Twisted Romance #1

Alex de Campi, Sarah Horrocks, and Magen Cubed (Writers), Sarah Horrocks and Katie Skelly (Artists)
Image Comics
February 7, 2018
Twisted Romance is off to a fresh and exciting start in issue #1. Alex de Campi’s premise–an agency devoted to causing break-ups–is simple and super intriguing. The degree to which both de Campi and Magen Cubed’s writing joins romance and detective tropes with the paranormal gives it a modern and vibrant feeling, completely appropriate given the popularity of supernatural romance as a genre.
twisted romance

It demonstrates a recognition that supernatural romance themes are responding to the same demands that ’60s adjacent romance comics were: comics like Young Love, Young Romance, and Girl’s Romance, to name a few. Twisted Romance represents a natural subversion of these comics, which were invested in enforcing the status quo and adhering to Comics Code standard. By merging the melodramatic and emotional narratives of traditional romance comics with pulp themes, Twisted Romance has a great “style guide” for subsequent issues: evocative and not overly restrictive.
Katie Skelly’s story introduces Heartbreak Incorporated, an agency dedicated to causing breakups, for a price. To help his client, the mysterious man who takes the case infiltrates a sinister, supernatural nightlife that he is very familiar with. Skelly really ramps up in this issue, expanding the immersive and seedy world she opened up in her recent Fantagraphics release, My Pretty Vampire. The art here pairs perfectly with the ’60s color palette, more easily placed as “sixties,” in fact, than the original comics it riffs off, which were way more lurid due to the color plates used. The establishing and build-up of characters are laid out by both writer and artist with enough care that the ending has a decent impact, and overall, the comic makes a strong first impression.
Magen Cubed’s tale follows a couple of gay wendigo hunters in a campy adventure reminiscent of television series True Blood with a touch of Anne Rice’s novels. It’s hard to dive straight from Skelly’s strong visuals straight into a short prose story, but dive Twisted Romance does. Nothing against Magen Cubed, but I found it hard to get into. For me at least, the more baroque features in the writing–protagonists with grandiose names, paranormal creatures, and neon-lit bars–all read like a string of heavily tapped ideas. I feel this would have worked better as a comic, so I’ll come clean: I’m interested in comics, there’s a bias at play here.
Sarah Horrocks’ comic follows a distraught and furious woman, disappointed with her dead lover who had previously promised her eternity. De Campi does well in creating a less straight-forward narrative, lending ambiguity and space for Horrocks to excel in. Horrocks’ works are as much a series of feelings as they are narratives, and I’m definitely a fan. Her other works, notably Hecate Snake Diaries and Dysomnia also heavily feature the occult, and maintain a similar atmosphere of mysterious grief and dread.
Somewhere among Horrocks’ inks, and her willingness to dwell on the disgusting, comes an impression I’ve only gotten before from the comics that Slave Labor Graphics were publishing in the ’90s and early 2000s: the feeling that the comic you’re reading might well be banned somewhere, so you should probably hold onto it. It isn’t an overwhelming similarity, however. SLG maintained a boys club vibe for the most part which is obviously absent here. Horrocks also definitely employs a lot more artistry than that specific cross-section of comics. I’d be hard pressed to mistake them for each other wholesale, which is a good thing. Her visuals of the chandelier room and giant figure after death are especially striking.
Overall, Twisted Romance does a good job in its debut as marking itself out as unique, with all the excitement of noir, pulp, and romance, without the disappointingly limited treatment of women that those genres historically exhibit. Its melodramatic and illicit imagery is well-delivered. With a wide range of artists tapped, this series could definitely go anywhere, but the first issue starts off with a bang, to be certain.