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FOG! Chats with ‘Starcross’ Creator, Dean Haspiel!

My first exposure to the work of Dean Haspiel was way back in 1989’s Justice League International #24, which included a new talent short story that he illustrated.  Since then, Haspiel has defined much of his career doing independent comics which includes his own creation Billy Dogma, numerous contributions to anthologies, and collaborations with writers such as Jonathan Ames, Josh Neufeld, Marton Powell, Evan Dorkin, Michel Fiffe, Jay Lynch, Inverna Lockpez, Nick Bertozzi, Gabe Soria and FOG!’s very own Vito Delsante.

Haspiel was also a frequent collaborator with the late Harvey Pekar, illustrating everything from one page strips to full graphic novels.  As one of the first innovators of digital comics, Haspiel launched the online collective ACT-I-VATE, which featured comics by Haspiel, Neufeld, Bertozzi, and Fiffe, plus Dan Goldman, Leland Purvis, Nikki Cook, and Tim Hamilton.

An Emmy and Ringo Award winner, Haspiel is currently working on his New Brooklyn Universe saga, available  on the LINE Webtoon site.  Dean took some time to discuss his work on the latest strip, Starcross, and what’s to come.

* * * * *

FOG!: Dean, thanks for taking the time to discuss your webcomic, Starcross, with us today. This is your third webcomic for LINE Webtoon. What was the genesis of your New Brooklyn Universe and what can you tell us about Starcross?

Dean Haspiel: Thanks for asking, Stefan. Starcross is season three of my Red Hook saga, which started with The Red Hook, and then War Cry. It’s very easy to catch up on the story for free on your smart phone and/or laptop/tablet.

The genesis of New Brooklyn started when it became much more difficult for me to survive as a freelance cartoonist in NYC. I decided to expand on my initial concept of a blacklisted boxer turned thief when he is forced to become a superhero against his will or he will die during a time when Brooklyn reveals herself to be sentient yet heart broken by the toxicity of the world. So much so, she physically secedes from NYC, ergo America, to spawn her own republic where art can be traded for food and/or services which sparks a cosmic pandemic of hew heroes and villains. It’s basically what would happen if Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko gave birth to a new Marvel comic by way of Will Eisner.

Starcross finds New Brooklyn on the eve of an ice age that will make all life on earth extinct. The only way to save the planet is for The Red Hook to ally with Sun Dog, find and rekindle romance with War Cry, confront the Omni-Gods, and give birth to a new dawn where only love can save the world!

Here are links to:

I’m not usually a huge webcomic fan, but really enjoyed this. Two things in particular stood out; first the coloring was amazing and literally popped off of the screen. How did you develop the color for this series and what were your influences/inspirations on your palette choices?

Whoah! I don’t often get props for my coloring. Thank you. I’m a giant fan of the Silver Age of comics, back when the color palette was limited and less rendered yet popped. Since my line art is a modern compliment to those older 1960s comic books, I prefer to keep my colors flat with a tone and a highlight, and not much more.

For Starcross, I was looking at colors by Adrienne Roy from the 1980s Batman and The Outsiders comic books. I’ve also worked with lots of great colorists on other books who inspired me; the likes of Lee Loughridge, Jose Villarrubia, Matt Madden, Giulia Brusco, Allen Passalaqua, Joe Infurnari, Nolan Woodard, Jason Little, and Mike Cavallaro. For pure comic book heaven, check out Mike Cavallaro’s brand new Nico Bravo, and brilliant Impossible, Incorporated (co-created with legendary writer, J.M. DeMatteis).

The second element of the webcomic that I really enjoyed was how you took advantage of the storytelling medium by making the episodes scrollable, rather than a click through. How did using this device change how you told the story?

The Webtoon App made the production much more challenging. I had to reconsider how to convey drama and reveal story. What was once narrative cliffhangers dramatized by the turn of a page was now dictated by the pull of your thumb. Everything that was once moving to the right, down, left, and then back to the right again was all down, down, down. Webtoons are bottom heavy ditties. Bring your galoshes.

The first volume of The Red Hook, was published by Image Comics. Was it difficult to reformat the scrolling content into a print version while maintaining the storytelling design that you had intended? Any plans to make any of your other digital strips into printed collections?

Shhhh — don’t tell anyone, but I actually draw it as a traditional comic book first and then edit/cut it up into a vertical scroll, second.

However, when I lay out the initial pages, I consider the vertical aspect, first.

Which means I had to forego my coveted inset and landscape panels for tall, portrait panels.

Alas, splash pages appear as a normal panel on your phone.

So, don’t forget to pinch and expand the art when necessary.

Grapevine has it that The Red Hook Vol. 2: War Cry, will be published in Fall 2019, with volume three: Starcross, coming out Fall 2020.

But, it depends on sales.

So, please alert your retailer once the print editions are made available for pre-order (thank you very much).

You started your career as an assistant to Howard Chaykin, Bill Sienkiewicz and Walter Simonson. What bit of advice did you glean from each of them?

1985 was a game-changing year for me.

I was 17 going on 18 in my senior year of high school. I went from drawing comix with my best friends during lunch and math class, to helping produce some of the greatest comic books published to this day (American Flagg! The Mighty Thor, The New Mutants, and Elektra: Assassin) after school.

Chaykin taught me discipline and how to exploit the real estate of the page. Sienkiewicz taught me how to improvise and innovate. And, Simonson taught me structure, the bones of the page, and the power of line art. Especially, vistas, which I’ve yet to master.

You’ve worked in comics, film, theater and television (winning an Emmy for Jonathan Ames’ HBO series, Bored To Death) Is there a particular storytelling medium that you prefer over the others?

Comix is my first love. It’s the most innate and economical way for me to express and communicate most of my ideas. But, I’ve always had a soft spot for movies and theater. If I can carve a lucrative path writing and directing, I will happily pursue those other stories.

Only time, encouragement, allies, and a lot of hard work will tell.

Below check out an exclusive first look at this week’s Starcross: Chapter 11, which is scheduled to come out on LINE Webtoon, Wednesday, June 5th.

Be sure to check back later this week when Dean is joined by Josh Neufeld to discuss their new podcast and working with the late Harvey Pekar!

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