Just When I Thought I Was Out, They Pull Me Back In

Clover Honey by Rich Tommaso

“I’m always like ‘That’s my last pizza job.’ Then I wind up back here and it’s like ‘What am I doing wrong?’”

The son of a pizzeria owner, Rich Tommaso has spent half his life working in pizza joints. Cut him open and he bleeds tomato paste. So perhaps it’s not surprising that his intricate and layered graphic novel about mafia hit men (and women) finds common ground between the nowheresville prospects of his own occupation and the one he details in Clover Honey.

Awash in a Northeast Jersey of flophouses and gridlocked Firebirds, Tommaso’s tale of misfit wise guys unravels. Trevor is the hit man who’s on the lam. His cousin Abigail is assigned to track him down, a job she relishes before realizing that Trevor’s facing more than a stern lecture for his affinity for gambling away their money. Tommaso, 25, grew up among the Italian riff raff he depicts in heavy inks and dilapidated bars.

After dropping out of cartooning college to color for Seattle comix publisher , Tommaso quickly succumbed to the gravity of the only career he’s really known and is back behind the counter of an Emerald City pizza joint. The bespectacled, worrisome Tommaso maintains that the bespectacled, worrisome Trevor is not entirely autobiographical. “He’s based on a lot of older people I’ve worked with. Guys in their 30s, stuck in their jobs but trying to scrounge ahead.”

That a dead-end pizza job is akin to a dead-end hitman job is a bridge that’s strengthened by Tommaso’s regular-Joe art. Trevor has a permanently dorky expression and cousin Patty, who’s drugged her brain to the breaking point, is rendered with a vacuousness that perfectly captures her childlike wide eyes.

Some of the book’s best moments occur when nothing at all is happening, a naturalistic mundanity that rings true to anyone who knows that most “exciting” jobs consist of waiting and sitting around. Tommaso acknowledges a cinematic debt for the airiness he allows his scenes: “Jim Jarmusch is a big influence. I like the way he takes his time and lets it breathe.”

In a story that pits family against family and betrayal against residual Catholic guilt, Tommaso avoids the easy answers and knockout punches that render cheesy so many mob stories. So perhaps it’s fitting that the book’s best scene shows Trevor, who has plenty of killings to his credit, backing down from a drunk bully in a bar. No heroic gunplay or witty one-liners for this unlikely protagonist. Says the author, “In real life, most of the time people get angry and nothing happens.”

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Ken Kurson

Ken Kurson is the founder of Sea of Reeds Media. He is the former editor in chief of the New York Observer and also founded Green Magazine and covered finance for Esquire magazine for almost 20 years. Ken is the author of several books, including the New York Times No. 1 bestseller Leadership.

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