Dean Haspiel on the Next Door Neighbor Anthology

Dean Haspiel draws Harvey Pekar

Note - art at right by Rick Veitch

Everyone's got one. Neighbors, I mean. And everyone has stories about those. I had one who looked like a ninety year-old version of Hulk Hogan and listened to bass music. But this story isn't about me, it's about a new webcomics anthology series telling those stories and asking your own.

Next-Door Neighbor is an online comics anthology edited by Dean Haspiel and running on the online magazine Smith Magazine. Well versed in comics both online, in print, indie, superhero and everything inbetween, Haspiel goes to his formidable address book and pulls his favorite storytellers and cartoonist to tell the stories of their own next-door neighbors. Launched on April 8th, the anthology plans to run for one year with updates every other Monday. In addition, Smith Magazine is concurrently running a contest entitled "What's Your Next-Door Neighbor Story?", in which readers are invited to submit their own true stories for a chance to be matched with an artist and transformed into a full-color webcomic of it's own as the final installment of Next-Door Neighbor.

Cartoonist Dean Haspiel helms this anthology, and while best known as the cartoonist of The Quitter and Billy Dogma he has edited several anthologies and is the founder of the webcomics collective ACT-I-VATE. For more, we talked to Haspiel from his home in New York City.

Newsarama: Thanks for talking with us again, Dean. We've talked before, so let's be brunt – what's this anthology about?

Dean Haspiel: Next-Door Neighbor is my brainchild for a new webcomix anthology that I currently edit for SMITH Magazine. I invited a select group of writers and artists to share their compelling, true life stories about their next-door neighbors.

NRAMA: This isn't your first time editing an anthology , Dean – you do it in a way as the de-facto leader of the comics collective ACT-I-VATE, as well as on AdHouse's Project: Superior. What led you to sitting in the editor's chair for this anthology?

DH: As you pointed out, Chris, I've dipped my toe in those murky editorial waters before but I wanted to make it official and get my hands dirty. I wear many creative hats but there are a few that I hardly get recognition for and one of my goals for 2008 was to prove my editorial chops so that I could shepherd other projects in the future. When I first conceived of Next-Door Neighbor, I felt SMITH Magazine was the best home for my series, especially with their credo "everyone has a story" and their commitment to comix with Shooting War and A.D. – New Orleans After The Deluge. I was very pleased when Larry Smith and Tim Barkow afforded me the latitude to realize my vision.

NRAMA: You're more than some desk-shuffling editor – you're Dean Haspiel, cartoonist. Do you plan to contribute any neighbor stories of your own to this anthology?

DH: I plan to contribute two stories to Next-Door Neighbor. One that I wrote about a bizarre paranoia I suffered while living in the lower-east side of NYC in the late '90s, and a chilling tale written by Sarah Butterworth that would make the likes of Atonement author, Ian McEwan, shudder.

NRAMA: These stories are by a variety of creators and their neighbors. Let's turn the tables - -- have you ever had a comics creator as a neighbor, and if so… any interesting stories you could share?

DH: Farel Dalrymple used to live directly across the street from me and we would occasionally wave at each from our windows and catch up on the street below. Now, cartoonist "Angry Jim" Campbell lives in Farel's old room and we do the same thing. What they didn't know is the amount of not-so-innocent stripping that occurs around them on their side of the street. I swear, I can't look out my window at night without seeing a naked pair of breasts. Which is okay by me because I don't have HBO

NRAMA: [laughs]

DH: Then again, their side of the street is sometimes treated to Magilla Gorilla on roller skates whenever I decide to dance to Afrika Bambaataa's "Planet Rock" in my skivvies by the living room window. Tit for Tat.

NRAMA: …do you have tattoos? Wait, I'll take that question back. It's not that kind of interview.

You've drafted in a great group of creators, leading off with a collaboration between novelist Jonathan Ames and artist Nick Bertozzi. How did this match-up come together?

DH: I wanted to launch Next-Door Neighbor strong and I'd just finished an amazing collaboration with Jonathan Ames on The Alcoholic and I asked Ames if he would lend his talents to NDN which he was kind enough to do. Rather than draw it myself, I was curious to see how another artist would interpret an Ames script so I asked my good pal and ex-roommate, Nick Bertozzi, if he would tackle the tale and he drew a hilarious send up.

NRAMA: Who else do you have in the line-up?

DH: Well, I don't want to spill too many beans but we have a lot of hot talent including some literary authors, members from ACT-I-VATE, and veterans of the comix form providing soon-to-be classic Next-Door Neighbor stories. Ames & Bertozzi, Kevin Colden, John Cebollero, and Joan Reilly, already debuted their great NDN stories and I was just ogling the final touches of Eisner Award nominee, Joe Infurnari's Next-Door Neighbor collaboration with writer Alexis Sottile. Come July, Harvey Pekar and Rick Veitch mash their profound talents. Otherwise, the aim is to drop a new Next-Door Neighbor comic every two weeks until next April.

NRAMA: Before we go, I have to ask one last thing. This is the third original webcomic at SMITH Magazine. The previous two, Shooting War and A.D.: New Orleans After The Deluge, were both by AIV alumni… and now this. What's the connection between SmithMag and AiV?

DH: If there's one constant that forges SMITH Magazine with ACT-I-VATE it's Jeff Newelt aka JahFurry. Jeff is SMITH Magazine's comix editor, proper, and is ACT-I-VATE's Minister of Hype. Jeff Newelt is an incredible champion of the comix form and an integral asset to the comix community while thinking beyond the panel borders.

The Dean Haspiel-edited online "webcomix" anthology Next-Door Neighbor runs a new installment every two weeks at http://www.smithmag.net/nextdoorneighbor/.

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