Romance comics are largely absent from the direct market. Maybe that’s because that segment of the industry and readers themselves place too much emphasis on the unlimited budget of comics. But when publishers chase the audiences of blockbuster films, they potentially ignore the appeal of small indie projects which focus on characters over concepts.
Virtually Yours, a graphic novel published by comiXology Originals, is definitely in that latter column, a story about its two protagonists Eva and Max navigating the world of dating and relationships in the internet age. I interviewed writer Jeremy Holts and artist Elizabeth Beals about the development of the graphic novel, creating a modern-day rom-com, and working with a publisher with a different kind of audience
Is a service that offers virtual partners something you discovered in the real world or something you came up with specifically for this story?
Jeremy Holt: I suppose virtual partners is something I pulled from the real world in regards to how society views such things. As someone pushing 40, I’ve experienced an uptick in pressure from friends and family to meet someone, settle down, buy a house, and have kids. A prevailing sense of other’s projected FOMO is something I wish we could opt-out of. This thought was the genesis of what would become Virtually Yours.
What don’t you see in other romance stories that you wanted to bring to Virtually Yours?
JH: I wanted to incorporate a realism that most rom-coms avoid. What I’m referring to is the plethora of emotional experiences that exist outside of the honeymoon phase of romance. I wanted to shine a spotlight on these complexities because I think they’re more interesting, but more importantly the vital threads that form the intricate tapestry of life. With that, I decided to focus on two distinctly different perspectives on love in the time of the internet, while also establishing authentic characters going through relatable conflicts.
Other than the electronic component, what makes your graphic novel a truly modern love story?
JH: I think what makes this book a truly modern love story is the fact that it doesn’t work or exist without the advent of the internet. That’s the obvious observation. The more subtle one is my interest and willingness to discuss/explore topics such as masculinity, LGBTQ themes, domestic violence, and transgressing heteronormative tropes throughout the narrative.
Did you draw from your own relationship experiences to help bring the characters and story to life?
JH: I absolutely did. Many of the situations, dialogue, and even one character, in particular, have been lifted from my life. I think it would have been impossible to sequester my extensive dating experience from this story. It also seemed interesting and productive to expand upon some of my truly terrible experiences to help tell a compelling story.
The characters are very expressive. Elizabeth, what’s your trick for capturing nuanced emotions on the page?
Elizabeth Beals: Plenty of reference! Whether it’s from a movie still, television show, or even an animation face chart. More often than not I’ll just open Photo Booth and start taking pictures until I get the exact pose/ expression needed.
Here’s an example of one said photo booth photo shoot ( glamorous, I know):
We don’t see many romance comics in the direct market. Why do you think they’re such a rarity?
JH: I honestly don’t know the answer to that. I suspect that most people assume romance comics cover the same recycled tropes and lack substance or even depth. I personally adore the genre and think there’s a lot of uncovered territory to explore. Especially as a POC and genderqueer creator, I think there are plenty of engaging and insightful stories like Virtually Yours that could help propel romance comics into the 21st Century.
What makes comiXology Originals a good home for comics in the romance genre?
JH: What makes comiXology Originals a great home for Virtually Yours is the fact that they have a well established digital platform and presence. That alone perfectly aligns with what the book is about and represents.
Has it reached a different audience than your past projects because of its availability through comiXology Unlimited?
EB: Up until now I’ve mainly worked on variant covers (which are usually only an incentive for physical comics). So this being my first OGN as well as a digital release through comiXology Originals, has definitely reached a different/much wider audience than I’ve had in the past.
JH: I think it has. Having it available to not only comiXology Unlimited subscribers but Amazon Prime and Kindle members provides great visibility. I also would like to shamelessly plug the publisher’s PR team SuperFan Promotions. They’ve managed to get the most extensive coverage that I’ve experienced thus far for one of my books. Thanks to their expertise, support, and guidance, the online engagement with the book has been incredible.
What has the early response been like?
EB: It’s honestly been pretty great! With it being my first big project I was pretty anxious about it going over well (and not making Jeremy look bad) XD But everyone’s been super supportive and really connecting with the genuine story that Jeremy has crafted!
JH: I second Elizabeth! I’m thrilled that the story is resonating with readers and reviewers on a very personal level. That was my goal all along, and I’m both flattered and honored that my personal truths have created such positive responses. And there’s no way Elizabeth could ever make me look bad. On the contrary, I hope my story does her art justice.
The graphic novel ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, where it’s unclear whether Eva and Max will be friends or something more. Is the story open-ended or do you know where their relationship is heading from here?
JH: We left the story open-ended so that readers could decide for themselves where Max and Eva eventually end up. This was intentional. We both agreed to not adhere to the tired trope of everything working out in the end. The truth is things often don’t. By having the story end with Max and Eva re-meeting was our way of saying that sometimes the best relationships—romantic or not—begin with a solid friendship.
Matt Chats is a twice-monthly interview series featuring discussions with creators or players in comics, diving deep into industry and creative topics. Find its author, Matt O’Keefe, on Twitter and Tumblr. Email him with questions, comments, complaints, or whatever else is on your mind at email@example.com.