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DF Interview: Rich Tommaso returns square-jawed justice to comics in Dick Tracy: Dead or Alive
By Byron Brewer
He’s back! Dick Tracy, the All-American detective, just made the biggest collar of his career. And it only cost him his job. But now the honest cop has packed his bags for “the city by the lake,” and its criminals better watch out!
Reimagined for the 21st century through a retro lens by the superstar team of Michael Allred, Lee Allred, Rich Tommaso and Laura Allred, IDW Publishing’s Dick Tracy: Dead or Alive is a lock to be the pop-art event of the fall.
To get to the heart of this limited series featuring one of most iconic comic-strip heroes of all time, DF spoke with artist Rich Tommaso.
Dynamic Forces: Rich, how does it feel to be playing in one of the most iconic sandboxes of all time? Even millennials who never read the newspaper strip or saw any film adaptation know the name “Dick Tracy”!
Rich Tommaso: It’s pretty crazy—a great opportunity, one that makes me very excited to work on but also nervous because I’m dealing with a very classic, one-of-a-kind comic strip.
I’ve been drawing these characters for years. From Nick Ford in my 2009 Cavalier Mr. Thompson book to Pete from my 2015 Dark Corridor series.
DF: I grew up reading the Tracy newspaper strip, originated by Chester Gould, and I think it’s safe to say there is an anchor of personality in the square-jawed justice seeker. But as someone whose art is bringing the policeman alive again, give us your perspective please: Who IS Dick Tracy?
Rich Tommaso: A very hard-nosed, by-the-book cop who — no matter what— cannot be corrupted. He’s a fantasy, really. The polar opposite of, say, Parker in The Hunter novels.
Dick Tracy may be too squeaky clean for my tastes when it comes to this kind of material, but I do like that he’s not afraid to butt heads with his superiors and fellow officers. That at least gives him a rougher edge.
DF: I have seen some of the great art you have shown on Instagram and it really seems to capture the legendary mold of 1940s noir, bigger-than-life characters and freaky villains. Can you tell us what time period exactly your new iteration for IDW, Dick Tracy: Dead or Alive, takes place? Is this a modernization of the character or tried-and-true Tracy?
Rich Tommaso: So, the time period is undefined. Like Batman adventures—we’re shooting for a 1940s look, but if a cellphone is needed in the story, we’ll just toss that in. Kind of like Gilbert Hernandez’s 1970s-era Bumperhead story where one kid inexplicably has an iPad. We’re lucky, though, because as early as 1946 Gould introduced the 2-way wrist radio—a device that didn’t exist in real life!
DF: Aside from Tracy, what other familiar supporting characters might we see? Tess Trueheart or Pat Patton, anyone?
Rich Tommaso: Tess is supposed to be part of the story soon, yes.
DF: I am almost certain members of Tracy’s infamous rogues gallery will make appearances? Can you give us a hint as to who we might see?
Rich Tommaso: A member who seems as though his infamy has gone WAAAAAY too much to his head.
DF: Will you and the Allreds be bringing any NEW characters into the venerable Tracy mythos?
Rich Tommaso: There’s a villain that Lee and I made up for the very first page, yes. And a few more original characters peppered into the story along with the classic icons. Don’t know too much beyond that, though—we’ve only seen two scripts of the 4-issue run so far.
DF: Speaking of the Allreds (Michael, Lee and Laura), how does it feel to collaborate with such great creators?
Rich Tommaso: It’s been amazing. I have been a big fan of Madman and practically every comic that’s come after that from Mike and Laura over the past 25 years or so. Mike has been very encouraging about my work on the series so far—if it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t even be drawing it. It was his call as to who the artist on this would be. Lee is doing such a great job writing the script/dialogue too. He’s keeping it so close to the original—we ALL seem to agree that the ‘40s was the best period to focus on—and we ALL want to keep this series as rough and tumble as the original pulpy strip was, which is a big reason why I even said yes to the project in the first place.
DF: There is such a fascination for Tracy’s return here, I better earn my samolians and ask what you can tell us about this limited series’ storyline.
Rich Tommaso: For one, it’s sort of an origin story, but more than that, the 4-issue run will take Tracy on a journey from hero of the people, to enemy of the state, to going underground incognito to clear his name, to getting back into the people’s favor again.
DF: Rich, before we go, is there any projects you’re involved with, present or near-future, you can tell us about?
Rich Tommaso: Not at the moment—too early for any other news. Right now, I’m just focusing most of my attention and hard work on making sure I do justice to this iconic material.
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Rich Tommaso for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. Dick Tracy: Dead or Alive #1 from IDW Publishing hits stores Sept. 19th!
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