Alec is in love, and he won't listen to reason. Never mind that in his post-apocalyptic world, girls are bloodthirsty zombies roaming the sewers to devour young men -- love is blind. And now he finally has someone to join him in a game of Scrabble.
That's amoré inProject: Romantic, a new comics anthology out to rekindle the flame for love stories with fresh plots and stylish art. In the 1940s and '50s, moony tales led the market, with titles like Young Romance making manicured palms sweat across the country. But as the '60s cultural revolution made it clear that there was more to romance than angling to marry your dream man, comics couldn't keep up, and the genre essentially vanished. Seeing the decline, AdHouse Books stepped in to fluff, as it were, the romance comic, with the fresh spin of alt comics innovation, i.e. the undead, talking hamsters, and hipsters with broken hearts.
A few pieces in the collection miss the mark, but most of the 33 comics deliver with witty stories and charming art. Joshua Cotter's "Kingdom Animalia, Illustrated" offers a faux-scientific guide to mating rituals as modeled by animals (I was a little ashamed by just how much the octopus's guide to safe sex made me giggle). Junko Mizuno's signature dolls flirt amidst candy-colored hearts and flowers. Mizuno's hyper-cute art is slick and appealing, but never moved me much beyond, "ooh, pretty." I'd always wondered if she had any observations to make with her stylish characters. Yet this surreal little comic charmed me. Mizuno has her lonely, single girl manically stuffing down pastries and hamburgers when she suspects her boyfriend has left her. As she's eating her way through the pain, she slices into a steaming turkey, only to (hurray!) find her lover hidden inside. The two then literally fly off into the sunset on a magical floating bed, ready to tame another kind of appetite. Now that's one plot that could have spiced up the whining between Carrie and Mr. Big.
Indie comics' signature low tech aesthetic is here, too -- adorable blobs with dots for eyes find happily ever after and sketchy doodles canoodle in pencil and crayon. And if your experience with romance leans towards the bitter side, most pieces build to a smirk more than a swoon. Randall Christopher pinpoints the difficulty of crafting a love story free of clichés, while evil geniuses trade winks over cloaking devices and secret laboratories in Joel Priddy's "Sweetie 'n' Me." Even Jose Garibaldi's touching bedtime story told between lovers includes a breakdancing robot.
Hip irony aside, this modern take on romance comics does offer a welcome historical comparison. As the book's introduction points out, popular 1950's romances had bombshells pining over quarterbacks and warned single girls against being an expert in "technical things." The closest Project: Romantic comes to advice is a look at how to tell your parents you've gotten engaged to your boyfriend. That is, your boyfriend, who has turned into a bear.