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Smash Pages Q&A: Dean Haspiel on New Brooklyn, his new play and more



Alex Deuben interviewed me about War Cry, The Red Hook, and The Last Bar At The End Of The World for Smash Pages.

Excerpts:

"War Cry is the dead girlfriend of The Red Hook – spoiler alert, she dies in the first book – is resurrected into the body of a young teenage boy who has inherited basically all the powers of all the dead American superheroes. When he shouts the words “War Cry” – kind of like when Billy Batson shouts “SHAZAM!” – he becomes the greatest superhero of all. I was inspired by a couple of things. One, a mashup of SHAZAM and OMAC with a little Firestorm and Hawk and Dove thrown in. Firestorm because it’s about two people sharing a body. Hawk and Dove because they have two different sensibilities.

The boy almost represents a certain sense of peace so he’s the dove where she is the hawk. Her purpose is to stop extreme situations and save the world. She’s having a tough time with a couple of things. She only appears when needed, meaning a violent space. And then she also has some amnesia because she died so she’s trying to put the piece back together of who she was. The only way I could tell this story was through the white guy – the Red Hook, her boyfriend who’s trying to figure out what’s going on. And also while this is all happening the black teenage boy discovers that he’s gay. So everything is complicated. [laughs]"

"To me War Cry still has that Silver Age Jack Kirby bombast. If Red Hook is more of a 1961 pastiche, maybe War Cry is a 1966 pastiche? It’s addressing modern concerns, but it’s got a basically flat-color palate. Again that’s due to my limitations, but I was looking at old Batman and the Outsiders comics colored by Tatjana Wood."

"The late 70s and 80s were my golden age of comics. I read more indie comics in the 90s, and so I missed a lot of that initial Image launch. I was reading more black and white stuff and autobio comics. Superheroes got grittier, and I don’t mind grit, but I don’t want horror to subsume my superheroes. I feel like things got really ugly really fast because lesser minds were trying to capitalize on the darkness and grit of what Watchmen and Dark Knight proposed, but they didn’t realize that that was a kind of commentary. I avoided a lot of that because I’d rather see a horror movie; I want my superheroes to be superheroes. I go back to George Reeves Superman where he grabbed a robber’s gun and turned it into a metal pretzel. I still like the bombast and the cosmic energy and the Kirby krackle and trying to answer the bigger questions because that’s what Jack Kirby did. He dared to write and draw about God and death and even dared to answer those questions."

"Romance is the key to it all. Otherwise who cares? For me the hardest part of any longform story is trying to find the romance angle because that’s what tethers us universally – love. That’s going to be a major part of the third part of the trilogy if I get to do that story. I’m not a guru about the subject, but I have been heartbroken many times. We all can relate to what that feels like. We all can relate to wanting it, I presume. But we all can’t relate to putting on tights or getting superpowers and fighting bad guys. So we deal with those questions about dating, about who you’re supposed to be with or who you pine for or those kinds of obsessions. Which is actually a major part of my play The Last Bar at the End of the World."

"You have to experience theater live. It means that a lot of people have trouble writing and producing theater because it evaporates, and you only walk away with the experience. I ignored it even though I grew up around a lot of actors and I went to school with actors and directors. I enjoyed theater from afar. I’d been checking out plays and staying in touch with actors and directors and producers and that’s how I got my first play Switch to Kill done in 2014 at the Brick Theater during a comic book festival of sorts. The festival either featured comic book characters or were written by comic book creators or somehow they were all involved. R. Sikoryak, Adam McGovern and a whole bunch of people were involved. I was turned onto this festival by Crystal Skillman, who’s a playwright. She told me about it and I thought, I have this screenplay that’s essentially a play because I wrote it as a low budget movie for one room. I submitted this play and it got accepted. It was amazing. I got bit by the bug."

"It’s a really beautiful time for me right now because it’s a time of full autonomy. I am writing and drawing comics and characters that I own – and getting paid, which is crazy. I never thought I would be in that creative space. I understand it’s a privilege and an honor, but I worked really fucking hard to get here hopscotching between working on franchise comics and indie stuff and creating these posses like Act-I-Vate or Hang Dai or Deep Six. Being communal and giving back and helping others, but the one person I wasn’t helping as much as I should have was myself. A good friend of mine said, sometimes you have to take the energy you’re putting on other people and put it back on yourself. I thought about that and realigned things."

"I had been introduced and collaborated with Stoya, the porn star. I adapted one of her essays into a comic for Heavy Metal magazine. We became friendly and I realized she would be perfect to play the lead in Harikari Kane. She’d never done theater before but when I approached her she was totally into it and did a great job. She’s writing essays and starred in a movie and just won best actress at a film festival. She’s also going to be in my new play. I specifically wrote a scene that I wanted to see Seth Gilliam and Stoya perform in my play and in a way woo them to agree to do it – and they did. That scene is also a really important part of the play. Seth plays Father Gabriel Stokes on The Walking Dead, he was in The Wire and Starship Troopers. He’s good friends with Phil Cruise. I think he just liked the writing and wanted to act in a play."

How are things going for you in this Brooklyn?

"You mean real Brooklyn? [laughs] It’s hard. I’m either at home or in my studio, or I go to Sunny’s Bar in Red Hook. That’s about it. To be an autonomous freelance cartoonist you have to live small in order to achieve that. The good thing is that I’ve lived in my apartment for years and it’s rent controlled so that means it’s affordable. But that’s about the only thing that’s affordable. Our subways don’t work anymore. Our landscape is becoming a lot of closed stores and shops because landlords decide to jack up the prices to the brink of insanity. I’m going to be 51 in May so I’m getting cranky and I’m losing a lot of what I grew up with. A lot of people have left and moved to more affordable spaces in other cities and states. I’ve always had one foot in the Catskills, but I’m such a city boy. I don’t know, they might have to drag me out of here in order to live a more comfortable lifestyle."

Read the entire interview here: http://smashpages.net/2018/04/06/smash-pages-qa-dean-haspiel-on-new-brooklyn-his-new-play-and-more/

Read WAR CRY: https://www.webtoons.com/en/super-hero/war-cry/list?title_no=1247
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