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With 'Fresh Romance,' Janelle Asselin advocates for more women in comic books

Comic book editor Janelle Asselin.
Comic book editor Janelle Asselin.
Rosy Press
Comic book editor Janelle Asselin.
Image from the forthcoming "Fresh Romance" comics series.
Rosy Press
Comic book editor Janelle Asselin.
Image from the forthcoming "Fresh Romance" comics series.
Sally Jane Thompson
Comic book editor Janelle Asselin.
Image from the forthcoming "Fresh Romance" comics series.
Yanick Paquette
Comic book editor Janelle Asselin.
Image from the forthcoming "Fresh Romance" comics series.
Sarah Winifred Searle
Comic book editor Janelle Asselin.
Image from the forthcoming "Fresh Romance" comics series.
Arielle Jovellanos

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Don't look now, but it might be time for romance comics to make their big comeback.

Popular in the 1950s and '60s, romance comics died out due to a variety of factors, including a stipulation in the Comics Code Authority that stated: "Passion or romantic interest shall never be treated in such a way as to stimulate the lower and baser emotions."

Well, prepare your lower and baser emotions. Comics editor and journalist Janelle Asselin, the senior editor at the website Comics Alliance, and who previously worked on "Batman" for DC Comics, is determined to bring romance comics back. On March 23, she launched a Kickstarter campaign to create "Fresh Romance," a monthly, all-digital romance comics magazine. In just 10 days, she's more than covered the original goal of $28,000.

When Asselin came by The Frame recently, she spoke with host John Horn about the objectification of female characters in comics, the obstacles that women face in the comics industry, and the all-inclusive nature of "Fresh Romance."

Interview Highlights:

When you're talking to your illustrators and creators, what have the conversations been about how women are going to be depicted physically in these books?

The point is that while we may have sexy situations, no one's going to be objectified. This isn't about making anybody look like a cardboard cut-out. All of my creators are very invested in drawing pretty people [laughs], but not overtly sexualized people.

What's your general reaction to how women, especially young women, are typically shown in comics?

For so long, because the primary audience of comics was men, they pandered to the worst in their male readers. People want to talk about how the male characters are also really muscle-y and that most men don't look like that, but the difference is that the men are made to look really powerful and strong. It's not about them being sexy, it's about them having power.

For the women, it's making them look like objects for men, and no matter how good the writing is, you're still looking at a character that looks like a cardboard cut-out.

And when it's a 16-year-old girl like the Wonder Girl on the Teen Titans cover, it begs a lot of questions about what we're encouraging and what the point is of doing that when that character is related to Wonder Woman, and she's strong and has all these other attributes that could be pulled out and shown in the illustration.

When you wrote your review of the Teen Titans cover on Comic Book Resources, it led to some incredibly hateful things that were said about you, but these were not unusual in the world of comic book fans. Where do you place those comments in the broader conversation surrounding women in comics?

Some of the more mild comments that I got were that I was a feminazi and that I was trying to ruin comics, or that I wanted to censor all comics, which is ridiculous because I'm about to make some smutty romance comics myself. Then it led all the way up to rape threats, some of which were very simple and some of which were multiple paragraphs about friends of mine and myself being treated horribly. It's not uncommon in comics, and I was...

Why is that? You say "rape threats" like it's [just] a negative email, but that's an incredibly violent, vicious thing to throw at somebody. Why is it so common and so present?

A big part of it is the anonymity of the Internet. You look at a movement like Gamergate in gaming, and a lot of the foundation is hate towards women and hate towards outspoken women in their industry.

It's kind of the same thing. Comics is a little bit better, but you also have a lot of men who have had this industry pandering to them and they don't like the idea that they don't have the rule of the roost any more, that they don't get to call all of the shots.

You also wrote about working inside the industry, and I'm quoting you now: "If you're not threatened with rape, you're told you're not qualified, you're not good enough, you're not welcome here." You're not talking about fans or trolls here, but the industry's views of women, correct?

Absolutely. During that whole kerfuffle, an artist that I'd never worked with but who worked at DC when I was there, said something along the lines of, Have you ever been to a comics shop?

I suspect you grew up in comics shops.

I worked in a comics shop for a while. You constantly have to reinforce your right to be there, which men don't have to do in comics. While sitting in my office at DC Comics, working on Batman books, I was asked all the time, "But do you really read comics?" I was like, "Why would I take this job if I didn't read comics?"As an assistant editor, it's low pay and a lot of hours, so you have to love what you do to do it.

But you constantly have to defend your right to be there and your knowledge of the medium, when instead we should be opening the doors wide and saying, "Everyone is welcome." You don't find people who read books yelling at other people who read books because they haven't read all of the books [laughs].

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