Rich Tommaso Interview
Interview conducted by James Ferguson
Rich Tommaso is a writer / artist pumping out new books at Image Comics. His previous series, Dark Corridor, was described as a Goodfellas script re-imagined by Quentin Tarantino. Tommaso now turns his attention to horror with She Wolf, mixing werewolves, witchcraft, and surrealism. I had a chance to speak with Rich prior to the book's debut this month.
James Ferguson: What's the elevator pitch for She Wolf?
Rich Tommaso: It's basically an '80s high-school-teen, coming-of-age story where the main character, Gabrielle, doesn't know what's happening to her. She's remembering that she turns into a werewolf.
JF: You've mentioned that some parts of She Wolf are autobiographical. Can you provide any examples? Were you bitten by a werewolf in high school?
RT: Ha, no. I don't write much about my family, but I felt with this comic I needed to, because living amongst this family is a teenaged werewolf, and werewolves are always ashamed of their curse. They're always looking for redemption. Growing up in a Roman Catholic household, there was a lot of guilt around. I felt this was the perfect comic not only to set it in the time period where I was in high school, but to use elements of my family in this because they work so well with the material.
JF: On the subject of werewolves, what is it about that particular monster that's of interest to you in this story?
RT: I've always loved werewolves. I've done a lot of vampire stuff and some ghost stories, but I've always wanted to do something with werewolves. I watch a lot of old horror movies. I love all kinds of monster movies. I always felt like you don't get a lot of great werewolf stuff. Ginger Snaps is a great movie. An American Werewolf in London is the number one movie about werewolves. But, a lot of times in movies or novels, they're a small part of the monster world. I thought there's got to be a way to do a denser story about them. I remember looking up stuff in ancient Roman texts about the first so-called werewolves that were created and just trying to read short stories and re-watch some of these old movies like The Howling and An American Werewolf in London to see how to do a good take on the genre.
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JF: You mentioned some definite classics in there. Are there any other werewolf movies or stories that jumped out at you as quintessential for the genre?
RT: I've always loved the original Universal werewolf movie. There's a lot of comedy there. Most if it is unintentional, I think. I also like Hammer Horror's take on those themes too. I remember watching the Oliver Reed werewolf movie and liking that quite a bit. I've always really loved drawing werewolves too, but the thing is, what do you do with them? If you look at literature or horror novels, there's so much on vampires, ghosts, and witches, but there's very little on werewolves. There's so little told about the mythology as opposed to all the other evil monsters.
JF: Hopefully they're getting their time in the sun now.
RT: Yeah, it seems I see werewolf comics popping up all the time now. I think the thing with me is always going to be that something personal has to come into it. Thinking about how they're so low on the totem pole in that world led me to come up with this idea. What if there was this girl who was a werewolf, but being a werewolf wasn't what she really wanted to be? She uses witchcraft to become a higher demon in order to elevate her position in the world of monsters.
JF: So with the witchcraft and the werewolves, you've got a bit of a hybrid, is that the case?
RT: Yeah, I feel like growing up in an Italian household, there's a tendency to learn to accept whatever your lot is in life with a shrug--to resign yourself to whatever crap hand fate deals you and just put up with it. I thought, what if I had this Italian family with a young daughter who is a werewolf, but doesn't want to be resigned to that fate? That might be interesting. She's not really guilty about her "curse" in the way that she'll be punished by God for it, she just doesn't want to be a lowly monster. She aspires to be much more than that.
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JF: It definitely pulls in that teenage part of it. You can think of kids following in the family footsteps to be a baker or something but instead, it's to become a werewolf.
RT: That's exactly it. My parents had pizza restaurants growing up. I had an older brother and sister. and one by one they were asked if they wanted to take over the family business. No. No. No. Nobody wanted to do it. We all wanted to do something more interesting than that. That definitely plays into it.
JF: The main character, Gabrielle is an unreliable narrator, as she can't tell what's real and what's not. How was it working with a character with such a skewed perspective of the world?
RT: The first issue is mostly Gabrielle trying to figure out what's happening to her and not really understanding what's going on. The second issue has more of an explanation of what's going on with her getting a better handle on it. The reveal is that she is turning into a werewolf. At 18 years of age, she begins to remember her nightmares and transformations. In issue #1, her mother is kind of shocked to see her in mid-transformation and she sends her to a priest. At first it was a psychiatrist, but then I caught myself--wait, a traditional Italian family might send their daughter to a priest instead! And of course, having that authority figure in the form of a religious "foe" is perfect for a werewolf story.
JF: That's interesting. I read the first issue and I initially thought there was more to her boyfriend Brian in the opening pages, thinking he turned her into a werewolf. Instead, there seems to be more with the family instead of just this guy.
RT: Right. That becomes a little clearer. The comic does have a vampire friend who's on the cover of the second issue. That character has more of an understanding of what Gabrielle's going through, so she's able to guide her. She adjusts Gabrielle's memory and as the comics go by, Gabrielle will piece more of that together to realize that Brian didn't actually turn her.
JF: It sounds like you have a little bit of everything in She Wolf, between the werewolves, the witchcraft, and the vampire. Are there any other traditional monsters that you weren't able to include but wanted to?
RT: I actually have a lot planned for this if it can last beyond the one season. There will be all kinds of evil creatures coming into it, I hope. The way I wrote the story, it's a pretty full, four-issue mini-series. If the series does well, I have a lot more planned ahead in the way of plot and new characters.
JF: That sounds great. I love seeing how these different monsters interact with the different mythologies.
RT: It's fun to play around with. A lot of times, I just make weird stuff up and then look up actual stories about these characters only to find out that it actually works.
JF: How much research did you do for the book?
RT: Not very much. I did read the supposed first mention of werewolves, which is in ancient Roman stories. That pointed me to a really good story that will come later as an anecdote. I read a few short stories. Other than that, I reacquainted myself with old horror movies like the Universal Wolf Man, Ginger Snaps, and The Howling.
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JF: What's your creative process like, as you're the writer and the artist? Do you write out a full script? Or just dive in to the illustrations?
RT: Normally I'll have notes and thumbnails to get an idea of the story and essentially make it up as I go along. With Dark Corridor, I had to make sure these were done monthly and everything lined up with each part fitting in about 20-24 pages. I learned after the first couple of books that not only do I have to do thumbnails, but I also have to write a full script. It seems strange because I'm the writer and the artist, but doing that writing and making sure the script is just the way I need it to be and making sure that it will fit in the amount of pages I had was important. I tend to write the scripts first and then go to thumbnails and then start drawing the book.
I feel like in the past, I used to have notes and just dive right in, hoping it would all tie up in the end. A lot of times I'd look back at those things and realize I went off on a tangent here, or the story didn't really have a proper ending or something. I've done a few graphic novels in my day and those are hard because there's an endless amount of pages. I feel like the story will be pointed in one direction and then I'll go off too far on a tangent and I can't make my way back. If I write a tight script and do thumbnails, the pressure is off of me to make sure that I've got a solid story. I can sit down at that point and do the hard work of drawing and coloring it.
JF: When was the last time something scared you? Please don't say when you were asked to do this interview.
RT: [Laughs] I am afraid of speaking in front of people. I've been told I should teach, but I get too freaked out about it. I get scared all the time. Again, growing up Roman Catholic, I was afraid of the Devil. People used to tell me these crazy stories and I'd believe them. I'd lie awake at night, freaking out about getting possessed. I was convinced that was going to happen to me at some point.
I still get scared of things, like if I see shadows or I wake up in the middle of the night after a bad dream. I'll have trouble getting back to sleep. Every time I watch a movie – I watched Rosemary's Baby again a few weeks ago – and I could not get to sleep. I've seen that movie so many times, but that stuff still scares me.
JF: Outside of the Devil, was there anything that scared you as a kid?
RT: I remember being embarrassed...I was already out of high school at this age. I was going to a party or something so I ran home, then when I went outside, I was frozen because I just saw this silver ball floating in my driveway. I didn't move for minutes. I was just so freaked out. I was so convinced it was some alien life form.
JF: It sounds like the Phantasm.
RT: Right, something like that silver ball, but much larger. I just felt so stupid because as I slowly got the nerve to walk closer to it, I realized it was one of those stupid mylar balloons. I can't even remember why the damn thing was outside or what it was for-- a birthday, Mother's Day, or something. That's the thing. I still get scared by every little thing--a weird noise in my house, a shadow of something I can't quite make out. If I hear noises outside, I'll think, “What is that out there? Is that some strange creature out to kill me?” It's funny, even though I don't believe in any religious mumbo jumbo anymore, I still get scared by things like "The Devil". I know it's a made-up concept--an embodiment of evil, it's ludicrous, yet there's still some doubt there. I blame my fertile imagination.
JF: I didn't realize at first that there was a vampire in She-Wolf, but who would win in a fight between a werewolf and a vampire?
RT: Hmm...Well, in the second issue, the vampire wins the fight, but I think a werewolf would probably do better. They have so much more to do damage with. It's not just the teeth, but the claws too. It's much more of a brutish monster so I think a werewolf would win. I think a werewolf would just rip a vampire to shreds.
JF: Anything you'd like to tease going into the launch of She Wolf?
RT: The big teaser will be picking up issue #2 to see that vampire and werewolf fight in the shopping mall. That's the visual pay-off in that issue.
JF: If that phrase doesn't sell comics, I don't know what will.
HorrorTalk would like to thank Rich Tommaso for taking the time to speak with us here. She Wolf #1 is currently available at your local comic shop and digitally through ComiXology and Kindle.
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