PopCultHQ is kicking off 2018 in a new way. Each month, we’ll be selecting Comic Book Creators of the Month and interview them for a spotlight article. For March 2018’s Writer of the Month, we chose writer Rich Tommaso.
I, personally, have always been fascinated with comic book creators who can tackle more than one role in producing a book. Being successful as both a writer and an artist speaks volumes to the talent of the individual. When I think of such a creator, three names immediately come to mind: Matt Kindt, Ray Fawkes, and Rich Tommaso. Sure, there are others, but these are names I continually see come across my desk in the form of previews, review copies, and announcements of new projects by these individuals. In Tommaso’s case, he has certainly found his groove and currently producing some of the most suspenseful and appealing crime and mystery stories found in the medium. For that reason, selecting Rich as our Writer of the Month was an easy decision.
So get comfy and hear from the talented creator as he explains his love for the crime genre, the hardest part of creating an enire issue on one’s own, and what excites the writer when it comes to storytelling.
PopCultHQ Spotlight Interview
Writer of the Month – March 2018:
PopCultHQ: How did comic books influence your childhood? What was the defining moment in your life that you knew, from then on, that you wanted to write comic books for a living? At what point did you become enamored with the crime genre and wanted to tell stories of your own?
Tommaso: I was mostly into comic strips as a kid, so the inspiration came to me probably around age 5. From then on, I knew I wanted to make comics when I grew up. I’ve always loved comics unconditionally. In high school I used to ignore my art teacher’s advice for me to try out other mediums, mainly oil painting. I eventually attempted painting in my senior year, but using acrylics, since they were easier to get consistent flat colors out of. But even then, I merely painted in large cartoons that just happened to be drawn on canvas. It was the only way to finally get my teacher’s approval and attention.
I have to say, I knew very little about the crime genre in literature (in film I was exposed to a lot) when I came up with the idea for CLOVER HONEY in 1994. I believe that book was inspired by two films: PULP FICTION and NORTH BY NORTHWEST. Tarantino’s blockbuster is what led me into thinking of writing and drawing a crime book, but my first pitch to do one for Gary Groth was a wall-to-wall bloodbath gangster story idea called MOBSTERS. Gary hated the idea and somehow knew that I must have just seen PULP FICTION. He did as well and advised me against using that film for inspiration. I was upset about the rejection, until I watched NORTH BY NORTHWEST later that month. Once I saw that I thought, THIS is a good film to draw from. It only has two characters of real importance to the story. I knew that if I focused on just a few characters, it would sharpen my skills at writing more fully-realized 3-dimensional characters. That novel got a lot of attention when it came out–Gary loved it, film magazines interviewed me about it, and it also got a full-page spread in SPIN magazine’s EXPOSURE feature…and I had yet to read a crime novel. For some reason, I just seemed to have a knack for telling stories within the crime world. Gary and my interviewer at SPIN both likened CLOVER HONEY to Jim Thompson’s work and suggested I read his stuff. Once I did, I completely fell in love with them. At this point, I’ve read tons of crime and mystery novel, but Thompson’s work is unparalleled in my opinion. There’s an real authenticity to every degenerate character and every landscape in his novels, that just can’t be matched by someone else’s imagination.
PopCultHQ: Your writing and art has been showing up everywhere lately at Image Comics. From the adventures of SPY SEAL, the recently released DRY COUNTY, and the upcoming CLOVER HONEY Special Edition TPB, you’ve carved out a niche as the spy/crime/suspense creator with the publisher. How has it been having your work supported so well and featured by Image Comics? Can we expect many more crime stories and adventures from you with the label?
Tommaso: I have enjoyed as much freedom with my material at Image than I have at any indie comics publishing house. I also get to do this for a living because of their larger audience, so it doesn’t get much better than that for me. If things go as they’ve been at Image, I’ll be able to get to so many crime/spy projects than I ever would have if I had to juggle doing this with another day job. Hopefully, things continue to go smoothly in the future.
PopCultHQ: Putting SPY SEAL aside for the moment, you broke away from the anthropomorphic series to share the tales of Lou Rossi in DRY COUNTY. What are you most excited about with this new series? How do DRY COUNTY and SPY SEAL differ in how you approach each issue?
Tommaso: DRY COUNTY is vastly different from SPY SEAL. For one, DC is not a traditional crime story. It’s more of an autobiographical story with a crime twist to it. Its characters, their actions, the story’s situations and outcomes have to be realistically rendered because that story is closely following events that have actually happened to me. It makes the series much harder to write–I have to be a little more serious in my decision making. SPY SEAL is such a traditional, classic spy/adventure comic. The only challenge when writing those books is using my imagination to its fullest ability. But I’m not toiling over the story points in that series so much.
PopCultHQ: Being gifted in both writing and illustrating, you’re part of an exclusive group of creators capable of producing an entire comic or trade on one’s own. What is the most challenging aspect of creating an entire issue by yourself?
Tommaso: The hardest thing is getting the pages drawn. I can write my stories pretty quickly once they come to me, the coloring is work I do in batches. meaning, once an issue is drawn, I go ahead and color the whole thing–sometimes in less than five days time. Penciling has always come pretty easy as well. I pencil pretty fast. It’s the inking that takes SO LONG to do. I go very slow when I’m inking–I’m trying to keep my line work clean, but I’m also trying to get those lines to fall in the right place. I hate when someone’s foot is on the wrong plane or foreshortened incorrectly–or if someone’s head is a bit too small for their body. These are things that should be figured out in the pencil stage, but sometimes I don’t catch them all until I’m in that final inking stage. This is why I often do a second pass of pencils in non-reproducible blue pencil on the Bristol board, using a light box. So, yeah, inking is my biggest challenge and always has been.
PopCultHQ: What has been the most important and/or valuable piece of advice you’ve received as a writer in the comic book industry?
Tommaso: The old “write what you know” advice has always been pretty helpful. I hate to say this because I’m going to sound like I’m pompous or something, but it’s either come from dead writers or myself. It took me over fifteen years to return to crime writing, because I was constantly telling myself that I had to be this “literary” writer like Dan Clowes or Chris Ware. But the problem is, after spending that many years banging my head against a brick wall trying to come up with “The Great American Graphic Novel” I finally told myself one day, “You know, maybe you’re just NO GOOD at writing real-life fiction,” straight fiction I call it. Once I let go of that pressure to write something “noteworthy,” I fell in love with my comics once again. Everything I’ve done through RECOIL (my self publishing venture of 2012-2014) and IMAGE COMICS has been a joy to work on–not always, comics is a hard game to keep playing strong, but I do get excited about writing my ideas within horror, fantasy, adventure and crime genres. The more I pen myself in, limit myself, the better I write in the end.
PopCultHQ: On top of DRY COUNTY and CLOVER HONEY, what’s on tap in 2018 for Rich Tommaso? Any conventions and signing appearances lined up?
Tommaso: The only convention I’ve got lined up for this year is HeroesCon. I’ve tried to get up to NYCC, but I’ve never been able to get a table there. Their contacts make it very hard to get a place at that show as well. I’ve emailed them months in advance in the past and I never hear back from them. I would LOVE to go to ECCC next year though. Been trying to get to that for years now–it’s hard for me to get away much, because I don’t make much money and I’m the sole artist/writer/colorist/letterer/designer of my books.
PopCultHQ: If you had the power or ability to make one change in the comic book community or industry, what would it be?
Tommaso: It would be amazing if there was a union or comics writers guild of some kind. Not only to protect people’s rights to their work–there’s not too much of that going on out there these days, unless you’re working at MARVEL or DC–but to make it easier for people to make a decent living doing this work. There’s nothing like that in place in this industry. No health plan in place no matter where someone works. Doesn’t matter if you’re at a small publishing house or working for some giant NYC book publishing house–it’s all freelance. No benefits, no health plan, nothing. You make you’re money, which you have to pay taxes on after the fact, and the rest is up to the individual to take care these vital things that everyone needs in order to live. THAT would make a big change in practically everyone’s life working in this industry today.
Special thanks to Rich for making time to speak with PopCultHQ.
To find out more about our March Writer of the Month,
be sure to follow Rich Tommaso online!
Jason Bennett is PopCultHQ's chief editor, a contributing writer, and comic book reviewer/reporter. One with the Force. Browncoats Unite! So say we all!
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