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From the creator of Spy Seal and She Wolf, Rich Tommaso, comes a new title published by Image Comics. Dry County is the first in a line dubbed ‘The EVERYMAN crime series’ and is semi-autobiographical in nature. Our contributor, Darryll Robson, takes a look to see if it is a hit or miss.

Having written about anthropomorphic spies and 80’s influenced horror comics, Dry County may seem like a new direction for Rich Tommaso however the influences of those earlier works as just as relevant in this new title. Drawing on his own personal experiences of living in different cities around America, Tommaso has created a real life drama and presented it in his usual cartoon style, drawing on the movies and underground comics that have influenced him in his life.

Credit: Image Comics

Synopsis

Lou Rossi is unhappy with his monotonous life. He tries to ingratiate himself in the local nightlife and mingle with the party people but it’s just not him. He is resentful that he doesn’t fit in and wallows in his mundane existence working as an underappreciated comic strip artist.

But then he meets Janet Laughton, in a launderette of all places, and a new adventure begins.

Analysis

The first thing you will notice about Dry County is the design layout. The captions, which work as the internal dialogue for Lou Rossi, are comprised of lined, sickly yellow note paper scraps which act as a diary of events. These distinctive captions break up every page allowing Tommaso to layout the action around the central character’s thoughts, almost like memories spilling out when the author re-reads the diary. On occasions, this works really well, such as when Lou meets Janet, but at other times the dense script drowns out the images in the panels and the gaudy color of the captions is overpowering.

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Tommaso’s artistic style is quite distinctive with solid lines and favoring shapes over features. This works well in distancing Rossi from those around him but at the same time makes it difficult for the reader to attach themselves emotionally to him. Rather than relate with the central character, Tommaso somehow makes it difficult to like him which in turn distances the reader from the story. It doesn’t help that Rossi’s best friend is equally unlikable.

Credit: Image Comics

The expressive nature of Tommaso’s art is, however, a bonus in this comic with some wonderful panels featuring distorted anatomy expressing emotional states or actions. Where Tommaso really excels is creating a sense of location. The backgrounds and location shots throughout the comic illustrate life in Miami much better than creating a sympathetic character. The oppressive heat; the sense of space and loneliness; the constant arrival or departure of aeroplanes; all of these build a social environment which Rossi is separated from. And, unfortunately, in Dry County, this environment is a better construct than Rossi himself.

I have enjoyed previous titles by Rich Tommaso but unfortunately, this one left me cold. It is found it difficult to engage with because the central character so unlikable. This may be intentional and as the narrative progresses the character may grow into someone that the reader can relate to. As a first issue, however, it has failed to make a good first impression. On some level it is similar to The Fade Out from Brubaker and Phillips but lacks the charm and the enduring mystery of that comic. This is subtitled The EVERYMAN Crime Series but there isn’t even the resemblance of a crime in these pages; there isn’t a hook to keep the reader interested.

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As a whole, the panel art is intriguing with flashes of excitement but the framing with the notepaper style captions and lack of sympathetic character makes this a difficult read. As a first issue it fails to engage the reader or create any sense of a greater, ongoing narrative worthy of our time. Maybe, with more issues under his belt, Tommaso’s story will start to flourish but at the moment the hot Miami apartment blocks of Dry County are not at all inviting.



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