Thursday Comics Hangover: Miami vice

I came late to cartoonist Rich Tommaso's work - the first comic of his that I read was the funny-animal Tintin pastiche Spy Seal - but I think I'm falling in love. His art is so clean, his storytelling so economical, that it seems like it's just a matter of time before one of the mainstream publishers shows up on his front lawn with a dump truck of money and forces him to start drawing Batman for a living. Tommaso is an artist who is so unique that the comics industry is bound to try to crush him into something they can more easily manipulate.

Yesterday, I picked up the first issue of Tommaso's latest series, Dry County. It's a sunny Miami noir story about a guy who meets a woman and falls into really deep shit really quickly. (Sidebar: does any noir ever take place in a dark and rainy city anymore? Seems like every noir nowadays is located in Florida or California, and is always described with the word "sunbaked.") Tommaso is using a different style here than the slick European look of Spy Seal: Dry County looks almost as though it's drawn by Dan Clowes. Every face is a little bit…off…with too-small eyes or a crooked nose or a smile that twists the wrong way across someone's cheek.

The narrator, a cartoonist named Lou Rossi, is a misanthrope. He lurks around Miami, sweating too much and trying to drink himself to some sense of peace. Then, he runs into someone in a laundry room. Her. "A blonde goddess," Rossi calls her. Of course, there's trouble. She's in an unhappy relationship, and it's been a long time since Rossi's been in a relationship, and things start to go bad quick.

There's nothing too original in the plot, but every page of Dry County brings a new delight with it. Rossi has a friend named Robert, for instance, who seems to have wandered in from a pornographic Popeye cartoon a few books over. The opening splash page of Rossi wandering around a rave is practically the dictionary definition of what it feels like to be alone in a crowd. And a gorgeous two-panel sequence of Rossi day-drinking on a porch as he stares out onto a pastel-colored Miami street will leave you drooling.

I don't know where Dry County is going, but Tommaso has proven to be such a phenomenal talent that I expect the book to keep up this delight-on-every-page spirit until the bitter - and no doubt sunbaked - end.