After interviewing romance comic historian Jacque Nodell, I got the chance to sit down with Jacque and artist, Megan Levens, who drew Ares & Aphrodite, a contemporary romance comic written by Jamie S. Rich that is now available in trade.

Megan has also drawn Madame Frankenstein (also written by Jamie S. Rich) and for the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic. Excited about a new romance comic (review to come), I wanted to talk to Megan and Jacque about Ares & Aphrodite and the recent rebirth of romance comics.

Megan, tell me a little bit about Ares & Aphrodite and the premise of the comic.

Ares & Aphrodite is a classic romantic comedy, set against the backdrop of modern-day Hollywood. Divorce lawyer Will Ares and wedding planner Gigi Averelle meet through the impending wedding of a well known film producer and a young starlet. As they try to get their clients down the aisle, amidst tabloid scandals and drama, Will and Gigi themselves end up falling in love.

Ares & Aphrodite, Oni, Rich & Levens, 2015Megan, how did the idea for Ares & Aphrodite come to be?

The initial concept was handed to Jamie S. Rich as a one-line pitch from James Lucas Jones…”A divorce lawyer and a wedding planner meet and fall in love.” Jamie is a fantastic romance writer, so he was able very quickly to come up with two leads for the story who didn’t fall into clichés. Even with Will as the hopeless romantic of the two, and Gigi as the pragmatic realist, he handed me a female lead who wasn’t just another flat, career-driven ice princess who just needed to meet the right guy to solve all her problems. We had just finished working on our first collaboration, the 8-page anthology story “Two Wheels, Two Feet” (which is included in the print version of Ares & Aphrodite as a bonus), and when he approached me with Will and Gigi, I jumped at the chance to draw their story.

I know Jacque’s love for romance comics, but Megan will you tell me a bit about your own experience with romance comics?

I never had a great deal of exposure to the classic romance comics, but one of the first non-superhero comic series I read faithfully was Rumiko Takahashi’s manga Ranma 1/2, which had some fantastic elements to it, but it was definitely a romantic comedy (with emphasis on the comedy). When I got into college, I discovered what I suppose people were calling “slice of life” comics, like Adrian Tomine’s work, Strangers in Paradise by Terry Moore, and particularly Blankets by Craig Thompson. To me these indie comics were very clearly romances, they were just stripped down and very raw and relatable, and I ate it up. It’s kind of funny that my first published comics work has been in horror, because I always imagined myself as a romance artist, and even my Twitter handle “SadMeganGirls” is a reference to the fact that I used to pretty much just draw sad young women in various states of love and heartbreak.

 Why is it appealing to you to draw “sad young women in various stages of love and heartbreak.” What about that appeals to you as an artist?

Draw what you know, I guess? I kid. I’ve always placed a lot of focus on my characters’ expressions and their acting, and romance is actually a lot harder to pull off in comic art than say, anger or fear. I suppose I enjoy the challenge of trying to render a more subtle range of emotions. It’s tricky to make a drawing look as though it’s gazing lovingly at another drawing, or look as though they’re crushed but trying to hide it.

With Janelle Asselin’s recent Kickstarter for her press for Romance Comics that has way exceeded its goal, what are your thoughts on the future of romance comics?

MEGAN: Well first off, a big congrats to Janelle and Rosy Press! I think like any genre of comics, the future of romance comics lies in the quality of the writing and art that we can bring to these stories. Comics readership is more diverse than ever, and clearly there’s a demand for different types of stories and art, so there’s always going to be a place for romance comics at the table.

JACQUE: I truly believe that romance comics have a really bright future ahead of them. While superheroes are the bread and butter of the industry, people crave romance stories and look to those stories and characters to help them work through their own romantic longings. As long as humans love one another and have intimate relationships, and sequential art continues to be a well-nurtured medium for storytelling, I think there is a future for romance comics.

How do you think romance comics need to change for a contemporary audience?

MEGAN: I think by redefining what we think makes a “romance comic.” I’d argue that Saga is, at its heart, a romance. Jamie did a beautiful sci-fi romance himself, A Boy And A Girl (with artist Natalie Nourigat, also from Oni Press), and even with its more complex underlying themes and futuristic setting, it was first and foremost a love story. We’re starting to see creators playing with the idea that romance comics don’t just have to be present-day, boy-meets-girl…but even if they are, a great story and beautiful art will draw in any comics reader.

JACQUE: A good love story should be timeless. No matter the setting, the human element must be there. As we all know, the stages and emotions of falling in and maintaining love are so complex and include everything from stubbornness to vulnerability to confusion. All those elements (along with a healthy dose of sensuality) play into a moving romance tale. Finding new audiences that will embrace romance comics will be a step in the right direction. The romance novel community has flourished, and I think that is in part because they have truly honed in on who comprises their readership. For romance comics, potential audiences may be people who have traditionally not felt like comic book readers, or they may be from non-traditional comic book reader age demographics (for example, tweens looking for age-appropriate content). Continuing to eliminate the barriers to comic books as an accepted form of literature, as well as making them more accessible where they are purchased will no doubt help open things up for an expanded contemporary audience.

Megan, can we expect some more romance comics from you and Jamie?

I’d jump at the chance to work on another romance with Jamie, but he’s a bit busy as of late, now that he’s senior editor at Vertigo Comics! But Ares & Aphrodite definitely won’t be my last romance comic. I have a few ideas of my own, and would love to work with other writers as well. I feel very much at home in romance comics, they’re where I started and I’m always happy to come back.

To view Megan’s work, click here and here. To follow Jacque’s work, check out her blog Sequential Crush.