Twisted Romance is a weekly mini-series from Image Comics spearheaded by writer Alex de Campi. Tackling different subgenres of romance, each issue features a main story by de Campi and an artist, a backup comic by another creator, and a prose story.
Recently, Rogues Portal had the opportunity to talk with writer Magen Cubed about monsters, pop culture, and her prose story, Leather and Lace, appeared in the first issue. Check it out below!
Rogues Portal (RP): How would you describe your story, in a single sentence, to our readers?
Magen Cubed (MC): When Harry Met Sally meets Supernatural.
RP: Why do you choose to write monsters as romantic leads?
MC: Monsters symbolize a kind dual meaning for a lot of people: the freedom from social conformity and the worries of the human world, as well as the exploration of themes of social marginalization and alienation through the relative safety of fiction. I personally enjoy monster romantic leads because they give me a lot of thematic ground to cover, in terms of the stories I like to tell, incorporating various levels of magical or horror elements to different ends. I get to tackle things that might be a little too dark or strange for a more traditional romance, in terms of setting and conceits.
In Leather & Lace, I wanted to write a queer romance between a vampire and a human. It’s a romcom at heart, complete with two quirky heroes and an endearing relationship, but it also plays with the kind of violence and toxic masculinity often found in monster hunting fiction. The idea just seemed fun to me, opening the world up to more exploration than if it were just two humans.
RP: A few years ago, Twilight was the mainstream monster romance. Many considered The Shape of Water to be one of the best romance stories of the year. The pop culture sphere is becoming more accepting of progressively stranger stories, why do you think this is?
MC: While the pop culture appetite for monster romance is pretty cyclical, as with most other popular genres and tropes, there’s a reason it keeps coming back around. This kind of romantic monster fantasy scratches a lot of itches people have right now, I think. It’s the need to up-end more toxic romantic ideals and engage with love stories that are not only more inclusive but relatable.
In Twilight, at least from a thematic standpoint, a vampire boyfriend is a pretty safe, understable choice for teen girls just figuring out their wants and needs in an often overwhelming world. A vampire boyfriend is a chance to stop time and stay young forever, without having to enter the adult world and be bogged down by its ugliness. People have debated the books/movies to death, but it’s a familiar story that many young people can relate to.
The Shape of Water is just the natural progression of those kinds of themes. Aged up and more mature, it’s for adults struggling to find meaning and connection in that world, which is very often bleak and unjust. Monster romance is an escape, and a rather appealing one, at that. It allows characters to flee a cruel world for a far more loving one, free from the society that’s alienated them. Right now, for a whole host of reasons, I think that really resonates with people.
RP: How does your work with monster leads differ from your work with human leads in romance?
MC: Monster romance with human leads, as well as a lot of human romance in general, is predicated on the idea of that protagonist is in some element of danger. Whether it’s a threat to the character’s career/life plans, social status, inheritance/financial security, or some other risk proposed by chasing after this new romance, your average romantic lead is faced with some tough decisions. That uncertainty, and sometimes legitimate fear, weighs on them.
A monstrous romantic partner is sort of the ultimate danger in many ways. Your lead may very well be risking their safety, life, or even their humanity itself (in the case of being turned by a vampire or other creature) in order to be with the one they love. The human is operating from a disadvantaged place, in that they have far less power, both physically and in terms of the larger supernatural world they’re entering.
In Leather & Lace, I wanted to switch the roles a bit. Dorian is a vampire in love with his best friend, the monster hunter Cash. Cash isn’t even a “bad boy” romantic interest we often see: earnest, good-natured, and a little quirky, he doesn’t have a jaded bone in his body. If Dorian pursues what he believes is an unrequited romance, he risks losing Cash’s friendship entirely. His vampire nature has no bearing on their relationship, positive or negative, and doesn’t shield him from a broken heart. Whether Cash knows it or not, he has all the power in their relationship, putting him a distinct advantage over the lovesick vampire.
As this is a romcom above all else, despite its horror trappings, Dorian’s feelings aren’t as unrequited as he first thought, but he was still prepared to make the sacrifice for Cash’s sake. Even though romantic love is the basis for their “happily ever after,” sometimes sucking it up for the sake of a solid, healthy friendship is a mature choice, too.
RP: Are there any monsters you’ve yet to work with, that you’d like to?
MC: I’ve always been interested in a Frankenstein sort of story, about death, reanimation, and the upper limits of what constitutes a human body. Especially as we creep closer to some degree of transhumanism through medical science, I think these are interesting ideas to consider. Somewhere between sci-fi and horror, through the lens of romance fiction and finding meaning through human connection, even while outside the boundaries of mortal life.
If I ever get around to putting that to paper in any meaningful way, I’ll be sure to let everyone know!
RP: How do you feel that your story fits in with the rest of Twisted Romance?
MC: The series covers a wide range of themes and stories, with different genre conceits at play in every issue. It’s something of a puzzle in that sense, with the individual pieces different from each other and giving the reader something to kind of chew on. In this issue, the themes are pretty grim and violent, with Leather & Lace sitting between Alex and Katie’s Old Flames and Sarah’s Red Medusa.
My story is somewhat of a nice buffer between the two, I think. It offers a more heartfelt, traditionally romantic arc despite the non-traditional trappings. Something sweet to balance out the acidity, as it were, even though the world and the characters in it have an edge that allows them to mesh with the overall tone of the issue.
RP: The main characters of your story, Dorian and Cash, will readers be able to read more of them in the future?
MC: Leather & Lace kicks off something I’m calling The Southern Gothic Series, consisting of short stories and an eventual planned novel (or two!) about their romantic misadventures. The prequel in the series, Love Bites, is available now from Amazon [https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0795VNQPF/]. I’m also currently working on the novel sequel, Born Under a Bad Sign, which introduces more of Cash’s backstory when he and Dorian trek to East Texas to meet his parents.
The book is planned for release later on in 2018, with another in the works next year if I pull it together. These two goofs aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
RP: Is there anything else you’d like to plug?
MC: Thank you for taking the time to talk to me about this project! If you would like to find more of my writing, you can look me up at my site magencubed.net or find my ebooks on Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/Magen-Cubed/e/B00J5VEZ10).
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us, Magen! Twisted Romance #1 hit stores on February 7th. Check it out, along with the rest of the four-issue mini!