Spotlight Interview: Talking Web Comics and the Red Hook with Dean Haspiel

At Baltimore Comic-Con this year, we were able to catch up with comic artist and writer Dean Haspiel. Dean, a New York City native,  grew up in the comic industry working with luminaries such as Howard Chaykin and Harvey Pekar. He has produced award winning work in both television and web comic media. He is know for works such as Billy Dogma, The Quitter, American Splendor, Beef with Tomato, Bored to Death, The Alcoholic, The Fox, and his current epic saga, The Red Hook.

The Red Hook is a webcomic that was original released on the LINE WEBTOON platform and won the 2017 inaugural Ringo Award for Best Webcomic. It was released this year in a collected print format by Image Comics.

The second season of the Red Hook was released as War Cry, also on LINE WEBTOON in 2018. It was also nominated for a Ringo Award.  The third season titled StarCross is expected to be released early 2019.


Webcomics: You can’t avoid it. You can’t deny it. Start to embrace it!

PopCultureSquad: Hi Dean. Thanks for doing this. Let’s start with, “When are we going to get to see StarCross, the third volume of the Red Hook saga?”

Dean Haspiel: The initial date that we decided on was Valentine’s Day 2019. It is a very ambitious project for me. Ideally, I would like to have about sixteen chapters in the can before we launch. I hope to have that done by mid-February. If not, then we may push it until March or April, and then it will run for about five and a half months consecutively.

PCS: There are times when things get announced on LINE WEBTOON as “Coming Soon”, and then it takes quite awhile before we get to see them.

DH: I think what happens is that, especially on the art side, it takes time to negotiate the vertical scroll of the format. I figured out a version of that early with Red Hook. It was, essentially, me beta testing it. I was trying to figure out how it works for me and the way I do layouts. I love insets, and I love when characters jump into another panel and landscapes and all that stuff. However, on LINE WEBTOON the vertical scroll is best served by the portrait panel, and that is not necessarily invasive from other panels. So, in learning to do this, I had to remove a lot of the real estate and how I like to play with the page to tell the story.

Because I know that I am producing the work for print later, I am actually drawing it as a print-first comic, and then cutting it up for vertical scroll. I feel the that the layout style that I am doing is definitely exploiting the vertical scroll.

PCS: It seemed that there is an evolution from Red Hook to War Cry where it feels, from the reader’s perspective, that you are getting more comfortable with the platform.

DH: I had done a limited color palette for Red Hook. It was warm gray world, with the characters in a single color so they pop, and you can identify them from afar. In War Cry, I went with full color because I was going to get a lot more cosmic with it. I see War Cry as a cross between Shazam and O.M.A.C. Instead of a little boy that says a magic word to turn into a god-like super hero, it is a teenage black kid who shouts War Cry and turns into the greatest hero ever: a female who is a human of mass destruction that has been resurrected by Omni Gods. It’s all very heady stuff, but I think the four color palette serves that kind of story better. Oddly enough, partly because of my love for silver-age and bronze-age comics,  I spent some time looking at Batman and The Outsiders (the original 1980s Mike Barr & Jim Aparo run, colored by Adrienne Roy) for my color schema. A flat palette with lots of purples and blues.

PCS: What type of reaction have you been getting from the audience to this whole Red Hook saga?

DH: I am sure there are a lot more people reading the comic in digital format. However, with the collected print release of Red Hook by Image Comics, I feel that print is the platform where my traditional readership is. I have been touting the digital platform since 2006 on LiveJournal when I sparked ACT-I-VATE, a free webcomics collective. Tom Akel, (Head of Content for LINE WEBTOON), has said that what we did was probably influential in the success of the digital web comic companies, except that they have figured out how to monetize it.

I didn’t even consider monetizing ACT-I-VATE. I thought getting people to read a comic online for free was tough enough.  You are competing with everyone’s attention, especially nowadays given the current political climate. Sometimes, people want to escape that political scene by reading a comic or anything else, or they are only consumed by the politics of the day, and can’t read anything else. So, I am competing with that, and because I am doing superheroes, I am competing with the cinematic universes of Marvel and DC.  A lot of people who are fans of the characters of Marvel and DC are being introduced to them from the movies and TV and forget that there are comic books out there. Also, if those people want to get a comic book, where do they get it? There are no more newsstands and, sadly, comic book shops are dwindling.

PCS: I think that the dream, of those in the comic community, for the effect of superhero movies and TV would have been that fans of the visual media would have become interested in where those characters came from and start to read those comic books. Then, they would be exposed to all the other genre that the comic book medium has within it.

DH: The mainstream dream is the trickle-down effect; movies to comic books and/or digital, and I don’t think that is happening.  But if you have a webcomic, that only exists as a webcomic and has ancillary t-shirts or buttons, I think people like to have souvenirs. I think people who come to conventions these days are more interested in souvenirs. They don’t need to read the first issue of how something started or get the full collected arc of a story.  Now, I do not have a movie version of The Red Hook, and it originally only existed as a webcomic. Curiously, it is a different reading experience in print because of the way that I have edited it and cut it up. It parses the story in a different way. Also, I found that there were a lot of people just waiting for the trade paperback. People who said, “I’ll read it then.”

The fact that we are on our phones all the time. Do people really want to add more time to that by reading comics? I don’t know.

PCS: Actually, I read my subscriptions to LINE WEBTOON at night while I am in bed.

DH: You do that, Right? I mean we used to read our comics on the toilet, and now we read them in bed.

PCS: Since you have been known as an artist first. How do you find the experience of writing and drawing this story?

DH: I like writing better than drawing. I do realize that drawing comics is also a method of writing due to the visual storytelling, and because of that, I’ve rarely illustrated something to stand on its own. To me, comics art is always serving the narrative.

As much as I grow as an artist, I am always trying to reduce the labor so that maybe someday I could be drawing as fast as you can be reading it. But that really does reduce it down to a type of shorthand. That, I think maybe, a fine comic book artist would have to earn. I think of someone like Gary Panter, who never even attempted to draw like John Byrne or George Perez. Yet, he found a shorthand that only he could do so it became a signature style, but also, it conveys a story. Ultimately, I am trying to write and draw the stuff that I loved as a kid, but hopefully I’ll enter a phase of telling stories that are not necessarily influenced by my childhood but, instead, influenced by my adulthood.

PCS: Is there a time-frame for the collected release of War Cry?

DH: I am hoping that if we sell enough of the Red Hook trades, War Cry would come out in print the Fall of 2019. But that is a big if, because Red Hook has to sell as a print. That is a challenge, because there are retailers who are saying, “It’s online right now. You can read it for free?” It could also be that the fan-base is web-only. The first volume got a lot of good reviews and good play. It seems that people who read it really like it. The challenge is getting it into people’s hands.

PCS: To explore that point, I went into a comic shop in a different city and was surprised to see a collected version of Woman World. I had been reading it online and was thrilled to see it. I bought it and brought it home. My wife then voraciously read through the print version.

DH: Right! It is the delivery system. I prefer to read print to be honest. Even though I have been doing this for years from ACT-I-VATE to Zuda/DC Comics to the NY Times to Trip City to LINE WEBTOON. You know, Batman ’66 started as a digital-release first on ComiXology (I believe), and then DC printed it as a monthly series and collected it. But at the Ringo Awards this year, there was a lot of talk about web comics. You can’t avoid it. You can’t deny it. Start to embrace it!

PCS: How do you feel about the traditional comic book page in digital format verses a webcomic built for scrolling or clicking?

DH: I don’t like the traditional comic book page transposed online where I have to pinch or shrink it in order to navigate the page. That is why I cut the story up a particular way online in order to appeal to the delivery system. Although, the tablet appeals to both print and digital. But, the phone is fickle.

PCS: Let’s talk a little bit about the future. What should we expect from StarCross?

DH: StarCross is about how love will save the world. At the end of War Cry, the main character is abducted by this big blue cosmic hand and taken away from the Red Hook. It was right when War Cry, formerly The Possum, and Red Hook were about to get back together. They had just defeated the bad guy of the second season and come to peace with what has happened to her physically sharing a body with a gay teenage boy. Red Hook was constantly trying to get a kiss with her, and at the end, he goes in for the kiss when, suddenly, she gets stolen. So, we start StarCross a year later. We will find out what happened to War Cry and what the new crisis is. Even though The Red Hook starts out about a sentient, heartbroken Brooklyn that seceded from America to form her own republic, where art can be bartered for foods and services, the first trilogy is ultimately about a cosmic romance between Sam Brosia (The Red Hook) and Ava Bloom (The Possum/War Cry). And because it’s a romance, it’s got to be tragic. (Laughter)

PCS: Well I love it and look forward to it.

DH: Thanks. I already have five chapters in the can now at the end of September, and if I keep going, I hope to be able to meet that Valentine’s Day 2019 deadline.

PCS: Thanks so much.


Thanks to all of you for reading this. Dean is wonderful person to talk to and if you ever get the opportunity to do so, don’t pass it up. You can find his work at LINE WEBTOON. Also, don’t forget to pick up a copy of The Red Hook. You can find it at your LCS, your local bookstore, or most online book retailers.

You can also find the print version of The Red Hook Vol 1: New Brooklyn on Amazon:
https://www.amazon.com/Red-Hook-New-Brooklyn/dp/1534309209/

Check out the online versions of the first two seasons at LINE WEBTOON:
https://www.webtoons.com/en/super-hero/the-red-hook/list?title_no=643
https://www.webtoons.com/en/super-hero/war-cry/list?title_no=1247

Dean can be found online at http://deanhaspiel.com/

 

BONUS:  Dean has provided us with some preview art from StarCross!!!

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