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Fresh Romance: Volume 1, edited by Janelle Asselin

Fresh Romance is an incredible story of achievement. The product of not one but two successful Kickstarter campaigns – one to get it off the ground at all, and another for a print edition – it’s proven that there’s a demand for far more diversity in comics than the usual superheroes and action-adventure romps.

According to publisher Rosy Press, the goal with Fresh Romance “is to bring avid comics readers and those new to comics together to enjoy the romance genre”. To that end, it brings together a broad range of creators, from little-known up-and-comers to prolific writers like Marguerite Bennett and Kate Leth, to deliver a wide variety of romance stories.

The first bound volume collects four stories from the first six issues of the monthly comics. School Spirit is a very cute high-school romance about a group of friends working a complicated ruse to hide their relationships from their parents; Ruined is a bittersweet, Regency-era historical romance; The Ruby Equation is an utterly adorable magical slice-of-life about a jaded fairy-like being who finds herself learning about true love when she’s forced to play matchmaker; and Beauties is gorgeous, fresh take on Beauty and the Beast.

It’s a broad range that means there’s something, and everyone will obviously have their favourite, but the quality is impressive across the board. I love silly rom-coms, so of course The Ruby Equation and School Spirit were highlights for me, but I even found myself captivated by Ruined, which I wouldn’t have expected. As varied as they are, each story has a few things in common: excellent writing and beautiful art.

As outlandish as some of the scenarios are, the characters are all wonderfully human and relatable – even those that aren’t actually human – and so it’s easy to get swept up in the goings on. It’s not often that a comic will have me giggling with delight or bouncing around with joy at how cute a certain panel is, but with Fresh Romance, it felt like I was doing that on every other page.

One of my favourite things about the book is how varied it is – not just in terms of the genres it touches on, but also in the types of relationships and characters it puts on show. Queer romances are as commonplace in Fresh Romance as heterosexual ones, and all manner of bodies are presented as cute and desirable without qualification.

There’s a subversive, thought-provoking quality to each story, too. School Spirit puts a spotlight on the challenges faced by queer kids with homophobic parents, and Ruined presents a sharp critique of Regency-era social norms as much as it celebrates the period in other ways. Beauties is particularly clever in the way it reframes the power dynamics of the classic fairy-tale – it’s right there in the fact that it’s called Beauties, plural, and not Beauty and the Beast.

It’s worth noting that Fresh Romance is technically R-rated, due to Rosy Press’s desire to not shy away from racy content. That said, the anthological nature of the series means that there’s a lot of variance from story to story, and aside from some brief nudity in Ruined, there’s nothing explicit in this first collection.

The print edition of Fresh Romance: Volume 1 will be available in August this year, and I can’t recommend it highly enough – even if you’re not someone who typically likes romance. In the meantime, digital versions of monthly issues are readily available, and are a cheap way to give a fantastic series a go.

REVIEWER: Matthew Codd

Fresh Romance: Volume 1, edited by Janelle Asselin is published by Rosy Press.


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