On August 28th Dark Horse Comics invites you to the Windy City for a dance, a drink, and perhaps a magical battle with the local mobsters. This is Tommy Gun Wizards and it is about to rewrite everything you know about Elliot Ness and the Untouchables.
Chicago, 1931 and the speakeasies are packed with revellers out for some fun and maybe something extra: a touch of magic. In this alternative world, the 20th century party city is awash with a new drug that imbues the taker with magical abilities. In small doses it can help the user bulk up without the working out, spend an evening invisible, or just relax in a bath of infinitely warm water. However, like all drugs, addiction and overdose are real dangers and, take too much, the user can become a ‘boiler’: a danger to themselves and everyone around them.
This is the world created by Christian Ward who has passed over art duties to Sami Kivela so that he can concentrate purely on writing. Ward has drawn historical figures into an alternative reality where Magic has replaced Alcohol as the reason for prohibition in one of the most infamous periods of American history. The influence of great movies such as the 1987 classic The Untouchables is obvious but Ward has added a new spin to the gangster genre. He has moulded fantasy and science-fiction with history to produce something that is not only entertaining but also plausible: like George R R Martin’s superhero inspired Wild Card series of books.
Creating The Chicago Scene
Chicago is a city of conflicting moods, a tone captured from the very beginning. Kivela’s art work focuses on one character as he walks through the street. This character is the readers entrance into Tommy Gun Wizards and we follow him through the streets of cold, huddled extras surrounded by news print posters of crime stories and murder. This walk through the rain is broken by panels of religious preaching, a cliché of gangster movies maybe but also an important aspect for the story.
The priest’s words set the scene, giving the reader a lot of information about the world that they are entering. The priests first words are “Ladies and gentlemen this is not our America,” the emphasis in the lettering by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou is on the word ‘our’. This is a truth and is spoken directly to the reader. The world is familiar but also very different.
Laying Out The Tommy Guns
Kivela’s art work is extremely detailed with panels of packed images. There are a number of crowd scenes populated with an array of extras which constantly reminds the reader about the size of the city and the scope of the story. However, Kivela also knows when to reign in the backgrounds, simplifying them or dropping them altogether to focus attention onto a single figure.
The layouts also emphasis the action within the panels either by bleeding to the edge of the page to have a more dramatic punch or by limiting the number of panels on the page and leaving large areas of white.
On one page, for example, the panels taper in size towards the bottom of the page, ending in a single square panel featuring a small glass and hand. The speech informs the reader that the glass contains ‘Lick’ the source of the magic in Tommy Gun Wizards. This is a pivotal point in the comic as it is the reader’s introduction to the magical element and the source of difference between the real world and Wards’ creation. To mark its importance, the page draws the reader directly to it and leaves it standing alone on a tier, surrounded by white space.
This is a prime example of the precision storytelling that is evident throughout Tommy Gun Wizards. Each of the creators works together to create the relevant ambience or focus for each page. The characters are built from the script and the acting that Kivela draws out of them. The mood is set by the composition and the coloring, here handled by Ward and Dee Cunniffe. The tone of a page is often set on the establishing first panel with the coloring of that panel feeding through the rest of the page. Action sequences are distinctively red where as heavy conversational, bureaucratic scenes have a much more subdued brown/yellow coloring.
Just like Jonathan Ross’ first venture into comics with Turf in 2010, Tommy Gun Wizards packs a lot into a single issue. There is a lot of speech for Otsmane-Elhaou to fit into the panels but, as a master of balloon placement, this is not a problem for him. During a press conference the speech hangs heavy in the air as it is the most important aspect of the scene whereas in action sequences the speech draws the reader around the panels to allow for the most exciting reading.
There is even a back-up strip written and illustrated by Christian Ward. This will, over the coming months, give the reader some background to the magical element and why the world is so different. This part of the comic is more science-fiction. It looks and feels like a spin off from the Invisible Kingdom, another superb comic Ward works on. The backup story adds new elements to the overall story and gives it an extra edge.
Tommy Gun Wizards is a mix of genre, inspired by the very best gangster stories but pulling in so much more. It’s larger than life in places, especially as the story gets going, but the characters are rooted in a world the reader can understand and empathise with. And there are some great characters in this comic. The villainous Candice is a brilliant creation and beautifully designed.
This comic powers through the story barely allowing the reader to get adjusted to this reality but the strength of the storytelling grabs hold of you and doesn’t let go. This is without question a must for fans of gangster stories. It is also for fans of fantasy, science fiction, horror, and good all-round comic book storytelling.