It is important to keep in mind, whenever one picks up a book by Rich Tommaso, that he began his career a quarter of a century ago with the 3-issue mini-series called Cannibal Porn. This piece of trivia serves as a reminder that anything springing from his imagination may be amusing or quirky, but can never be boring. It’s why the publication of issues #1 to #5 of The Horror of Collier County, now in full colour with two new stories, promised to be an enjoyable way to spend a muggy afternoon. It kept that promise.
I like to imagine the kind of pitch Tommaso must have made to his publishers two decades ago, when these stories made their less-colourful debut. A ‘horror satire’ is how some critics described it at the time, and Tommaso has spoken of how moving into his parents’ home in Florida, surrounded by elderly Christians, gave birth to the idea for a series. That explains the sense of dread, real or imagined, that grows after the comic’s protagonists, Fran and her daughter Lucy, arrive at Fran’s mother’s house in Florida to get away from their past in New York.
Fran and Lucy are understandably out of their element, trying to find some sort of stability after an undiscussed but hinted at period of difficulty, but what they get is the opposite of peace and quiet. Florida is, as one would expect, radically different from New York, but not in the way Fran expects. She may account for stray encounters with alligators, but not for nasty poodles, speeding trucks that try and run her over, or the odd undead neighbour to be fought off with a ‘weed-whacker’. At some point, the reader starts to question if the lines between reality and paranoia are starting to blur, which is what gives the series its narrative tension.
One of the nicest things about this collected edition is how the colours are a throwback to the kind of hues that once populated the early Swamp Thing and Tarzan pulp paperbacks. Tommaso hasn’t spoken much about the art, but one can presume the influence of creature features from Hammer Films. What also works in its favour are the new stories, ‘King Blood’ and ‘Don’t Look Back!’, which are meant to function as sequels but also serve as effective bookends, the former as an origin story and the latter as a way of tying loose ends.
The Horror of Collier County was originally published in 2001, the year George W Bush was elected 43rd president of the United States after an election that placed Florida firmly at the centre of America’s political consciousness. Tommaso straddles a fine line between kitschy horror and a tale that raises genuine questions by rising above the merely macabre. Is it all in Fran’s head? Is he making a point about fact being harder to swallow than fiction? Or is he just teasing us to read more into this than required? These are all plausible theories.
Rich Tommaso (W/A) • Dark Horse Comics, $19.99
Review by Lindsay Pereira