Dean Haspiel is more than just a cartoonist; he’s a writer, artist, and creator from New York who’s done so much for American comics. His recent work consists of “The Fox” for Dark Circle Comics, an imprint of Archie Comics. If you’ve followed our recent articles, you’ll know that we love “The Fox” and that I’ve secretly (not so secret anymore) been plotting and planning on becoming The Fox for my real-life world in New York. I’ll let you know how that goes. But, this past week, What’cha Reading had the very special opportunity to sit down and talk comics with Mr. Haspiel during Special Edition NYC 2015. Amidst a busy and crowded “comics, art, and culture” event filled with fans and cosplayers, Mr. Haspiel generously spoke on his current work with Dark Circle Comics, his very own Hang Dai work, and of his own childhood memories. Here is our conversation during Special Edition NYC 2015.
What’cha Reading: Hi Dean
Dean Haspiel: Hey, how are you doing?
What’cha Reading: I have to start by saying that I love “The Fox.” I actually learned of “The Fox”, believe it or not, through Dark Circle’s Free Comic Book Day issue.
Dean Haspiel: Really?
What’cha Reading: I did.
Dean Haspiel: So it works.
What‘cha Reading: [LAUGHS] It did.
Dean Haspiel: So “Fox Hunt got you to “Freak Magnet”? Okay, good, because I was wary about Free Comic Book Day and the Free Comic Book Day comic book because we’re practically doing things for free anyway because it’s not like they pay you that well in comics, and it’s a hard industry to make a living in, right? So, and then with the movies and everything else kind of like clobbering comics, I think that sometimes they feel the movies will make a comic book fan out of the viewer. I don’t know if that’s necessarily true, so the fact that they kind of combined the debut of a big, blockbuster movie it seems the last five or ten years to Free Comic Book Day. How old is that now? Five or ten years?
What’cha Reading: I think this is the seventh or eighth year. *FCBD started May 2002.
Dean Haspiel: Oh, seven years ago. Okay, so usually it seems like if there’s a Spider-Man movie then come out to Free Comic Book Day and I get it; I feel like they were trying to engender new readers through that, but I don’t know if that model works to be honest. Maybe you have some thoughts about that. So I was worried about the idea of ‘we’re going to go and give free comic books away’ when if anybody buys them or reads them. I’ve been hearing lately that people who picked up the Dark Circle Free Comic Book Day comic – they did actually make new readers of “The Fox.” So I guess it’s disproving my worry and it’s a good thing so I’m really excited about that.
What’cha Reading: Was there any trepidation in revisiting “The Fox” and that character for today’s comic book audience?
Dean Haspiel: No trepidation at all. You mean originally or recently?
What’cha Reading: For both, actually.
Dean Haspiel: The only trepidation I had when I first tackled “The Fox” was that I was such a fan of what Alex Toth did in the 80‘s. But it has such a disparaging history that there weren’t many Fox stories and he appeared in certain comics as a cameo or ancillary character that I didn’t feel any kind of pressure or emboldened to any kind of history. On that level I felt good; where I was hesitating and feeling nervous about was being compared to Alex Toth, who I think the general reader wouldn’t know who that is, but my peers and other cartoonists would know who that is, and I think maybe that’s possibly why the character wasn’t even touched because it was so perfectly conveyed by Alex Toth in the 80’s. What I decided to do was to not do anything like Alex Toth would do. He had a really cool, crime novel, pulp take on it and so I decided to just go into the crazy and I actually pitched “Freak Magnet” to be a cross between “Apocalypse Now” and “The Island of Lost Souls” only “The Island of Dr. Moreau”, but with a guy, a superhero that doesn’t have any super powers which seemed to be the norm back in the 1940’s. A lot of super heroes back then did not have super powers. They had Olympic strength, they had detective prowess, and there was the occasional super hero that actually had a power. I really liked that idea and that concept because I feel you and me, the reader, who are probably not super heroes, could relate to that. I wanted to play with the character and have some fun. When Alex Segura came to Archie and took over and decided to create Dark Circle and I saw what he was doing with “The Black Hood” and a couple of their characters then I had another hesitation because I thought “Well do I need to get dark and gritty here?” because that’s not what I established with my version. Alex assured me that that wouldn’t have to be the case. I think they wanted him to get a little more serious, a little bit, and I kind of play with that through the series, but it doesn’t become a bleak and crying comic or anything like that. Not that the Dark Circle line is that at all. I feel like a lot of our contemporary super hero comics are bleak, are very sad, and depressing in certain ways. I actually said this to someone “How could you make the apocalypse so boring?” because after a while it’s like they keep using that same idea over and over again. The end of the world, the end of the world – who cares? You know, some of my favorite super hero stories are like George Reeves Superman where he would grab someone’s gun and turn it into a pretzel. Why isn’t that good enough? And then you tell a story around that, you know, it shouldn’t be about saving the planet every issue or the fact that some mass-murderer is raping and pillaging and killing everybody. I’m not into that kind of villainy. But I do want to explore in “Fox Hunt” that there’s a family dynamic here. Our hero, Paul Patton Jr., is the son of the original Fox and he adopted the costume. At first he did it so he would get the story or get closer to the story or attract the story i.e. the freak magnet aspect. But now he’s like getting beat up every other day and he’s tired of this s*** and he’s like “I want to quit this and just become boring and normal.” And raise a family, but the villains won’t stop coming so he has to wear the costume under the buttoned down shirt and now inadvertently his son wants to be…
What’cha Reading: SHINJI!
Dean Haspiel: Shinji wants to be a Fox as well. So I don’t want to give too much away, but that’s where the story starts to go in “Fox Hunt.”
What’cha Reading: And I know issue 3 is coming out next Wednesday?
Dean Haspiel: Issue 3 is coming out next Wednesday and the first “Fox Hunt” arc is five issues and I have sent in a pitch for the next arc if we get to be an ongoing series. I’m having a lot of fun and “Fox Hunt” is synonymous with Rogues Gallery meaning that there’s a guy who’s kind of really p***** off at The Fox because The Fox has inadvertently messed with this guy’s businesses all around town and so he hires everyone who’s like a hitman or a villain or an old rogues gallery villain to The Fox to get him and shut him down. So while his son has decided to become a version of “The Fox” and he’s trying to stop that from happening by chasing him throughout town, everybody and their mom is out to get The Fox as well. It’s like this double edged sword thing that’s happening to the family and it makes it even more impossible for him to quit being The Fox. That’s kind of where the story is going.
What’cha Reading: For me I love it because of the art, and upon reading it you get such a pure comic book experience. I think that speaks to what you said before about comics not needing to be so bleak and “end of the world.”
Dean Haspiel: Thank you. Aren’t comics allowed to be fun? Again, we have enough dark comics and bleak, sad comics that I’m just trying to write/draw the comics that I grew up reading. So there’s a little touch of silver age; it’s got the indie plant because I can’t help myself, and maybe there are shades of Billy Dogma, which is a character I created in the 90’s. And, you know, I want to draw a comic where you root for the hero and hopefully the villain is compelling without having to destroy planet Earth.
What’cha Reading: I couldn’t agree more and I think the “Fox Hunt” series has been great. I’ve enjoyed so much of your work and so much of your work has reinvigorated my love for comic books and the pure experience of it.
Dean Haspiel: Oh really? Thank you so much.
What’cha Reading: I know that you’ve said there are elements of your personality and of yourself that you’ve put into “Billy Dogma.” Do we see any of that in “The Fox” or are we going to see that?
Dean Haspiel: That’s a good question. I have drawn other people’s real-life stories like Harvey Pekar and I’ve done my own semi-autobiographical comic. Actually I’ll be collecting and publishing a book called “Beef With Tomato” in September from Alternative Comics.
What’cha Reading: “Beef With Tomato”?
Dean Haspiel: “Beef With Tomato”, that’s what it’s called and there’s actually a story called “Beef With Tomato” in the book.
What’cha Reading: And that’s this September?
Dean Haspiel: That’ll be out this September from Alternative Comics, in conjunction with Hang Dai Editions, my self-publishing imprint and my studio imprint. That’ll be 96 pages and that’s kind of a memoir of mine for a certain era in my life. The reason I mention and bring that up is because, in a way, I feel like “Billy Dogma” is the most true to who I am because when you’re doing an autobio you have to be accountable to the truth, to what actually happened. That’s why I’ve tried to pick the stories that are more interesting because I don’t want to naval gaze and I’m tired of reading people who do. But still with “Billy Dogma”, I feel like even though I don’t have laser eyes and fists of fury and some of the crazy stuff that happens in the stories, I feel like that’s who I really am. So if you’re going to pick up anything and want to get to know who I am, I’d pick up “Billy Dogma.” But to answer you’re question about “The Fox”, my dad when I was a kid would sometimes go out and he’d come back with a story, and the story was usually, you know, might have been like something you might have seen in a vigilante or something heroic, or perverse, or weird, or him trying to stop some kind of crime, or involved some kind of drama to the point where it happened often and I used to joke that even though my father’s a writer I was raised by a cop. He was like a cop in my own home even though he wasn’t a policeman. But he’d come back with these crazy stories so in a way, I think my dad was my first super hero so there are elements in “The Fox” of the father/son relationship that I’m trying to institute or get a sense/feeling of when I was a kid and be able to share that and dive into it a little bit. We get a sense of that throughout the story in “Fox Hunt”, but I think that was part of the idea of then editor Paul Kaminski before Alex Segurra took over and I think it was his idea to focus on the father son relationship and I had been avoiding that and when I thought about it I thought about my father where I then got to relate to it in some way and I think other readers will be able to relate to that as well. And it doesn’t have to be a father/son, it could be mother/daughter – it’s the same ideas, you know, so it has to come from truth in some way or else you’re faking the funk and I don’t want to do that because we’re already dealing with super heroes and the metaphor of that so when I write and draw a story about family I am accessing my own childhood.
What’cha Reading: Thank you so much. Are there any books of yours that you feel fans should check out?
Dean Haspiel: “Billy Dogma”, “A Heart Shaped Hole” because that’s like a starter pack for “Billy Dogma.” If you’re digging “The Fox” I think it makes a good brother/sister combination.
What’cha Reading: Thank you so much Dean. It’s been a pleasure.
Dean Haspiel: Thanks a lot. Thank you.
*What’cha Reading would like to thank Dean Haspiel again for his time and recommend checking out www.deanhaspiel.com, along with a follow on Twitter at @deanhaspiel