rich tommaso is a machine, like how jack kirby was prolific doing several comics a month for MARVEL in the 60s. rich is working on SIX on-going comic stories put out by his RECOIL COMICS imprint — he is doing everything on these comics, short of chopping down the trees to make the paper!!! this is some gorgeous work and excellent storytelling, especially THE CAVALIER MR. THOMPSON. SAM HILL and LOU ROSSI are my favorite characters of his. another bonus — recently, rich also beautifully colored LOVE AND ROCKETS: THE COVERS!
1. i’d like to think that you doing stories in a wide range of genres these days is akin to RKO or another golden age hollywood studio making those type of films. how much influence does film history play in grounding the framework for your recent comic stories?
Every project I’m working on does have some film that has influenced me in one way or another. However, my initial drive to do multiple comics at once was inspired completely by Gilbert Hernandez, about fifteen years ago. Once I’d seen that he could juggle three or more stories at one time, I desperately wanted to have the ability do that as well someday. But, there was a lot of growing I needed to do as a cartoonist and a writer, so It took me a very long time to finally get there—and it’s STILL a bit of a struggle.
Back to the film influences—Dry County, for one, was an idea that came out of wanting to do something very much in the vein of Steven Soderbergh’s The Limey. Before seeing this film in the theater I had thought about doing something that was simple in its construction of a crime scenario and that focused mostly on only a few characters and really spent time with them, not only in service to the plot of that story, but watching them in their off time, away from the main thrust of the story. But I often wondered if that would be very interesting to anyone but myself. After seeing Soderbergh’s film I was like, “Yes, this works, this is how to do visual storytelling. You CAN make that interesting.”
Killer In My Sleep was a story that sprung straight out of my imagination, this idea that a woman would hold her frustrations deep down inside of her until she ended up killing the person who frustrated her, later on down the road, while she sleep walked. But this idea was later influenced by very much wanting to do something in the style and atmosphere of John Boorman’s film, Point Blank—a tough, 60’s crime film starring a lone gunman (or gunwoman).
Don’t Look Back! was influenced story wise, mainly by the comic book, Tomb Of Dracula by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan. But, The Hammer Horror Films have also helped to inspire that one along, mostly in a visual sense and somewhat, from a storytelling point of view. As well as… dare I say it… the Buffy The Vampire Slayer TV show.
The SAM HILL material is somewhat influenced by film, but mainly draws interest for stories directly from my reading of historical nonfiction. Again, visually, I’m borrowing heavily from cartoonists like Roy Crane, Milton Caniff, E.C. Segar and Hergé. In the case of the current SAM HILL book, The Mysterious Case, I always seem to looking for a film to help keep me inspired, but if I can’t find something precisely like the look and feel of a particular book I’m working on, it doesn’t help me. That comic book is a 1938 crime story, written by a 43 year old man in 2012-2014, so I’d have to watch something historical, but currently produced, from a modern point-of-view, looking back.
Camera angles sometimes come into mind when I’m working, but those are more often inspired directly from other comics, many of which I read over and over again.
2. your full figure women protagonists remind me of federico fellini actress body types like sandra milo and claudia cardinale except yours are american. would you’ve liked to have storyboarded or conceptualized character wardrobes with the maestro or even a comic story? (i think you and jaime hernandez woulda had a blast working with fellini like milo manara did!)
I’ve definitely made it a point to draw mostly fully figured or plump women in my comics. This is not only according to personal taste, but more for my hatred of how Hollywood, the music industry, comics (and not just mainstream comics by the way) and other entertainment industries define an attractive woman—which for them is: tall, blonde and skinny. I’ve always resented that, for many years (certainly after the early 1930s in Hollywood), women have had to contain all (or most) of those qualities in order to be worthy of a starring role in a film—and to attract a massive, nationwide audience.
So, yes, I’ve always admired Fellini’s women. It would’ve been a big kick to work as a storyboard artist for one of his films, defintiely. Anita Ekberg is another favorite of mine, in La Dolce Vita, a beautiful, BIG woman— and more than one of my comics characters in the past have been modeled after her.
3. are you interested more in developing characters in your stories or do you lean more toward the pacing of the plot through page and panel layout? (your pacing is very cinematic.)
It always starts with a story idea, but it always ends up being all about the characters for me once I’m deep into the production of the comic book. Story ideas are the jumping off point, though. A crazy twist or just an idea out of the blue or influenced by a novel or film. But the characters have to be the meat of the project. If I don’t love the characters, if they’re not 3-dimensional enough, I lose interest quickly.
4. your lettering and color sense and design are impeccable. how do both contribute to the emotional impact of your storytelling beyond their decorative function?
It’s all part of the artwork. There’s no separation between the design, color, line art and lettering art inside those panels. It’s all a part of one illustration. This is why computer fonts look disturbing every time I see them in a comic book. It is clear to the eye that it is too perfect and has been plunked out by a computer and looks weird when it stands right next to line art that has clearly been hand drawn. Every component of a comic book page should all work together seamlessly and it should all bear the hand of the artist, in MY opinion anyway.
As far as color goes, I’m still struggling a bit with that. I like using color for tone or shading, but full color I still have yet to master in my own fashion. But, I’m working on it.
5. without revealing much, what’s in store for SAM HILL and LOU ROSSI in future stories?
The Sam Hill novels will bounce around to different time periods in American History that I find—for one reason or another, interesting. His story is a constant flashing backwards and forwards type of series. I feel if I know a little about him as a teenager and as a adult man in his 30s and 40s, the more I will fully and completely know who this man is.
The Lou Rossi books mostly follow my own timeline and will continue to be “set” in little real life places and situations that I personally experienced, only those stories will be heavily mixed with a crime scenario as well. The books will move around to different locations in the U.S. — also according to my own wanderings around the country over the years.