I have been a fan of Rich Tommaso’s work for some time, and came to discover that many of my friends have been too. When we heard he was doing Dark Corridor at Image, we were delighted, even though the several ongoing stories per issue format must have been punishing for such an intricate storyteller. The announcement of She Wolf was another incandescent moment for those who have followed Tommaso’s horror comics, which are equal in complexity and magnitude to his noir works. Even in this age of the celebration of genres, that’s rare–for a creator to excel in several types of storytelling–but even rarer ,of course, for one to completely create every aspect of a story from writing to art and design in single issue format.
She Wolf came roaring into shops in 2016 in four single issues following Gabby’s descent into teen wolf status befriended by a vampire and seemingly inhabiting a world of bigger ghouls and ghostly beings. Tommaso showed a little uncertainty on social media about preorders on the first two issues, but the series built its audience and virally spread among fans and fellow creators as a concept.
The comic is a celebration of the bizarre history of occult comics, tv shows, and films featuring teens in a comic that breaks all the rules, or perhaps more accurately, shows no awareness of rules at all. Anyone who has seen Tommaso’s comics knows that his line work and sense of stylized elements is on par with some of the greatest cartoonists of his generation. What sets him apart from his peers is his tendency to zag when others zig–he has always pushed into new territory rather than trying to shore up a single unified reputation for his work. That’s double-edged and may be why he hasn’t always received the recognition he deserves, but it makes for a very exciting experience for readers.
She Wolf is a prime example. In an era where comics are becoming more and more streamlined and reading a single issue can take less than 20 minutes (some only around 10, depending), the comic panel has become merely a through-way for a high-speed train of plot development. Of course, we as readers want to get caught up in the experience of a comic, but what if we could have it both ways? Tommaso builds She Wolf panel by panel in such a way that you can’t skim through quickly. You find yourself looking at each page, each panel as separate work of art because it demands reader participation to construct meaning. You have a choice–you can stop and notice these elements, or simply experience the storytelling as a wild, psychological ride. Both are valid and remind you why She Wolf is a more ambitious comic than you might expect.
Personally, I respond to the fact that Tommaso elevates the horror genre in this way. He sets the comic in the quasi-80’s, partly for aesthetic reasons I’m guessing, since he gets to work with 80’s fashion, video game motifs, and the film and TV tradition of teens hanging around getting up to mischief (particularly in the Lost Boys sense). He makes the transformations of Gabby both majestic and edgy, scary and sublime. Because the story is built around a nightmare scape of dreams and spells that Gabby is experiencing, Tommaso has a lot of freedom to compose the page and to render emotions impressionistically.
Many panels can be read in more than one order with differing effects, while the overall narrative remains the same. His choice of color palette varies by scene, and even color of speech balloons seem to shift with mood. This is radical for comics, strange as it may sound. On a conservative level, comics are about being sure you don’t lose the reader, or make them feel lost within the thread of the narrative. Few creators have the confidence in their own work to construct pages that allow the reader to wander and still maintain enough central gravity in the narrative to keep the reader on track in a bigger sense.
There’s also Tommaso’s fairly wicked sense of humor and a freshness of ideas at play in the comic. Occult beings are both terrifying and funny–unpredictable and animalistic. Conjuring a demon is no big deal. The ripping off of limbs is a casual affair. Because those are the rules of She Wolf‘s world, and to some extent of Tommaso’s other comics. You can get a sense of that when you read the extra black and white story included in the collected edition of She Wolf–“King Blood”. The story is narrated by Vlad the Impaler, former ruler of Wallachia, who returns to Transylvania in more modern times to find things suit him now. But the banal takes hold when domestic bliss is shattered and Vlad has to deal with being a father again. Don’t worry–it’s even worse and funnier than you’re imagining.
By the way, the idea that King Blood stories might be coming from Tommaso and Image in the future just leaves me speechless. We really are living in a golden age of comics.
Pick up She Wolf Volume 1 this week in comic shops for $9.99, or digitally for $7.99, and look out for the return of She Wolf to single issues in January. And keep your fingers crossed about King Blood. Maybe summon a demon or two to hurry it along?