Agonizing Mysteries And Funny Cartoons In Rich Tommaso’s Dry County #3

by Hannah Means Shannon

The third issue of Dry County released from Image Comics on May 16th, 2018, and though I was traveling at the time, I couldn’t stop thinking about something that is pretty impressive about Rich Tommaso’s series beyond the lavish artwork and the quirky cat-and-mouse tone of the would-be detective story. Man, Tommaso really keeps the reader straining for clues to the extent that you’re so disappointed when you turn the page and realize you’re on the last page of a current issue. The same driving pace and curiosity permeates Tommaso’s early graphic novel, recently re-mastered from Image, Clover Honey.

In Dry County, Miami cartoonist, apartment dweller, and almost boyfriend Lou Rossi fancies himself a detective, but he has a very emotional case to pursue–the legitimately seedy disappearance of his femme fatale lady love Janet. In 1990’s Florida, which Tommaso captures based on personal experience of the place, we come to believe all manner of foul play may have befallen Janet through her creepy former boyfriend(s) and hope, like Lou, that though his leads turn to dead ends, she’s still among the living.
Tommaso also bottles another major element of detective noir fiction with frustrating accuracy–the downtime, the waiting around, the uncertainty, all facing this everyman Lou. In issue #3 Lou finds himself waiting for some sign from Janet that she’s out there somewhere, and decides on the unlikely hail Mary of putting a clue in one of his funny animal cartoons running in the newspaper. He decides to run a caption contest, and hope that Janet writes in with a clue. Any fan of comic strips will enjoy this episode in the story, as we get to see Tommaso draw animal strips into Dry County as Rossi, and for fans of Tommaso’s work, you’ll find an eerie echo of the cartoonist’s later work in Spy Seal.

Part of the decision to release Dry County in this format with Image was so that Tommaso could fully color this version of the comic, and the colors are particularly striking in this issue. The 90’s really roar to life through movie posters and album covers (Blue Velvet and the B52’s) , as well as rocker t-shirts (Poison), but the added colors also really highlight Tommaso’s ever-innovative use of page layouts. This issue, particularly, has some excellent mind-map-like uses of circular spotlight panels on white space, suggesting isolation and interrelationships between the events they convey.

But where would this Florida-set tale really be without plenty of gators? They really come to the fore this time around, and Tommaso chooses the perfect pea-military-green to convey their menace as our erstwhile hero actually acts pretty bravely in the face of lurking dangers. The final visual card trick of Dry County #3 is equally satisfying, as we “read” the drifting piles of weird letters sent in response to Rossi’s cartoon strip contest, each in a different handwriting and posed in very different voices.

It’s almost as if Rich Tommaso enjoys the excessive varieties of storytelling possible when making comics or something. Imagine that.
Dry County is a comic that’s at once interestingly gritty and realistic, and wildly driven by engrossing ideas based on the real and imagined. Pick it up!
Dry County issue #3 is currently available from Image Comics.
Issue #4 will arrive on June 13th, 2018.

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