04 December, 2008

Review: The Horror of Collier County

A good try, but this tale of suburban paranoia lacks meat (cadaverous or otherwise).

It is unfair, perhaps, to judge a book by what it is not, rather than what it is. This is the fine line that criticism treads. No Platonic ideal of what a Graphic Novel should be guides the reader, but expectations are always there. The physical object itself creates them, even without reading it, by its titles, titles, pictures and graphic style, its volume, the feel of its pages.

Rich Tomasso’s The Horror of Collier County starts promisingly, when the car of a young, single mother is beset by alligators. This sets the stage for a mild mystery, in which the young woman investigates the strange hostility of her mother’s neighbourhood, with the help of a friendly local. In fact the Strangeness of Collier County might be a better title for the comic.

To my mind The Horror of Collier Country (its very title suggestive of HP Lovecraft and John Collier) promised a surreal, post-Buffy world, stalked by demons, zombies, unnameable evils, perhaps. Although Tomasso does a good job of building a creepy atmosphere, there is little payoff for it; the undead, unearthly or incomprehensible make few appearances.

This is a brief story in a minor key, which is fine. Unfortunately the relationships between the characters lack depth and drama and with the weird elements being so low-key, the story feels a bit flat. I wanted more background.

Having said all that, Tomasso has a sweet graphic style - redolent of Dan Clowes and Jay Stephens - both economical and free. Notwithstanding a few narrative glitches, The Horror is paced and designed well, with the occasional splash page making good impact. Bearing in mind that The Horror was Tomasso’s first graphic novel, the quality of the artwork alone would encourage me to read more of his work.