Janelle Asselin Chats Fresh Romance, With Cover Reveals and a Preview of Issue 4
Comics have been getting a dose of fresh romance courtesy of Rosy Press run by Janelle Asselin. Coming off a successful Kickstarter campaign, Asselin and Rosy Press has published four issues of the romance anthology Fresh Romance so far with the fifth right around the corner. You can pick up the first four issues right now.
We also have a preview of some of each of the stories from the fourth issue and a reveal to the cover of issue six by the talented Janet Lee!
We got a chance to ask her questions about where her new venture came from, advice she’d give to women breaking into the industry, and opening up the doors toe comics with the romance genre.
Graphic Policy: Where did the concept for Rosy Press and Fresh Romance come from?
Janelle Asselin: Really, it all goes back to my desire to run my own comics company and put my money where my mouth was in terms of how to get women reading comics. It’s not just that I’m a control freak, I swear—it’s that I want to work outside of the existing structures that comics has relied on for so long.
A coworker who was a few levels above me in terms of title at DC used to say to me “when YOU run this place, don’t do this and this thing that our bosses are doing right now.” And I’d laugh and be like oh right like I could ever be EIC of DC—it was a whole bit we did. But it was through those jokes that I realized I didn’t WANT to run DC. Even if I had spent 20 or so years of my life trying to move up the corporate chain at DC and got to a place where I was Editor in Chief or Executive Editor – what then? Unless there was a massive sea change, I’d still have to work within the same broken systems that I disliked and knew weren’t working. My dad has owned his own business for over 40 years—first as a contractor and then doing antique restoration and sales with my mom. I grew up seeing the challenges and rewards of owning your own business. I think maybe that got under my skin more than I really knew until a few years ago. I knew then that working for other people was just a step along the way to learn everything I could.
From there, I spent a few years thinking about what kind of comics I wanted to make. I like a wide variety of genres in entertainment and I knew I wanted to make comics that I thought were exciting and fun. I also knew I wanted to focus on making comics for women. Given how expensive print is, it was a pretty easy decision to start as a digital-only publisher. And then it all just came together as Fresh Romance.
GP: Romance comics have a long history, but generally fell out of vogue. What got your interest in that particular genre?
JA: About a decade ago, I stopped reading American comics for a few years because I just wasn’t enjoying the same-old super hero stuff I’d always read and I felt bewildered by indie comics. Manga, though, had a lot to offer me. The manga community I found online was welcoming. I worked at a comic shop for a while and was able to read a ton of manga that came highly recommended. The main genre of manga that appealed to me was shoujo—I loved that there was a kind of comic out there that was made for girls and women and was not embarrassed to be girly or feminine or romantic.
It wasn’t until I started researching my grad thesis on selling comics to women, though, that I really understood the role of romance in American comics. I was fascinated by this genre that was basically lost and ignored for decades. I started reading up about romance comics from an historical perspective and also talking to friends who were passionate about the old romance comics. I will never be an expert on American romance comics by any means, but I am fascinated by them.
GP: Are there any particular series of the past you’ve enjoyed?
JA: Since I’m still exploring American romance comics (and most of the ones I’ve enjoyed have been because of the ridiculousness), I’ll have to go with a manga. While not technically a romance, I adore Nana always and forever. In a way, it’s about the various romances of the two main characters, but also their love for each other. It’s mature and smart and beautiful… and sadly trailed off into very little resolution for readers.
GP: The “romance genre” is huge in the book world, not so much in comics. Why do you think there’s such a disparity between the two when it comes to that?
JA: Well, for so long women haven’t felt welcome in comics, and women are the primary demographic of romance novels. I find it interesting that many people who want to defend objectification and sexism in super hero comics point to romance novels as the other side of the coin. Putting aside some of the most glaring errors in that false equivalency, I think the important distinction in terms of publishing is that while romance is huge in novels, it is not *the* leading kind of novel. When you speak with someone who doesn’t really read novels, do they immediately assume you’re talking about romance novels? Of course not—the prose publishing world is diverse in genre to the point that there’s no one obvious genre in the lead above all others. It makes prose more welcoming, in my opinion. Now switch that around—if you’re speaking with someone who doesn’t really read comics, do they immediately assume you’re talking about super hero comics?
That’s one of the reasons comics needs the super hero genre to be more welcoming to non-comics readers—if we’re ever going to fix the public perception of the comics medium, we need to throw the doors wide open to everyone. And that includes the front doors of super hero comics. Women don’t look at novels and think “oh, this isn’t for me” based on a few covers. But our culture in America has taught people that they can do that with comics. This is why people are critical of super hero comics but generally leave publishers like Zenescope alone—very few of the folks on the side of diversifying comics want there to be any censorship. They just want the primary genre associated with comics, super heroes, to seem welcoming to all.
Part of the reason I wanted to focus solely on romance as a genre is that I wanted to open another door into comics. It may not be the front door and it may not be easily found by everyone. But if I can get a handful of people per year to give comics a try for the first time, I’ll be happy. And I think romance builds an easy bridge between something women already enjoy and something comics can do really well. A person who already reads romance novels but has never tried comics might be more willing when they hear about romance comics—rather than a genre they’re less interested in.
GP: You’ve mentioned your aim is for a “diverse readership.” What types of things have you focused on to make that happen?
JA: The biggest part of attracting a diverse readership, in my mind, is hiring diverse creators and featuring diverse characters. Just by hiring people who are not all the same, I’ve been pitched a lot of creative and fun stories that often happen to feature protagonists that aren’t straight and/or white. There’s nothing wrong with heterosexual love stories between two white people (see: “Ruined”), but that’s not the end-all, be-all of romance in the real world. I never told any of the creators that I wanted to see a certain kind of love story from them beyond a sub-genre suggestion or two, but all of them have pitched stories that are diverse.
For instance, I asked Marcy Cook to pitch me and she offered up a lot of different pitches that were all really great. The one that called to me was a sweet, silent story about a couple at a carnival where they chase a balloon. It seemed cute and fun and different from the other stories I’d commissioned. In the pitch she mentioned that the guy would be in the wheelchair but not with a broken leg – just in a long-term wheelchair. I loved that aspect. But what she didn’t bring up until I got the script from her was that his girlfriend was a trans woman of color. The story isn’t about her being trans or him being in a wheelchair, it’s about their romance. But just by representing people that aren’t the “default,” we open up the comics to a broader readership. It’s important to see yourself in your comics, and everyone deserves that opportunity.
GP: You’ve currently focused on just a digital experience so far. Might we see print down the road?
JA: We might! Stay tuned.
GP: What advantages do you think digital has that have helped you kick off this venture?
JA: It’s far, far more affordable than print. I was able to ask for a smaller amount of money via Kickstarter but still pay the creators a fairly reasonable page rate. It also allowed me to have a little more control over the distribution. As a small publisher, Diamond would be daunting for me to work with, and getting comic shops to carry our stuff as a brand new publisher would’ve been a difficult proposition. Instead, I was able to sell through my own site where all of the money from every sale goes to Rosy Press AND through ComiXology Submit where they gave us lots of support in terms of promotions and whatnot. We also were able to focus on a faster cycle because we didn’t have to worry about printing and shipping and all that.
GP: You launched this with a Kickstarter campaign. What lessons did you learn through that, and in general what have you learned you might not have known before your launch?
JA: Running a Kickstarter campaign is a *lot* of work. I thought I knew how much work it would be, but I wasn’t really prepared. I spent a lot of my prep time working on putting together the teams and getting them working, but I also should’ve spent those months putting together the Kickstarter campaign. The week before we launched the campaign was incredibly hectic, but that could’ve been avoided at least a little! But I will say that having a specific goal and having folks be a part of our success through Kickstarter meant a lot of great exposure for the project that we wouldn’t have gotten without Kickstarter. Our backers are part of the team and we couldn’t have done it without them. That’s not just lip service, either, it’s the truth. I had some money squirreled away to get Rosy Press started, but not nearly as much as the Kickstarter brought in.
I also learned that it can be hard to keep people engaged in your project after the Kickstarter ends. You can’t just coast on Kickstarter success—you have to deliver a quality project. Otherwise, what’s the point? Sure, you made money, but if you’re trying to produce something creative, it had better be something you’d be proud of. Otherwise, all the Kickstarters in the world won’t save you.
GP: What advice would you give women wanting to break into comics or those interested in creating a comic of a genre that might not be currently focused on?
JA: For women wanting to break into comics, I’d say: do it! Study your craft, whether that’s writing, drawing, lettering, coloring, editing, etc., and work hard to get good at it. The way things are in the industry now is that you don’t have to wait for anyone’s permission to make comics. You can do a webcomic or a Kickstarter or an anthology. Build up your profile with smaller projects before you start going for the dream projects. Be responsible and reliable so that people who hire you or publish you want to do so again.
In terms of creating a comic of a genre that isn’t mainstream in comics right now, thankfully the industry is broadening and it may be more possible than you think. It won’t be the easiest thing in the world, but the people reading comics today are interested in reading a wider variety of books than you’d expect.
GP: Any future plans for Rosy Press you might be able to hint at?
JA: SO MANY. First, this week we’ll be tabling for the first time at Long Beach Comic-Con as well as having the first ever Rosy Press panel. We’re also going to start selling art prints, postcards, and greeting cards through our website. And October is going to be huge for us. It marks the first complete story we’ll be selling, with The Ruby Equation going on sale as an ebook early in the month. We also have a panel at NYCC and will be tabling at MICExpo in Cambridge, MA—and Rosy Press creators will be at both events to sign stuff and do sketches and hang out. We’ll be announcing some new creative teams and maaaaaybe even some new projects. PLUS we’ll be doing merch giveaways and offering coupons and free comics at both conventions.
Then I nap for a week before making sure we continue to put out comics!
GP: Thanks so much!
A preview of what you can expect in issue four!
Check out this Janet Lee cover for Fresh Romance #6!