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Project: Romantic

Project RomanticProject Romantic

Publisher Adhouse Books
Creators Nick Craine, Debbie Huey, Chip Kidd, Hope Larson, Junko Mizuno, Scott Morse, Joel Priddy, Paul Rivoche, Jim Rugg, Ash Wood and more!
Pages 256
RRP $19.95 (£9.99 from Play)

Third in the "Project" series of indie comics anthologies from Adhouse, which has already given us 2003's Project: Telstar, and 2005's Project: Superior (and its spin-off, Superior Showcase) the newly-released Project: Romantic is also the last in the series. Heartbreakers.

Like its predecessors, Project: Romantic brings together all manner of comics creators to each create a short story based around the chosen themes. In this case, artists and writers are challenged to bring to the page their take on such subjects as love, romance and relationships. As suggested in the brilliantly-researched introduction, a brief retrospective of romance comics through the ages, it's a calculated attempt at tackling one of the most neglected of the classic comics genres - the same one that artists like Jack Kirby and John Romita started out in before they went on to help define the emergent superhero genre with titles like, oh, I don't know, Fantastic Four and Spider-Man.

On the surface, that might make it sound like it lacks the testosterone of the previous collections, with their themes of Robots and Superheroes, but it's hardly the case. After all, in Projects Telstar and Superior, plenty of creators took the opportunity to prove that just because a story was about a sentient satellite or a man who could punch holes in a building, it didn't mean it couldn't really be about a girl. Project Romance is, if anything, the natural extension of these stories. It has the same spectrum of humour, ranging from gentle (Josh Cotter's one-page Kingdom Animalia Illustrated pieces) to twisted (Robert Goodin's The Fart of Love) and it has as wide an artistic range as before, from barest sketches, to the most intricate, fully-painted strips. It's something any comics fan will appreciate, as a range of storytelling devices and stylistic renderings rip you right out of the traditional mindset and show you what can be done with the format when you don't take your cues entirely from the last 30 years of superhero comics and nothing else.

In fact, the main differences between Romantic and its predecessors is that for the first time, almost every story is presented in full colour. While I'm not some kind of chromatist snob (some of my best friends are black and white) it's undeniable that this increases the visual appeal of the work, giving each story an extra layer of identity that monochrome comics sometimes struggle to achieve. There may be slightly less pages in Romantic than Superior for the same cost, but I can't imagine anyone will deny that the increased production values are worth the money, especially since Adhouse packages are already some of the best in the industry.

In a collection this varied, it's almost impossible to choose any stand-out strips, because so many blend innovative storytelling with brilliant design and fantastic writing - however, Maris Wicks' Adventure Love Story is a definitely highlight as nothing less than a comics version of those old "choose your own adventure" books, allowing you to decide the path of a relationship between the simplistically designed cover stars, jumping back and forth from page to page (spread throughout the entire book) based on your decisions, with only one chance of a happy ending and many, more likely, disastrous ones.

Kelly Alder also draws a fair amount of attention with a sketchy depiction of an outstandingly demented concept in her strip, In & Out, wherein a woman literally regurgitates her partner for a dinner date, only for him to consume her, while a waiter looks on over this daily occurrence. With some pedestrian dialogue offsetting the whole experience to a level of surreality Twin Peaks would be jealous of, and a biting social commentary beneath the whole thing, it's probably my favourite story in the whole anthology.

However, that's not to short change anyone else. As with any anthology, some strips work better than others, and personal preference dictates that one kind of strip won't interest one person as much as another, but the overall level of quality is, as with any Adhouse release, remarkably high. There's no reason you can't find something to like about every story in here. As with the last two, I'll take great interest in investigating the previous work of many of the participants. Once again, the guys at Adhouse have opened my eyes to some great creators, so it's time for me to open my wallet and show my appreciation.

5 Stars

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