- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
His interest in “all things bugs” stemmed from his entomologist father, Bruce Hammock, now a distinguished professor at the University of California, Davis.
It was not just entomology and art, though, that interested Tom. He listened attentively to the southern folklore and childhood memories that his father, reared in the Deep South, shared:
Black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day for good luck; a mischievous pet raccoon named Willy; the comings and goings of a scientist operating a biological supply company in a swamp; and
the ever-present will-o’-the-wisp lighting up Louisiana’s Atchafalaya Swamp.
Tom Hammock not only drew it all in; he made it his own and then some.
Entomology and art, pyramided with writing, landscape architecture, film production and storytelling, evolved into an original graphic novel, “An Aurora Grimeon Story—Will O’ the Wisp,” authored by Tom Hammock, illustrated by his friend Megan Hutchison and edited by
“It’s about wicked delights and dark things,” said Tom, “and it has a girl-science component.” In fact, it is billed as the first graphic novel with a strong girl scientist as the main character. The publisher, Archaia, will release the book Jan. 28. It is already drawing rave reviews, including “This book shows the beginning of fine careers as creators of stories.”
It has already been nominated for "best young adult graphic novel" award from the American Library Association.
“Almost no one writes for girls and almost no one writes for girls dealing with girls and science,” Tom said. “Graphic novels for girls are rare and have a tough road in the publishing world.”
Assorted bugs, including butterflies, scorpions, fireflies, mosquitoes, beetles and spiders, find their way into the book. So does a pet raccoon named Missy, patterned after Bruce’s childhood pet, Willy.
“As a parent, it is always interesting to see what your kids pick up in their childhood,” said Bruce Hammock, a Little Rock, Ark. native who graduated in 1969 from Louisiana State University (LSU) and then obtained his doctorate in entomology/toxicology from UC Berkeley. “I think my Willy stories were recreated in the tale about Aurora.”
Aurora’s last name is Grimeon, named for one of Bruce’s LSU roommates, Jim Grimeon. “I am so thrilled that so much of this history,” Bruce said, “has resurfaced in Tom’s book.”
Aurora, accompanied by Missy the raccoon, explores the fog-shrouded island as “ghostly things happen and residents disappear,” Tom said. Aurora follows a will ‘o’ the wisp, an eerie blue light floating several feet off the ground. “The will-o’-wisp is a natural phenomenon,” Tom said. “It’s actually a natural swamp gas.”
Quipped Bruce: “I never knew that my family in Arkansas practiced hoodoo—I thought everyone ate black-eyed peas, hog jowl and burned a bayberry candle on New Year’s Day. We still do.”
Bruce and his wife, Lassie, reared their three offspring to love nature. “The Atchafalaya certainly is as much a wilderness as the Sierra Nevada with islands that move with the tides, different cultures, and a rich biological diversity—much of which bites,” said Bruce, who holds a joint appointment with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center.
“Tom has always had a love of biology and landscape,” Bruce said. “He was always sketching nature in his childhood. He could not stand to kill insects for his high school insect collection so instead, he made exquisite drawings of insects that he captured.”
Tom, a 1994 graduate of Davis High School, initially studied biology at UC Berkeley and then switched to landscape architecture. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture, he left Berkeley to study film design at the American Film Institute. He then went on to work in such film productions as “Breaking Bad,” “Dexter,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” He is now involved in the hugely popular young adult and horror film genre.
“At first I wanted to be a scientific illustrator,” Tom said. He took private art lessons from Mary Foley Benson of Davis, former chief USDA scientific illustrator at the Smithsonian Natural History. Her work graces Bruce Hammock's office in Briggs Hall and in a conference room.
The Hammock family is a three-doctorate family. In addition to Bruce the entomologist, son Bruce (UC Davis doctorate), is an aquatic entomologist in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, and daughter Frances (UCLA doctorate), is a mathematician in San Diego.
Tom, known for his sense of humor, wrote in his biography published on Oscillary Isle website: “My father studies venoms, insects and other odd creatures. As such, most family vacations were spent in the wilderness, often hunting for previously said creatures and their venoms. I've lived a number of places around the world including, but not limited to Australia (home of many venomous creatures) and England (home of not so many venomous creatures.)"
"Presently I live in Hollywood where I drink tea and design films when I'm not writing graphic novels." Some of the films he’s designed include “You're Next,” “All The Boys Love Mandy Lane,” and “V/H/S 2.”
Tom’s parents, Bruce and Lassie, appeared in a 2013 movie that Tom directed and produced. The film, as yet untitled, is expected to be released sometime this year.
“I watched a lot of movies in my childhood,” said Tom, who remembers growing up without a TV or with a black and white TV in high school. One of his favorite films? “Blade Runner.”
Tom recalls working on the film, Dexter, and blowing up a boat. “Then when we arrived at the airport they wouldn’t let us on the plane because of the residue on our hands.”
Meanwhile, Tom Hammock and Megan Hutchison are excited about the graphic novel and pleased with the design. It resembles a diary, complete with lock, and is printed with a gold foil-embossed hard cover. “It looks as if it belongs in Silver’s old library of curiosities,” Tom said.
They are also growing increasingly fond of their adventuresome, strong and science-loving character, Aurora. They are eagerly looking forward to Part 2 of the trilogy.
So are the fans. One online comment: “"OMG!! This was so good. I hope and hope and hope there will be more!!!!"
Another commented: "I love Aurora and everything about this story. The art is fantastic. 10 out of 10.”
Others described it as “deliciously moody,” “impressively creepy” and “a blend of macabre and whimsy (which) makes for some fun and unexpected reading.”
Looking back, entomologist Bruck Hammock said: "Tom was always interested in landscape, art, and biology. However, film and graphic novels are so far from my background I never saw this as a career path. In retrospect it is obvious."
For more information:
Book Trailer: http://www.ossuaryisle.com/trailer.html
Preview, PDF: http://ossuaryisle.com/preview.pdf
Preview by Comic Book Resources: http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=preview&id=18246
Trending tweets: #WILLOtheWisp