‘Volume 2 of Strange Romance features dashing spacemen, swashbuckling fantasy women, vampires, mermaids, and slasher killers, all caught in that moonlight web we call love. 17 affairs of the heart by a wide variety of contributors, both established and new.’ (from Comixology)
Written/Art by: various
Publisher: Phantasmic Tales
Released: 21 June 2017
I may have mentioned before that I’m not fond of romance plots, because they tend to be considered an essential element of storytelling to be crammed into anything whether it’s needed or not, although they’re good when they’re done well. Well, I ended up with a whole anthology of romance tales, but with a name like ‘Strange Romance’ you know it’s going to be either interesting or blatantly false advertising. Lucky me, it’s the former.
The artwork isn’t a consistent quality throughout but isn’t terrible – it might have something to do with this anthology series recruiting many newcomers alongside established comic creators, but I think it’s more to do with me just not liking some of the styles as much, especially since with short stories I don’t have time for the ones I don’t like to win me over. The range of styles is definitely cool to see though, from paint to stark black and white (no greys) to simplified text-focused visual art. The way each creator/creative team approaches such a broad subject matter means that no matter who you are, there’ll be ones you don’t like and ones you absolutely love. I wouldn’t say each art style suits it’s story (for example Manor, the stark black and white story I mentioned, used shadow and light more than lineart, which is interesting to see but can be hard to determine details without fine line work) but they were an excellent way to showcase the range of sequential art storytelling can take, a real breather from mainstream styles.
Also a breather from the mainstream are the stories themselves; as you can guess from the title there isn’t much of the plain ‘boy meets girl, etc.’ trope here. Monsters and aliens; stories queer, supernatural, and/or singing; humans both brave, bold, and deadly; a Disneyfied intergalactic tyrannical empress, a guy hooking up with himself from another dimension, and that adorable one with the lighthouse. This is a delight for anyone sick of Hollywood clichés and shoehorned romance subplots, and the fact that many of them are sci-fi certainly doesn’t hurt. The short story format worked really well for this subject too, since with a simple and expected end-game it allowed for things like quick set ups and surprise reveals, focus on characters or settings, and a proper attention to the emotional effect desired, however brief. And some good jokes. Good short stories are more obviously than others going to fall into roughly two categories – the serious kind that carefully craft a story to try and get the reader to feel something or convey a serious meaning in a short time, and the kind where the creator is just having fun making a story that requires no long-term payoff or character development, feeling like it’s telling a funny anecdote to someone they just met. That’s not to say the fun ones don’t require crafting – well written is well written regardless of irreverence – but they can absolutely revel in a lightness that longer stories can’t easily pull off. That’s what most of these stories (with the occasional more serious tone) are: irreverent, fun, and engaging.
Though I’d honestly also love to see an anthology of tales based around having absolutely no romance plots (I think some funny stories could be built out of that), I’d recommend this to anyone who doesn’t have a heart of stone, and even then you should give it a try. With 17 wildly different love tales it’s hard to go wrong.
Thanks to Comixology.com for providing this issue of ‘Strange Tales Vol. 2’ for review