Advance Review: Mobbed Up Tale Clover Honey Is Back And Better Than Ever

by Hannah Means Shannon

Arriving in comic shops on April 11th is the all-new special edition ‘Artist’s Cut‘ of a classic and significant indie graphic novel from Rich Tommaso, Clover Honey. Tommaso has been working in comics since the 90’s after studying at the Kubert School, but in recent years has been building a library of his work at Image Comics, including new series Dark Corridor, She Wolf, Spy Seal, and his current series (also being remastered) Dry County.

With Tommaso’s large body of work, often hard to get ahold off due to moving between several publishers and self-publishing his own works under the “Recoil” imprint, it’s a delight that he’s turning to some of his classic work for re-releases from Image.

In this case, however, the technical history behind Clover Honey makes the decision even more of a winner, bringing to the hands of fans a work that in many ways has never been seen in this way before. As the back matter to the new edition explains, when the original Clover Honey was published by Fantagraphics, there was an uneven aspect to the art on the first 20 pages vs. the rest of the story, but there was no time for Tommaso to redraw those pages as he was inclined to do. Now we are presented with a version of the story with all 20 opening pages redrawn, but also, and this is quite a feat, fully re-lettered by hand in a style that Tommaso finds works better.

If the cover of the book and the artist’s edition signature reminds you, perhaps of a Criterion edition of a film, that’s no doubt intentional, since what we have here is the equivalent of a director’s cut, fully remastered according to personal vision for the work.

Clover Honey follows the story of New Jersey-ite Abigail in the 1990s. As we learn through the narrative, Abbie has always curiously explored the shady connections and interdependencies in her mobbed up extended family, and after high school drifted into working for her Boss uncle. That eventually led, to her approval, into being trusted with higher criminal dealings. But she’s still young, insecure, and capable of bad decisions as she’s posed with a cousin’s attempt to rip off the cash from a money drop. What should she do? We journey with Abbie, and with her cousin Trevor, through New Jersey and New York, surrounded by the texture of their lives toward a dramatic finale.

Clover Honey is told in black and white artwork on glossy pages (read more about Tommaso’s rather tortuously dedicated working methods in the back matter, including the burden of Abbie’s bleached-white hair). The main thing that stands out to me about each panel and each page is that key word “texture”. There’s the careful working out of geometry and surfaces that really has a totally different feel than digitally-produced artwork. The latter can be breathtaking and has its own qualities, and many artists bring hand-drawn brush effects to digital–but exploring Clover Honey as an artifact newly presented will make you fall in love with hand-drawn comics again, and in particular, the wildly idiosyncratic and lovely qualities of indie hand-drawn comics.

As for writing, Tommaso’s first major crime story, and his first full-length graphic novel, has some of the qualities that will haunt his later works, and his readers. The almost dispassionate, third person quality of the observer’s perspective will remind you of narrator’s voice without the narrator, something that is at the core of crime story tradition and noir storytelling. That continual zooming in on characters even while stepping back and staying “neutral” in terms of interpreting their behavior is a skill that Tommaso has assiduously developed over the years that make him primarily a crime storyteller, but it’s all present here, too, in this early and classic exploration. One thing Tommaso does here so viscerally is to occasionally dive into the vulnerability of his characters for particular panels, freezing the reader in moments of panic and uncertainty, too.

There’s an exhilarating quality to the story, partly because Tommaso refuses to telescope the outcomes of the individual episodes and chapters we journey through. You can never be quite sure what’s around each corner for these characters, and that makes this story a kind of thriller that will certainly engage most readers.

Rich Tommaso’s Clover Honey: Artist’s Cut is a testament to Tommaso’s artistic commitment to this project, and a really satisfying outcome for a classic story. Its value goes well beyond that, though, since this is an all-new experience waiting for readers in shops on April 11th, 2018.

Go and get it! It’s priced very reasonably at $12.99.