An interview with Dry County writer and artist Rich Tommaso.
Rich Tommaso is the creator of She Wolf, Spy Seal and Dark Corridor. Tommaso took the time to sit down with us and talk about his latest book from Image Comics, Dry County. Set in early ’90s Miami, Dry County follows Lou Rossi, a young Generation Xer who plays detective to find a missing girl that he’s fallen hard for.
AiPT!: I’ve read Spy Seal and She Wolf and enjoyed them a great deal. How did you first get into comics?
Rich Tommaso: I was self publishing mini comics right after quitting art school in 1989–and from then until about 1993, I was sending these things out to everyone I could think of: Dark Horse Comics, Fantagraphics Books, New England Comics, Vertigo, Tundra, First, NOW, etc, etc… so after four or five years of this, through sheer frustration that came with a new living space–wherein EVERYONE was getting their work published (it was a house made up of recent Joe Kubert graduates) I called up Fantagraphics to ask If I could send them something for review. Jeremy Pinkham–who was the editor for EROS comix at that time–was on the other end of the phone and said, “Oh, hey–you sent us a comic a few months back, we’d like to publish that.” So, after years of trying to cram my foot in the door, it was just that easy one day. So, Cannibal Porn was my first-ever published mini-series for EROS comix. After I drew the first issue, I was told that Gary Groth was interested in publishing my next work under the Fantagraphics label–and that ended up being my first legitimate graphic novel, a crime book called Clover Honey.
AiPT!: What was the inspiration behind Dry County?
Tommaso: The story is heavily based on my own experiences while living down in Florida during the very early ’90s. I had a book idea that turned into a line of book ideas that would be based on the many different places I had lived and how I could turn each one of those experiences into realistic, sort of petty crime story novels. This first book is about a troubled romance, so it lent itself easily to a noir tale.
AiPT!: I know the description of Dry County says it’s in the ’80s, but it feels like early ’90s to me based on seeing the club scene and the guy wearing a Nine Inch Nails shirt, which is a good choice for a band. What made you decide on this time setting for Dry County?
Tommasso: That’s the fault of some of the earlier press releases for the book–it IS the early ’90s. The reason I chose this time was I wanted to delve into that period of my own early adulthood. I was 20 years old in 1990 and it seemed to me that 2018 would be a good time to focus a story on a decade that has been gone long enough to notice some significant differences between then and now. I’m trying to throw in as many signs of the time as I can remember to really place the reader in that year and setting. I’ve made some fun lists of bands I was listening to back then, hangouts in Miami, clothing I wore, etc.
AiPT!: I really like the look of the book! From the style of the art and the colors, to the narration written on notebook paper. Did you always plan for Dry County to have this look or did it just happen as you were creating it?
Tommaso: The book was very bare bones before I thought about doing it over at Image. So, beyond the color and package design choices, I decided to have the story’s narrative appear written out by Lou–as notes to keep for his ongoing investigation and to also perhaps use for a crime novel of his own someday. I think the notepad gives the pages something more interesting to look at besides what would have been pages and pages filled with a lot of floating text.
AiPT!: Lou and Janet are down-to-earth people that I think many readers will be able to identify with in some way or another. Are the characters based on anyone you know in life?
Tommaso: Janet is based loosely on a girl I was very slightly involved with in 1991. Her story has been elaborated upon and events have certainly been exaggerated (and names have been changed) in order to turn this into a work of crime fiction. The character Rob is based on two old friends of mine–one who I hung out with in Florida–and another, who I worked with at a pizza restaurant many years later. I made an amalgam of these people for the Rob character in order to allow Rob to come back into the story–novel after novel, time and time again–more often than my two friends in real life have been able to. Also, their sensibilities were so alike, I thought I’d get more out of the character if I thought of Rob as having both of their qualities and sense of humor. The character Brian is based on someone I knew for a short time, the two “Jesus freaks” were based on actual people who would harass and terrorize anyone involved in what they saw as anti-Christian behavior. So, yes, quite a lot of this book is based on people I once knew in my actual life.
AiPT!: Do you like doing both the writing and the artwork? What are some of the pros and cons by pulling double duty on your own book?
Tommaso: It’s hard to really pinpoint when the work will be finished, having to be the writer AND the artist on a series. This is for many reasons. One is, I don’t write an entire story and stick to it like it’s set in stone. I will always be re-writing the script and plot as I’m working on the art. Even if I believe at the start of a new project that I have a solid story from beginning to end, I will always change it along the way. It can be frustrating to allow myself to make these major changes in the story when a deadline is looming and it sometimes drives me crazy–stresses me out like you wouldn’t believe. However, for the most part? I don’t think I could work on ANYTHING long-term if it wasn’t my creation. I don’t know. That may change someday. As I get older, I often feel like I wish I could just draw something and let someone else figure out the story all the headaches that go along with it. Yet every time I think I’m getting tired of all this comic book stuff, an new idea will come to me–out of nowhere–and get me really excited to develop it into a comic series.
AiPT!: I have a big Twitter habit. What is your favorite way to procrastinate when you should be writing?
Tommaso: Facebook used to be my BIG time waster, but I’m not sure why–it used to make me miserable being on there for sometimes hours… It certainly seems like all anyone does on Facebook now is complain, scream and argue with one another. These days, my procrastinating is with Instagram, YouTube and Netflix. I try not to “binge watch” stuff, but with shows like High Maintenance and Deadwood, it’s hard not to.
AiPT!: I’m looking forward to the rest of the series. Are you working on any other projects that you can discuss?
Tommaso: A couple of secret ones, too early to let the cat out of the bag. I am excited to have a fancy, reprint of Clover Honey coming out the same week as Dry County #2, in April. I have some extensive notes on the next Spy Seal adventure, but it will be a while before I can get down to work on it.
AiPT!: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us, Rich. Make sure to check out Dry County when it hits store shelves March 14, 2018!