8 1/2 Ghosts – Rich Tommaso

4 out of 5

It’s been a long, long, long time since I’ve watched the movie 8 1/2.  And in reading a Rich Tommaso book, I’m also reminded that I’m not so familiar with some of his cultural touchpoints – such as a Hershel Gordon Lewis reference in this case – so I beg pardon in advance for missing any cute parallels here beyond the title’s filmic inspiration of “a piece of media about creating that piece of media.”

8 1/2 Ghosts has Tommaso’s usual ramshackle narrative approach, and it’s maybe especially a little clumsy here, with would-be B-horror director Paul half-narrating to the reader, half-recounting things via voiceovers to his cameraperson or producers, with Rich mixing up tense and dropping in weird, that-wouldn’t-really-make-sense-in-context exposition along the way, but the wholly quirky approach to the story – and the way it absolutely goes off the rails in the end – makes it a hoot befitting that B-movie template, with a final epilogue that maybe-kinda-sorta lands a whammy of that self-reflectiveness, despite all of its preceding nonsense.  …Was that just one sentence?  Hm.

So Paul is grousing over a problematic shoot for his flick, ‘Bang-Gore Girls!,’ when he stumbles on to a legit haunted house of which the ghostly inhabitants – 8 of them – agree to star in his movie, thus cutting costs.  There’s a bit of a runaround explanation in which the ghosts will just ghostily show up on camera only, so as not to scare Paul’s cast, and then Rich fills the pages with some humorous jabs at big-headed writers and soused actors and prima donna stars with names like “Ebert” and “Crowley,” and has some male and female nudity, and then precedes to part 2 of his story, retitled “11 1/2 Ghosts” when more enter the scene and the thing turns in to a slapstick rollercoaster that finally unleashes the “half” ghost.  This is Rich cartooning in an over-the-top, comedic way that isn’t normally included in his slice-of-life books (even when they have their weirder elements), and it absolutely bumps the book from amusing into raucous.

And then a legit ending!  Also kind of a rarity for Tommaso’s style, leaving us with a pretty grand whirlwind tour of a cartoonist’s various influences and stylistic offerings.