Review by Ian Keogh
Rich Tommaso first issued his strange cinematic horror story as part of Dark Horse’s short lived Maverick line, a combination of their top of the range creators. What odds would you have been given then on The Horror of Collier Country along with Hellboy and Sin City as the only work in print twenty years later, albeit by virtue of a deluxe reprint edition?
Fran and her young daughter Lucy are spending vacation time with Fran’s mother in Florida, and despite finding the area eerily strange she’s considering moving there permanently. However, between her mother’s hyperactive small dog and the mysterious and strange looking Mel, friendly despite his appearance, Fran’s not getting a lot of peace. Tommaso’s plot rolls out in a very similar manner to the British cult horror film The Wicker Man, with what seems normal and everyday mixed with odd and dangerous circumstances, and intolerance toward non-conformists reinforced. Fran keeps receiving contradictory messages, and as tragic circumstances have blighted her recent past even she’s unsure if she’s hallucinating or what she’s experiencing is actually happening. A deliberate ambiguity concerning this is perpetuated throughout.
The original story was black and white, and the addition of vivid flat colour to the 20th Anniversary Edition supplies an extra layer of distance, the brightness further contrasting the possibly dark events. Tommaso’s taking his lead here from European adventure comics with that look. The switch to grey for some sequences, primarily those set at night, is atmospheric. Artistically a whole host of influences filter into Tommaso’s storytelling, with the simple clarity of the Hernandez brothers predominant, although Tommaso works in a different style.
Another possible reason for buying the 20th Anniversary Edition in preference to the earlier printings is the inclusion of two supplementary shorts, although neither matches the title story. This mentions Fran’s former husband, whom we meet in ‘King Blood’, and it’s one hell of a surprise. Here the horror is more overt, and Tommaso surprises via his artistic versatility, this time channelling the work of Mike Mignola while still remaining true to his own style. It begins as a historical piece, working in religious iconography, reflective and horrifying at the same time, but the storytelling somewhat shorthand.
‘Don’t Look Back’ is a more obvious sequel to the title piece, Lucy now a teenager. It’s a playfully layered homage, Lucy wearing a red hoodie reflecting the film of the same title, and Tommaso mixing domestic comedy into his horror. It cleverly informs some of the more puzzling aspects of the title story, why some people would react so strongly to Fran, for instance, and is very nicely drawn. Ultimately, though, it’s a whimsical exercise, perhaps a closing of a door before Tommaso moved on to other projects.
Both back-up strips are a more ordinary form of horror than the carefully cultivated enigma in ‘The Horror of Collier County’. That still stands up well alone, and this new edition does it proud, but best to think of the back-ups as bonus material than as part of the purchase price.