Dean Haspiel: Q&A
Posted: Tuesday, January 6, 2004
Posted By: Tim O'Shea
Dean Haspiel epitomizes the kind of creator that helps elevate the quality of comics across the board. He understands the core appeal of superhero comics and its mainstream target while at the same time displaying the ability to create independent tales that speak to that ever-growing market sector as well. He is a creator that excels in both worlds, and may help both niche markets’ respective fan bases to better understand each other, if given enough time and chances. And on the mainstream end, DC seems to have been giving him plenty of chances in recent months. His art is featured on the most recent Batman Adventures 9 and he’ll be penciling an upcoming Justice League Adventures, written by Keith Giffen. Here’s some background on Haspiel from his website: “Dean Haspiel is the author of super-psychedelic romances and semi-auto-bio comix who occasionally mangles franchise characters for Marvel & DC Comics. Dino was nominated for a 2002 Eisner award for ‘Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition,’ and a 2003 Ignatz award for ‘Outstanding Artist.’” The Eisner nomination was for his work on Opposable Thumbs, a “48-page collection … [of] episodic tales of a native New Yorker living in the big bad city”, while the Ignatz nomination was Aim to Dazzle, which “marks the return of cavalier vagabond Billy Dogma in the post-disaster adventure chronicles of the last romantic hero.” [More on this work later in the interview.] Haspiel says that both series “serve as the backdrop for informed, existential expression.” In addition to his other various projects, he is currently drawing a new Bizarro story written by Harvey Pekar.
Tim O’Shea: DC is keeping you busy at present. First off, how did Batman Adventures 9 come about, particularly how did it come to be that you, along with writers Vito Delsante and Gabe Soria, were able to present such refreshing takes on the Batman and company?
Dean Haspiel: Early 2003, DC Comics editor Joan Hilty contacted me asking if I would be interested in drawing a few Batman Adventures covers. My pal Gabe Soria and I were hanging out when he pitched a couple of Batman ideas my way. I really dig Gabe's New Orleans hep jive and swagger, so I asked him to develop one of his ideas into a full script on spec so I could pitch it to Hilty come time to draw those proposed covers. Meanwhile, my other budding comix writer pal, Vito Delsante, who I see practically every week at Jim Hanley's Universe, was waxing Batman philosophic when he showed me a short Batman story featuring Bruce Wayne. Turns out Hilty had instituted a new format for the Batman Adventures series, wherein in each issue sported a lead feature and back-up story. Once Gabe & Vito's stories were ready to show, I gave Hilty the heads up. She read and bought them on the spot with the one caveat being that I draw them. The gamble paid off and the chance to draw a few covers turned into drawing an entire issue! Ergo, Batman Adventures #9. I studied Alex Toth and Bruce Timm to help adapt my style into something palatable for the franchise reader and learned a lot about how to boil down characters and props into a few lines while maintaining the grandiose flair of superhero hyper-drama.
TO: In terms of upcoming work, what was it like collaborating with Keith Giffen on an issue of Justice League Adventures, and what can you tell folks about the issue?
DH: I was excited when DC Comics editor Stephen Wacker chose me to draw an upcoming issue of Justice League Adventures, written by Keith Giffen. I grew up on prime Giffen [Legion of Super-Heroes, The Omega Men, Lobo, Ambush Bug, Justice League of America, etc.] and, so, the opportunity to draw one of his scripts was a coup. I never got the chance to communicate with Giffen during the job, but his script was tight while giving me the freedom to play with layouts, design, and visual interpretation which I think makes for the very best kind of collaboration. After drawing the exhausting Night Falls on Yancy Street mini-series, and coming right off the heels of the reduced style of Batman, I was entering into a new phase of my graphic lexicon. In our JLA story, Martian Manhunter and The Flash battle an enemy within the confines of the Justice League headquarters satellite. A witty, ethernet thriller that'll make 2001: A Space Odyssey fans smile.
TO: How long have you been working with Harvey Pekar? Have you found in some odd trickle-down economy variation, you're garnering more name recognition from your work, because more folks are looking at Pekar's work, in the wake of his movie's popularity?
DH: I've drawn a few American Splendor stories for Harvey Pekar since 1999 and collaborating with the legendary writer has given me keen insight into the autobiographical form, as well as, upped my industry ante. I paid the favor back by introducing Pekar to movie producer, Ted Hope, which paved the way for a truly outstanding adaptation and multiple award winning film of which my art appears. I recently drew a new American Splendor one-pager called "Identity Crisis," and I'm currently drawing a five-page Bizarro story written by Pekar, his first ever franchise superhero story for DC Comics. Every time I collaborate w/Pekar it feels like a clash between Raymond Carver and Jack Kirby, but in a good way.
TO: Are you able to discuss your work on the Luna Moth tale for the Michael [Kavalier & Clay] Chabon comics anthology project?
DH: There isn't much to tell about the Luna Moth story I'm drawing for The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist, except to say that it's a semi-origin story called The Trial of Judy Dark, it's 20-pages long, it's written by comix biggest secret, Kevin McCarthy, and I'm itching to get started on it.
TO: How does your screenwriting experience influence your approach toward comics?
DH: My film studies and screen writing proclivities allow me the tools to employ a wide range of sequential narrative devices. Dramatic structure applies heavily when creating a successful story and I always write in "full script" form before a pencil ever graces bristol board. Of course, once I have my blueprint of a script, such grounding encourages visual perversion and experimentation, if warranted.
TO: What's the status on the upcoming Devil's MuuMuu, is there a set release date? For the uninitiated, how would you briefly summarize The Billy Dogma Experience?
DH: For the uninitiated, Billy Dogma - the last romantic anti-hero - is so confused, his Berzerk Gun shoots everything but bullets. Jane Legit, his career-driven girlfriend, questions his grip on reality yet unconditionally encourages his imagination to foil the obstacles of life while trying to make ends meet in Trip City. There have been three Billy Dogma experiences to date: Daydream Lullabies, Boy In My Pocket, and Aim To Dazzle. In the upcoming 48pp picture novella, The Devil's MuuMuu, Billy Dogma accidentally rips Jane Legit's competition dress and his overwhelming guilt sends him to Hell. Stranded in the netherworld, Billy opens old wounds about his long-lost mother when he strikes a bargain with legendary serial killer Ed Gein! I drew half the tale over two-years ago and I'm waiting for a lull in my schedule to finally finish the comic. With the freelance life, you're always hustling and never know what and when your next gig is going to be, so that lull may occur sooner rather than later. I'm hoping to put this baby to bed soon and get Top Shelf to release it for the summer of 2004, so I can get started on my next Billy Dogma experience: Peek-A-Boo Lipstick.
TO: In the mid-1980s, you worked as an assistant to Howard Chaykin on American Flagg!, Bill Sienkiewicz on New Mutants and Elektra: Assassin, and Walter Simonson on Thor. If possible, could you touch upon some of what you learned from these three creators in your time working with them?
DH: Howard Chaykin taught me how to design a page with a surgical eye wherein I learned the subversive powers of the inset panel. Walter Simonson taught me the mad power of drawing from the gut as long as that intuitive energy was grounded by a solid skeleton to spring from. And Bill Sienkiewicz taught me that none of it mattered if you weren't having any fun with it.
Got some comments on this item?
Have your say at the Silver Bulletins forum.