Rich Tommaso Tackles Anthropomorphic Espionage in SPY SEAL [Interview]

When cartoonist Rich Tommaso (She Wolf) posted a drawing of “Spy Seal” on Facebook last year, the internet went wild.  The image, based on a character Rich created as a youngster, instantly went viral, drawing all sorts of interest from fans, curious bystanders and even Hollywood studios.

Fast forward to this year and Tommaso’s Spy Seal is about to be unleashed in all its glory in a brand new series from Image Comics, the first issue of which goes on sale in August.

We were fortunate enough to be able to sit down and have a chat with Rich about the new series, how it came about, and why readers should be expecting a hell of a lot more from this one than just a cartoon seal who also happens to be a spy.

BIG COMIC PAGE: It has been widely reported that this series stems from a character you created back when you were just thirteen years old. What prompted you to revisit it after all this time?

RICH TOMMASO: I did a sketch of him one day and posted it up on Facebook. When I saw what a huge response it got online–responses that were constant for over four days–in the way of flattering and encouraging comments, retweets, immediate professional pin ups, cartoonists asking to do back up stories, a cool Halloween/cosplay pic, fan art, and questions about whether or not there was a possible series in the works, I knew I had to bring this character back and make some new comics with him again.

BCP: I’ve got to ask… why a seal?

RICH: Well, I created him back in 1984, so It’s a little hard to remember, but my guess would be that he came from a series of pictures I used to draw from looking at photos of this book I had about wildlife in the Antarctic. I drew many birds and polar bears–and I know I drew a few seals. One of my favorite birds in the world are penguins, but as a Bloom County reader, I probably knew to steer clear from using a penguin for my main character.

BCP: What sort of tone should readers expect from the series? It definitely has an all-ages aesthetic, but doesn’t necessarily seem to read that way.

RICH: It was written as a book that would appeal to myself first–and I don’t enjoy kids books, unless they’re really intriguing. I don’t feel like I’m reading a dumbed-down kids comic, so my hope is that it will be engaging for young as well as older readers. The spectrum of age groups who are into reading things like TINTIN, ASTERIX, USAGI YOJIMBO, CARL BARKS COMICS is pretty wide–and I hope it is for this series as well.

BCP: There’s a wonderful supporting cast of characters in the first issue. Do you have any favourites that readers should be looking out for in particular?

RICH: I like SPY SEAL’S artist pal, SYLVIA, who appears at the very beginning of the story. He can bounce political and personal ideas off of her and she can advise him well on these and many other issues. I hope to keep her in the series as a nice person to come home to, when he’s not out on a mission. She’s inspired by the character Midge in ALFRED HITCHCOCK’S VERTIGO film and she’s important to SPY SEAL in the same motherly, friendly way that Midge is important to Scottie. The buzzard, J.J. COLLINS is another key character, as he is SEAL’S Control at MI-6.

BCP: The conversations with Sylvia throw up some interesting commentary about the world of politics and art appreciation that people may not expect from a colourful book about a seal. Was that juxtaposition something you always wanted to include in the series?

RICH: When I finally hit on a script that was intriguing to me, it was because of those elements. I knew the comic had to have some–even if it’s slight–sense of world politics and other cultural interests to keep it from being a straight, simplistic animal comic from the 1960s or 1980s, for that matter. It challenges me along the lines of my adult work and keeps my interest in working hard on the series, as I would on any other.

BCP: Did you have a specific target audience in mind when you were putting this one together?

RICH: I want to try to cast as wide a net as possible. It’s not for children per se, the starting age group would be teens, but it could be for younger readers–I’ll leave that up to the parents. There’s nothing too “heavy” for kids to be reading in there, nothing risqué, but maybe some ideas that will be over littler kids’ heads. It all depends. Some kids are more advanced at reading and understanding things than others of a similar age.

BCP: There’s a real ‘Tintin’ vibe during some of the sequences in the first issue. Would that be a fair assessment, and was that a conscious influence on the style and aesthetic of the series?

RICH: It’s a huge influence on this book. TINTIN has always influenced my work in not in some small ways in the past, but this one–I just made a more conscious choice to really draw deeply from that well of comics history. Reading those books again sparked the idea of doing a more sophisticated book for young and old readers alike, instead of the very simplistic ideas I’d already been trying to work with, to my my disappointment. The coloring, the attention to accurate detail, the clear-line art, the large cast of characters, and the exposure to countries and cultures around the globe–that’s what I wanted for the SPY SEAL series of books.

BCP: What’s the plan for the series moving forwards. Are we looking at an ongoing series or a limited run?

RICH: It’s an ongoing series of slightly unrelated stories. Some personal themes going on with the characters lives will continue to develop from series to series, but the plot of each series will change completely as SPY SEAL is taken to different places in the world and going from one covert mission to another.

BCP: And finally, what would you say to someone on the fence about whether to pick Spy Seal up to help convince them?

RICH: This book may appear to be a funny-animal comic, but it’s anything but that. If you love adventurous spy films and novels like TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY By John LeCarré, you will enjoy this highly entertaining comic book series.

SPY SEAL #1 goes on sale in print and digital on the 16th of August.  The retailer FOC is the 24th of July, and you can pre-order it at your local comic shop using Diamond Code JUN170705.

ceejThe writer of this piece was: Craig Neilson-Adams (aka Ceej)
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  1. Review – Spy Seal #1 (Image Comics) – BIG COMIC PAGE

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