could be. But I still had no idea how to do one of my own, so getting a script with a starchy Regular Army guy and a slinky rock-god pirate had me entertained.

Modern storytelling with its more cinematic storytelling approach enables a story to have the fleeting subtleties of the “lid on a potful of boiling emotions” that I rarely saw in comics growing up, and that I love to imagine and draw. That’s what I tried to bring to my chapter.

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TWISTED ROMANCE #2. Art by Alejandra Gutierrez.

CV: Each issue of TWISTED ROMANCE will include a wide variety of genres and themes. What can we expect from each of your stories in TWISTED ROMANCE?

AdC: I can’t emphasize enough how different all the stories I wrote are. They were very much written to become invisible in each artist’s style, to give them a script that was full of things they want to draw and which played to each of their very specific strengths.

AG: I tried to have a lot of fun visually so lots of little gags, goofy stuff, but also a lot of sensuality. The story I drew is also very grounded and relatable (not the part where you get involved with a movie star but, hey, you never know).

CSM: Mine has a heavily-armed space juggernaut that looks like a marital aid….because it Does. It also has battered people trying to hold their fractal part of a society together in the face of utter abandonment by that society. Trying for and failing and finding connections where they don’t expect them. And a pretty cool outrigger canoe that was a lot of fun to design. Space paradise.

CV: I had the opportunity to read TWISTED ROMANCE #1, and it was the perfect story for Katie to draw, with its stylish 70s setting. Alex, did you have these teams in mind as you put TWISTED ROMANCE together, or was it something else that joined you all for this anthology?

AdC: When I pitched this to Image in August, I had only the vaguest plan. Then with the decision to make it a weekly title I had to scramble to pull the book together. Image kindly offered to hold Feb 2019 for me but f*** that, I wanted immediate gratification and so did my collaborators. (We run everything as a mostly-group decision.) There were folks I really wanted to work with, and also whose prose or comics work I wanted to provide a stage for, and it all went down in the DMs during one frantic week in mid to late Jan. So again, no massive point or statement to the teams. I asked my friends. That’s all.

CV: Katie, I loved your comic with Alex for TWISTED ROMANCE #1. It went places I definitely wasn’t expecting. Without giving anything away, what was your favorite part of drawing that story?

KS: Definitely all of the disco scenes. I went and watched a bunch of Soul Train videos to get inspired for specific dance moves and fashion. So cool!

CV: I noticed a common theme in the main story, backup prose story, and backup comic in TWISTED ROMANCE #1. Will there be a running thread in each issue that ties the stories together?

AdC: There’s a vague thread to each one that developed as everyone pulled their stories together. When I started seeing drafts of the prose and comics backups I slotted each story in with ones that felt complimentary to it. So Issue 1 is definitely our murder book; Issue 2 is cute and brown and very pop; Issue 3 is space adventures; and Issue 4 is fantasy. Again, don’t give me credit here, because it’s not like I was sitting on my editorial throne going “okay, everyone in issue 3 gotta write a sci-fi story.” It just happened, and I took advantage of it.

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TWISTED ROMANCE #3. Art by Carla Speed McNeil

CV: Carla and Alex, you worked together previously on NO MERCY. What was your experience teaming up again for TWISTED ROMANCE?

AdC: Haha. Poor Carla. She was super stressed on deadlines so her experience has mostly been “oh my god get off my back you’ll get your pages when you get them.” We tried to make things easier for her by doing her pages as tight pencils, which looks gorgeous, but hasn’t turned out to be any time saving versus inks. But I trust Carla so completely, if there was one bird who was going to be the last one to arrive on migration, I’m glad it was her. Everyone else was on time, too. I’m so impressed with us. 48 pages, weekly, ON F***ING TIME. Early, even! Which is good. My already dubious grip on sanity might have finally slipped if everyone had been late, considering I’m doing all the lettering, layout, design, and prepress on the book.

CSM: Here’s where I scream “NAAAAAAOOOOW, IT WASN’T LIKE THAAAAAT” like Lucy Ricardo or Eliza Doolittle, but it totally was.

In the end, the pencil thing did work out interestingly, led me to some new processes. I don’t know what I’m gonna do with them, because ALL THE SMUDGE. Even with choking myself out on fixative spray, my desk, my hands, my scanner, my pages, everything was dirtier than the well-digger’s pigs. Once I worked a couple bugs out — and these were prehistoric six-foot fanged cockroach sorts of bugs — it did get very fast, but it never stopped being an incredible mess.

The story itself was a blast, like all the stories I’ve done with Alex. One of the things I’ve always loved about working with her is the fact that she does her own lettering. It’s not that I need her to take on extra work and die a little younger, but that she’s OK with me ad-libbing.

I do lettering on my rough pencilled pages even when the final lettering is to be done digitally, so I know there will be plenty of room for words and so the pacing is right. Sometimes I make suggestions for dialogue that Alex feels perfectly free to use, discard, or riff further on. And the occasional word balloon for an animal or object that she can do whatever with. This doesn’t sound like a big deal, and I have no problem with writers that don’t want me to do this. But it definitely can help a story find its funky flow.

CV: Alejandra, this will be your second comic credit, after drawing a story for LOVE IS LOVE by IDW to benefit the tragedy at Pulse in Orlando. What excites you about contributing to TWISTED ROMANCE?

AG: Like you said, this isn’t my first time being published, but I do consider TWISTED ROMANCE to be my comic debut in a way, so that’s really exciting. I also saw it as kind of an exercise for me as a storyteller to draw longer comics, I’ve learned a lot about my own art and abilities while working on this. I’m also hoping I get a stalker or two out of this so I can live my full Tiffany Darwish fantasy.

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TWISTED ROMANCE #4. Art by Trungles

CV: Trungles, you also illustrated the story “Beauties” for FRESH ROMANCE by Rosy Press, a comic that sought to revive the romance genre in comics. Is there anything from that experience that you carried with you when drawing your issue of TWISTED ROMANCE?

T: I think much of my growth has been technical. I never went through any formal training or traditional avenues for comics, so I’ve been trying to figure out my own way around the comics I make and figuring out what works for me. Beyond that, it’s just been a joy to be absolutely indulgent in drawing longing glances, starry eyes, and sweetness.

CV: And finally, what are you hoping readers will take away from TWISTED ROMANCE?

AdC: A warm happy feeling in their chest. And in their pants.

AG: I like to think TWISTED ROMANCE will open people’s minds as to what can be considered a romance story. Also boners maybe, hopefully.

T: I just hope people enjoy something about it. My hope is that folks can just sit down and have a nice feeling or two before going about their day.

CSM: A greater appreciation for the fine art of starship design.

Look for TWISTED ROMANCE All February

TWISTED ROMANCE will be released weekly starting February 7th, kicking off with Katie Skelly’s entry. Look out for Alejandra, Carla, and Trungles’ issues of the romance anthology each week after. Whether you’re in it for the Valentine’s Day spirit or just to have a damn good time, you don’t want to miss this one.

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