Smash Pages Q&A: Alex de Campi aims for the heart with ‘Twisted Romance’

The versatile writer discusses the weekly anthology series, which breaks hearts this month from Image Comics.

Alex de Campi has established a reputation as a versatile writer who seems to move effortless from one genre and one approach to another. Her work has ranged from Smoke and its sequel Ashes to the mobile comic Valentine, from Grindhouse to My Little Pony, and Archie vs. Predator, which is hard to classify for a number of reasons. More recently she’s written books including Mayday, No Mercy, Bankshot, Semiautomagic and Astonisher for a number of companies and worked with a broad range of artists working in a broad range of styles.

To continue her habit of working with many artists in many styles, de Campi’s new big project tackles one genre she hasn’t written – romance. Twisted Romance is a four-issue weekly series coming out this month from Image Comics. Each issue is self-contained with two comics stories and a prose story. I reached out to Alex to find out more about the project.

Alex, where did the idea for Twisted Romance come from?

I wanted to do something fun with my friends, and try something new. I think the idea started ages ago when I was having a drink with Darick Robertson at SDCC a couple years ago and he was like, “what I really want to do is a romance book.” And I thought, “Yeah.” So I asked a few friends if they wanted to do a series of one-shot romance stories with me, pitched it to Image – who suggested the weekly-in-February format – and then it was a mad scramble to write and co-ordinate the series! Alas, Darick’s and my schedules didn’t align for this one – it was so short notice, in the end – but someday we will do this thing.

When you think of romance comics, what are you thinking of? And how did you want these comics to play with that idea of what those comics were and what people expect?

I was thinking about a combination of the classic fifties, sixties and seventies Marvel and DC romance books (Simon and Kirby’s Young Romance, Lee’s Our Love, etc) and, honestly, fanfic. Want to see well-plotted, well-written superhero stories, with superb emotional arcs? So I wanted to take what I did, which is generally very raw, hardcore thrillers about identity and people making terrible decisions, and apply that to love stories. I’ve been working really hard on improving the emotional arcs of my stories and this was almost like a final test. You remember the stories that touch your heart, that make you cry. That’s why it’s so important to write compelling emotional arcs, and compelling love stories.

I very infrequently think about others’ expectations when I create a comic. I need it to feel fresh to me, to feel worthwhile. If people then tag it as “innovative”? Well fine, I guess. I just like trying new stuff. It’s part of growing and staying sharp as a creator. Different genres, different formats (such as our 8 panel Hells Kitchen Movie Club strips online, or the 10-page Judge Dredd serials I have running right now, or indeed just actual books: I have Bad Girls, a noir OGN out in July from Simon & Schuster).

Were you always thinking in terms of, each issue is self-contained, has it own style and approach that’s distinct?

I was thinking more of writing specifically for each artist, in their existing style (because all four artists on my stories are writers in their own right as well), and things they wanted to draw. So it wasn’t a conscious effort on my part to be varied, more a natural outgrowth of my trying to become invisible in the style and subject matter of four very different artists.

How do you go about finding collaborators for something like this?

It all went down in the DMs, my friend. We had to pull this together FAST. The series was approved in early August, which means I had to write four 28 page stories for four radically different artists, and bring on the backup collaborators, in time for an October 10 solicits deadline and December print deadlines. So I shamelessly asked my friends, and some folks I admired who were acquaintances. I’m thrilled with our lineup. Everyone was amazing and professional and we are ON TIME and it was just a great group of people, y’know? And I made new friends out of it.

When working like this, are you thinking about the artist and writing a script for them, are you talking about genre and form with them? What’s the process?

With each artist, I looked really hard at their existing work — how many panels per page, the things they avoid drawing, their stylistic preferences and go-tos — and then bounced ideas around with them. Once we found something we liked, I drafted a script that hewed as close to their natural style as possible, and then ran it by them for input / changes.

I know you’re also working on at least half a dozen things at once. Do you want to mention anything else coming up?

Oh, lordy. I can’t keep track of it all. Right now Art Wyatt, Henry Flint and I have a 5-part movieverse Judge Dredd vs Dark Judges story running in the 2000 A.D. Magazine. My book with Lion Forge / Catalyst Prime, Astonisher (with Pop Mhan and Jessica Kholinne) sees issue 5 hitting stands soon. In July I’ve got Bad Girls coming out with Victor Santos from Gallery 13 / Simon & Schuster. There’s probably more I’m forgetting? I have a prose novel on sub – pray for me – and am doing some commissioned short story work, which is super cool.

So each issue has a main comics story, a backup comics story, a prose story, am I forgetting anything? And is there anything you wanted to include that you couldn’t fit?

Yes, that’s it! Each issue is 48 pages long (and only $3.99), and has a 28 page comics story by me plus a fab artist friend (Katie Skelly, Alejandra Gutiérrez, Carla Speed McNeil, Trungles); an 8 page backup comics story by another creator; and an 8 page prose romance story by a third creator! What else did I want to include? I dunno. We just wrapped it so I’m basically lying here staring at the ceiling like “Aaah, I’m done, I’m done.”

So Twisted Romance comes out weekly in February. For people still going, hmm, I dunno about romance, what’s your hard sell?

Well, it’s me, so it’s mushy feelings stuff – and murder. There is actual plot, and suspense. But also: kissing. And just as in life, not every story has a happy ending.

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