The best sort of anthology is one that does not attempt to provide something for everyone. Anthologies can be collections of unique styles and perspectives, exposing readers to art they might never have encountered otherwise. They can be an entry point into the broader work of individual artists while simultaneously forming a coherent tone that will make the reading experience cohesive. They can be great when broken into individual elements or read as a whole. Twisted Romance #1 is the best sort of anthology.
"Old Flames", the featured comic, evokes trashy vampire cinema in the best possible fashion. The world it conjures is an ugly and mean-spirited place. So are the many characters who populate it, driven by petty motives and spitting nasty barbs at one another. The result is something ridiculously fun though. Every element is simultaneously over-the-top and self-assured so that it avoids classification as camp to become a heightened ride through an unrecognizable world.
Katie Skelly's pages, specifically sequences illustrating the city, a nightclub, or sexual encounter, all highlight what is most interesting about this strange place. Histories and mythology are alluded to, but the emphasis is on the now and digging any further into the how's and why's of the matter might just ruin that experience. The pacing is such that each new turn lands like a bullet and makes you want to flip pages until there are no more to turn. While there are twists and discoveries, it's not the plot that makes "Old Flames" function, but the reading experience itself. Just like discovering an old movie that never quite entered the zeitgeist; it's entirely yours for a moment and that moment is exhilarating.
"Leather & Lace" is a prose entry and easily the most romantic addition to this twisted volume. Magen Cubed offers a sexy twist to urban fantasy, one that makes it clear the genre is far from played out. What makes this short story function is how comfortable Cubed is in allowing the unspoken to remain unspoken until the end. She focuses on violence and bars, allowing the story to run wild about a small central mystery and flesh out its protagonists at the same time. What makes it truly sexy is that the tension becomes palpable from regular interactions rather than pining. In spite of the supernatural elements, there's something about this romance that feels more honest about human attraction than in many romantic tales.
If Cubed's story is the most romantic and human, Sarah Horrocks' comic "Red Medusa" is its opposite. The comic is raw and vital, tapping into the rush of blood that flows from the most passionate emotions, whether they be romantic or violent. This tale tests the boundaries between the two and emphasizes its ideas as much through visual concepts as narrative. There are strains of Hooper's Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Greek mythology throughout, and they play off one another in a visceral fashion bound to evoke a response from any reader.
Whether a given reader enjoys all or none of these installments is beside the point. Twisted Romance is presenting some of the most interesting and talented creators working within comics today, and what they provide to this collection is representative of just why that is. It is not simply a matter of liking these pieces, it's that they are all worth discussing and re-reading. It's a stellar first issue of an anthology which clearly understands the purpose of this format.
Twisted Romance #1 will be available February 7, 2018.
"Old Flames" Art by Katie Skelly
"Old Flames" Written by Alex de Campi
"Leather & Lace" by Magen Cubed
"Red Medusa" by Sarah Horrocks